Baltimore Orioles—On The Road To Respectability
The Baltimore Orioles, once the creme de la creme of organizations and how they should be run, have become nothing short of a laughingstock. One hand seemingly never knew what the other was doing; there was no centralized decision making; there was open interference from the owner and his sons; they went from manager to manager, general manager to general manager, coach to coach; free agent players were signed to absurd contracts out of desperation; they made short-sighted trades; they held onto players that had value so long that their value disintegrated; they never formulated a coherent plan of action and stuck to it preferring to continually change their course and hope for immediate results—-this has gone on for nine straight seasons now. But fortunately for Orioles fans, their team is finally on the right track.
Having seemingly abandoned the quick fix schemes and continuous management upheavals, the Orioles are developing talented young players (especially pitchers) who will contribute to the team’s resurgence. With their lineup; that young pitching staff; and an intelligent free agent signing here and there; there is no reason that the Orioles cannot improve rapidly enough to get over .500 next season. They do have the misfortune of being in a division with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox; but given the way things look now, there is no reason that the Orioles wouldn’t be able to surpass the reeling Red Sox, if they’re smart.
Owner Peter Angelos has gained the reputation as a terrible, tyrannical owner who interferes with the men in charge of his baseball operations. He and his sons are rumored to be micro-managing meddlers who don’t allow the baseball people to do their jobs. I have no idea how much of that is true; but the one thing about Angelos, for all of his supposed faults and the string of ineptitude by his team, is that he’s willing to spend money to improve his team. It hasn’t always been spent wisely, but at least he tries. Now that the team is stable in management with Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette running the baseball operation; with Sam Perlozzo and Leo Mazzone in the dugout; and some young pitching establishing itself; Angelos can allow his team to grow organically rather than try and win immediately to compete with the American League East big boys and watching his team falter again and again.
Pitching was always the key to the great Orioles teams; Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson won with pitching and three-run homers. The Orioles have the makings of a strong young starting staff. Erik Bedard would have won 20 games if he were pitching for a better team; Adam Loewen, although he’s raw, showed flashes of how good he can be; Daniel Cabrera has wicked stuff and ace potential; Kris Benson will be back, and is what he is, but on a good team would win 13-15 games—-this is a pretty good place to start for a team trying to rebuild. Their bullpen is anchored by Chris Ray, who had a great season in his first as a closer; Chris Britton and Sendy Rleal showed flashes. If the Orioles can convince a top tier pitcher that they’re on their way back into contention, they might be able to improve very rapidly. There are pitchers available to the highest bidders and Angelos has never shied away from spending money.
The Orioles bats should never be a problem in Camden Yards. They have a superstar player in Miguel Tejada. There have been ongoing rumors that Tejada is on the trading block because he wants out of Baltimore; he said in mid-season that he didn’t want to be traded and occasionally looked as if he was going through the motions. (So much so that his former teammate in Oakland, Jason Giambi, supposedly called him out, telling him that he’s too good a player to behave that way.) I wouldn’t trade Tejada unless he either out and out demands it; or they’re getting a huge bounty back for him. A huge bounty would include a young power hitting infielder and a young established starting pitcher. Tejada is a guy who plays every day and puts up the numbers every season; he’s 30 and the perfect guy for the middle of the lineup as a hitter for opponents to have to plan for.
Melvin Mora is a solid, consistent player; Brian Roberts, although his power in early 2005 was likely an anomaly, is a good player; Ramon Hernandez had an excellent season; as did Corey Patterson and Nick Markakis; in Jay Gibbons, they have a young slugger. They need a third baseman and then perhaps move Mora to the outfield; and now that Aramis Ramirez has opted out of his contract with the Cubs, he would fit in nicely, if he behaves himself and doesn’t play like he doesn’t care as he did at times last season. They could also use a power-hitting first baseman to play every day—Kevin Millar is not that guy at this point in his career. There are some power bats available like Carlos Lee; or Mike Piazza might be willing to move to the American League, catch once a week, play first base once a week and DH the rest of the time—the warning track power he showed in his last two seasons with the Mets and Padres and their big ballparks would return to home run power in Baltimore; plus Baltimore is not far from his Pennsylvania birthplace, or Florida home.
Things are not as bad in Baltimore as they have been over the past few seasons; and now that they are apparently trying to put things in their proper perspective with intelligent and stable management, they may be able to begin to attract useful free agents without overpaying ridiculously or being a last resort for a player to max out his contract. Those who believe that the Orioles will never improve as long as Angelos is the owner and his sons are meddling in the baseball operations need only look toward New York and the Mets to see how quickly Omar Minaya turned the team from a laughingstock where no player wanted to go, to a team that is on the cusp of dominating the National League. Or look at the Tigers in Detroit. Who would have thought that Jim Leyland would come in and have the Tigers in the World Series so quickly? Things can turn around like lightning—–regardless of recent history—–if there is smart management. As Angelos keeps his hands (mostly) off and the team is allowed to mature; and a smart, rather than desperate, series of trades and signings is allowed to take place, there is a good chance that the Orioles will pass the Red Sox next season and be a player or two away from becoming legitimate contenders in the American League in 2008—-or maybe even in 2007 if things break right. It happened for the Tigers, why not the Orioles?