Image via SeatGeek
Last night after broomball, as we were hanging out in the parking lot, one of my sour graping, Red Sox fan friends complained about the over-exuberance of the Orioles' celebration of knocking their beloved team out of the post season. Sox fans have been spoiled over the past decade. They've forgotten what it's like to go for years without being at the center of the broader baseball conversation. The Orioles had a putrid season. Yet for two glorious weeks, they got to play the central role in the dismantling of a powerhouse. Even as they face an off-season with many questions to answer in their seemingly endless quest for respectability, the wounds of 2011 are soothed by the joys of a strong finish and the thrill of being part of the story. Along the way, they even managed to improve upon last year's record: 69 wins as opposed to 66 in 2010.
Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations, is likely finished. There are those who believe manager Buck Showalter will be promoted to take his place. Regardless, big changes are in store in Baltimore and I think it's long past time for a new direction.
I, for one, am tired of the talk claiming that the O's will never be able to dig themselves out of their hole as long as they're in the brutal AL East. Fact is, they stink when they play anybody. They were, in fact, the only AL East team which had a losing record against teams outside of the division. So in truth, they are a bad team and they are in baseball's toughest division. They are not a bad team because they are in baseball's toughest division. The AL East used to be a two-team race until the Rays battled their way out of the cellar to make it three. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are by far the best fourth-place team in the game, finishing 2011 with a .500 record. There's no reason - none at all - why the Orioles couldn't at least be good enough to keep things interesting for everybody else.
Trying to follow the Yankee or Red Sox model of team building would be a huge mistake. If the press are to be believed, the O's will target Prince Fielder in the off-season. While Fielder would most certainly improve the team significantly and bring excitement to a desperate fan base, I think such a move would not be the best use of resources. It's not as if the Birds are one, two or even three players away from contention. A systemic overhaul is in order.
Basically, the Orioles need to become the Rays. They need to draft well and develop players who will be coveted by other teams. The Rays lost big name free agents and made the playoffs anyway. The Red Sox gained big name free agents and they didn't. In losing players, the Rays received an unprecedented number of compensation picks in the draft which will fuel their franchise for years to come. This is how you beat the big boys in the current baseball economy. Baltimore needs to hire someone who will lead the way.
The ball's in your court, Mr. Angelos. What is this team going to be, one which might make incremental improvements from year to year or one that builds for sustained success? I know which one I'd prefer.