O's: Deal or no deal?

Front office reluctant to alter long-term plan

June 16, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

Nine games under .500. A stretch of nine straight losing seasons that is primed to extend to a decade. Last place in the American League East. A roster stocked with under-performing and high-priced veterans.

The situation might scream for an overhaul. But as top Orioles executives sift through a season that has gone horribly wrong, they vow to stay the course, sticking to the plan that was supposed to lift the organization back to prominence but has yet to yield such results.

With the trade deadline a little more than six weeks away, there are no plans for a drastic face-lift of the roster, club executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette said this week. As poorly as the Orioles have played - they have lost six in a row, including a sweep at Camden Yards by the Washington Nationals - they will not follow the path of the Florida Marlins and have a fire sale, dismantling their veteran nucleus in favor of young and unproven talent.

"In Game 65, I do think that it is too early to blow it all up, but my answer to that question may be a lot different a month from now," said Duquette, the club's second-year vice president. "That's the way you have to evaluate this type of season. The nine straight losing seasons is a factor to some degree, but it cannot override clear and thoughtful thinking about how to build a team for the future.

"You can't let it paralyze you even though the frustration is there through the fan base and through the entire organization. You have to make sure you do what is right. Sound, fundamental decisions have to be the order of the day."

In other words, the Orioles say that tearing down what the club is trying to build is an overreaction to a brutal 2 1/2 months. During that time, the team's offense has woefully underperformed, its overhauled bullpen has sprouted leaks time and again and manager Sam Perlozzo has come under enough scrutiny that his job security has been discussed within the organization.

Yet, the front office has stood pat, resisting the temptation to make a managerial change and declining to shake up the roster because it feels that the rash of close losses proves that better times are ahead.

The Orioles are 6-15 in one-run games and have lost nine times when leading after seven innings. More than 70 percent of their games have been decided by three runs or fewer.

"I don't think it's been a setback [to our plan]," said Flanagan, the executive vice president. "I think that things actually are progressing and we have to be patient. We obviously are a streakier club than we thought we'd be, but there are still 90-plus games left. We have a long way to go. The alternative is blow it up, and I don't think we feel that way with the club."

Duquette agreed, saying the team has graduated from being overmatched as it was at times last year, and now must take the next step and learn to win close games.

Still, patience is waning for the players, especially the ones that have been through this before.

"At some point, you'd like to stop saying we're moving in the right direction. That's what's frustrating for all of us," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who signed a one-year extension this spring but decided not to sign a longer deal because he wanted to see the direction the club was going.

"You can only move in the right direction for so long and still lose. At some point, the time comes where you have to win. I think we're all at that point. I know I am. Losing is a mental grind. It's a physical grind. It's hard. People say losing is easy. Come here and try it. It's not easy."

Said third baseman Melvin Mora: "When you're in last place, that's not a good direction."

Below expectations

The Orioles' plan was put in place several years ago and amended slightly when Flanagan and Duquette took over before the 2006 season. It called for the Orioles to build around their young pitching and veteran nucleus, a group that includes Roberts, Mora, Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons and Ramon Hernandez.

It looked promising, but several young pitchers - Daniel Cabrera most notably - have not progressed as quickly as the organization had hoped, and one who has, Adam Loewen, is out for the rest of the 2007 season with an elbow injury.

Even more concerning is that several of the veteran position players, notably Gibbons and Mora, have seen their numbers drop drastically. Even Tejada, who set a franchise record for hits last season, has been criticized for his declining power numbers and range defensively.

That leaves the Orioles with a nucleus that several scouts and executives from opposing teams have said isn't remotely good enough to win in the American League East.

Asked if he agreed with that assessment, Gibbons said, "Honestly, I don't know. I can only look at myself and I'm not getting it done."

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