Seeking new O's path

MacPhail wants to draw different map for club

Orioles End Season

October 01, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles will need a setup man and a closer. They could use a veteran starting pitcher and still lack a powerful bat in the middle of their order. The most accomplished hitter they have, shortstop Miguel Tejada, would rather be traded than change positions, while their best pitcher, Erik Bedard, is entering a critical offseason in determining his future with the club.

And after Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail figures out how to overhaul a roster stocked with seemingly immovable contracts, he'll have to turn his attention to a minor league system that is struggling to provide immediate help and a front office that is filled with uncertainty.

"Besides George Bush, I think Andy MacPhail's got the next-hardest job in America," Orioles reliever Jamie Walker said. "He knows that. He's a smart baseball man. We have to reroute this ship. There are a lot of changes that are probably going to be made."

As soon as the final pitch was thrown in the Orioles' loss yesterday to the New York Yankees, a 10th straight losing season was over and one of the most important offseasons in franchise history had begun. Manager Dave Trembley vowed to no longer take questions on the 2007 campaign, which the Orioles finished with a 69-93 record.

A week from today, team officials will gather in Sarasota, Fla., and officially turn the page. MacPhail, who took the helm of the Orioles' front office June 20, will preside over organizational meetings, which he hopes will end with the floundering franchise having a better plan for moving forward.

"I think that we clearly have multiple issues that we need to address to get ourselves where we need to be on the field at the major league level and as a organization," MacPhail said. "Clearly, where we are now, this is not working. I think it's just logical that you try something new. We have some work to do yet, and we have some time to determine what path we're going to go."

MacPhail, a longtime baseball man, saw pretty much what he needed to see over the final 3 1/2 months of the season. The Orioles' pitching was decimated by injuries, revealing a disturbing lack of depth in the organization. Several of the veteran position players lost focus, an annual rite of passage at Camden Yards as the losses and the frustration start to mount.

"When you've had the kind of season that we have, you have to consider all options," MacPhail said. "I'm obligated, I think, for our fans to consider everything."

Plan developing

In several different interviews over the past couple of days, MacPhail maintained he has yet to decide on a game plan for 2008 and beyond. That will come sometime in the next couple of weeks, after the organizational meetings end.

MacPhail acknowledged a total rebuilding job, which would likely mean the trading or buying out of several veterans, is one option. He said it has become clear, especially in the midst of the Orioles' typical late-season swoon when they lost 28 of their final 39 games, that the team is not close to being a playoff contender.

"I don't think we're one signing away from the postseason," MacPhail said. "I hate to put years on it, because a lot of that is a copout, but it's not like we're right around the corner."

MacPhail said no matter what route the front office chooses, the focus of the organization from this point forward will be on scouting and development, with a focus on pitching. A recent Baseball America study of player development ranked the Orioles 28th among 30 major league teams. MacPhail said that the number is unacceptable, especially in a division with two financial heavyweights in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

"We have to do a good job of identifying talent at every level and then teaching it and instructing it," he said. "We're not going to be able to go toe-to-toe, dollar-for-dollar with New York and Boston, nor do you have to necessarily. We just need to do things very well, and that's the same thing on the field."

Pitching holes

MacPhail rattled off several holes that he'll have to plug this offseason, the biggest one residing in the bullpen. Closer Chris Ray and setup man Danys Baez will likely miss all of next season as a result of ligament-transplant surgery.

MacPhail said there are areas he'd like to address offensively and defensively, but his main priority is not finding a 40-home run bat, but upgrading the Orioles' pitching at all levels.

"If there is one thing that the last two months have brought home, you have no chance in this division if you don't pitch well," he said. "When I first came here, I said that pitching is 85 percent of the game. In this division, it might be 90 percent. When Erik Bedard started, we were 19-9. Good pitching is going to thwart real good teams. It is my belief now that this franchise is really going to have to focus on pitching."

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