Hitting next phase

With solid start, MacPhail can adjust rebuilding plans

On the Orioles

April 22, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

I am happy to report the "brutal honesty" phase of Andy MacPhail's rebuilding project is apparently over.

If I'm reading this right, we're now in the "stay-in-the-moment" phase, where the team is playing well above expectations and some fans are starting to filter back into the ballpark.

Welcome to my semantic world, where subtle changes in vocabulary often mean more than you might think. MacPhail looked at me strangely when I asked him the other day if his "brutally honest" comments of last year were still in effect. Then he told me -- in a friendly way -- to shut up and enjoy the show.

And why not? The New York Yankees just stopped by and got a taste of the budding era of competitive baseball in Baltimore. Better than that, the crowds at Camden Yards over the weekend out-shouted the New York tourists at just about every turn, which I took as a sign that Jim Hunter isn't the only guy sporting an orange "Believe" bumper sticker in Baltimore.

The first three weeks of the season have been great fun, and a series victory over the Yankees is always a welcome addition to any conversation about the future of this new-look Orioles team.

The conversation with MacPhail, however, took place before the Orioles spanked the Yanks on Friday and Saturday. It actually took place the day before the comeback victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night, when the homestand was starting to look bleak.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and MacPhail happened to be on the field well before game time, and it seemed like a good time to ask him whether the plan had changed since the Orioles got off to their uplifting start or whether it might change if the sun were still shining this brightly at midsummer.

He assured me nothing fundamental had changed but seemed to open the window just a crack on the possibility that a midseason trade of Brian Roberts might not be necessary if the payoff on the Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard deals continues to be as high as it has been during the opening month of the season.

"I think you're foolish not to look at the facts on the ground, as they say in the military, and adjust to the situation," MacPhail said.

The Orioles could not have expected that five of the 10 players they received in those two trades would be making important contributions at this early point in the process. You could even make the case that the realistic expectation would have been to get something from five or six out of the 15 players MacPhail had hoped to get back if he had traded all three of his top veterans.

Who knows what's going to happen next, but MacPhail knows better than to dig in and insist on playing all of the cards in his offseason hand when the table might be starting to get hot.

"There are certain things you have to do to be in a position to win," he added, "and that will always be what you will be guided by."

Loose translation: Things are going pretty well right now, and I'm not going to force the action, but when the time comes and the situation is right to make the next big move to improve the club long term, I'll be ready.

The Roberts situation is shaping up as a potential win-win. The Chicago Cubs, who pursued a deal for the Orioles second baseman during the winter, are off to a great start in an already contentious National League Central race. If they need an offensive boost at midseason -- or another contender suffers a key injury -- Roberts' trade value will only go up.

If the Orioles are still competitive at that point, MacPhail would have a tough call to make, but that would be a nice problem to have.

Maybe, at that point, he would have to be brutally honest with Orioles fans one more time, but there should be little doubt anymore that the organization has made substantial top-to-bottom progress since MacPhail took over. Whether that will eventually make it possible to exchange a hard choice (trading Roberts) for something easier remains to be seen.

Either way, we seem to have entered a new phase in the evolution of this beleaguered franchise.

"I think we said what we needed to say and did what we needed to do," MacPhail said, "and now you go on and react to events like everyone else."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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