Slow and steady no winner for some O's fans

December 06, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Orioles president Andy MacPhail and his front office staff are headed to the winter meetings in Las Vegas, and - if you listen to the fans - the heat is on, even though it's not particularly warm in Nevada this time of year.

The offseason has produced little in the way of on-field improvements and much in the way of unsatisfying contract negotiations, which has fueled a fountain of discontent on Orioles message boards and in the blogosphere. It's still relatively early, but Orioles fans already are losing patience with MacPhail and his long-term rebuilding program.

Now, I'm not going to lecture anybody about that. The Orioles haven't been to the playoffs since Adam Jones wore short pants, and there's no reason anyone should be either happy or satisfied with a franchise that has been so incompetent for so long, but fans still have some obligation to judge the MacPhail era on its own merits and not hold him responsible for the 9 1/2 years of futility that preceded it.

MacPhail is known for his methodical management approach, which produced a pair of very successful trades last winter. If you recall, both those deals took most of the offseason and there was plenty of teeth-gnashing when it seemed as if they would never get done. They weren't perfect trades - time will tell whether the likes of Troy Patton and Chris Tillman will reach their potential - but they were exactly as MacPhail promised and they improved the major league team enough to make the first half of the season fairly interesting.

Which brings us back to Andy's second winter of our discontent and the growing sentiment among a fatalistic segment of the Orioles' fan base that he is not up to the job of signing significant free agents and negotiating contract extensions with Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts. Never mind that he has done just about everything he promised to do when he took over the team and still has plenty of time this offseason to do the things he needs to do to continue the ground-up reconstruction of the franchise.

Maybe he'll end up falling short this time, but he isn't the one who has changed since last year. MacPhail came here with a plan to repopulate the minor league system and transition to a younger major league roster. He never set a target date for the Orioles to be competitive in the American League East, though it was generally assumed to be 2010 if all went well. Then the relatively upbeat first half of last season raised some expectations, and the availability of Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) and Monkton resident A.J. Burnett created hope the process might speed up.

And that's where there has been a disconnect between MacPhail and the fans who want - and probably deserve - some instant gratification after 11 straight losing seasons.

Here's a little news flash: The unfortunate thing about long-term plans is that, by definition, they take a long time. Orioles fans are understandably short on patience at this point, but the solution is not to pressure the team to make the same kind of knee-jerk adjustments that have kept the franchise in a perpetual state of disarray for the past decade.

There are people who are angry the Orioles didn't trade for shortstop Khalil Greene, even though he's eligible for free agency after next year. There was grumbling that they didn't try harder to sign Edgar Renteria, though he would have been an aging and expensive Band-Aid that doesn't fit into the bigger picture. There will certainly be a backlash if they fail to sign Teixeira, which is understandable because of his local roots and probably unfair because he's going to come here only if the club gives agent Scott Boras a blank check.

Certainly, it would be nice if the Orioles did go all-out for Teixeira, because it would give the fan base a big lift and he would fit into the general framework of MacPhail's rebuilding plan. It would make little sense, however, to roll out big money for stopgap players when there is little chance of the Orioles' climbing over three of their four division rivals to compete for a wild-card berth next season.

That's why nobody should get too excited about the winter meetings. The Orioles will be on the lookout for a middle-rotation starter who might be straining his current team's budget and a steal in the Rule 5 draft. MacPhail will continue to seek a moderately priced shortstop and, presumably, gauge interest in a late-winter deal for Roberts in case the second baseman decides he doesn't want to sign an extension.

In the end, it will probably be an unsatisfying week for the fans, but rebuilding is not an exciting process, and it certainly doesn't get done in a year and a half. Maybe MacPhail can make enough moves over the next two months to mollify the masses, but heaven help the Orioles and their fans if he does that by going against his instincts and losing sight of the horizon.

I know this much. The fans who are willing to give up on him this quick are much more aligned with the management philosophy that got the Orioles into this mess than any approach that might get them out of it.

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

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