If you're like me, the primary reason you're still paying attention to the Orioles right now is to watch the early evolution of Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. They are the cornerstones of the team's pitching future, and they are two of the main reasons to be interested in next season, which is what this really is all about.
So, what are you supposed to think when Andy MacPhail confirms that both are soon to be shut down for their own good and their places in the rotation are likely to be taken over by Norfolk next-men-up Chris Waters and Chris Lambert?
I know what I'm thinking. I'm thinking the Ravens open against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13, which is just about the time that the Tillman and Matusz Show is going to close at Oriole Park. I'm thinking that David Hernandez and Jason Berken are nice young men who may also be part of the Orioles' future rotation, but it's going to take a Peter Schmuck T-Shirt Tuesday to get me to show up during NFL Week 2.
(No, my ego isn't totally out of control. I'm just trying to imagine what your average Orioles fan would do with a bright orange, size-XXX T-shirt with Schmuck on the back. Might make a nice Halloween decoration.)
The thing is, MacPhail is absolutely right to protect the team's most valuable young arms against overuse at a time when their presence in the rotation isn't going to make an iota of difference in the outcome of the season. The Orioles are going to finish last in the American League East. They're going to lose at least 95 games. The last couple of weeks should be treated like the Ravens' final preseason game Thursday night. Just don't get anybody hurt.
That's not going to capture the imagination of the remaining fans - other than the Yankees and Red Sox fans who still seem to have a pretty good time at Camden Yards - but MacPhail is remaining true to his long-term plan regardless of the short-term drawbacks.
The only real question is what this means for Dave Trembley, whose future as manager was supposed to depend - in large part - on whether the young Orioles showed noticeable improvement over the final two months of the season.
If that still is the barometer for his job security, then Trembley is a dead manager walking, and MacPhail has paved his road out of town with a series of decisions that have made it next to impossible for the club to avoid another end-of-season collapse.
The Orioles traded hot closer George Sherrill at the waiver deadline, leaving young Jim Johnson to learn on the job. MacPhail dispatched Aubrey Huff to the Detroit Tigers for a Single-A pitching prospect, leaving a rather large hole in the club's run-production potential.
Sure, you can point to Huff's inconsistent performance this year and his lack of production so far in Detroit and ask whether he was truly a major loss, but if the goal was to win more games in September, he would probably still be here. MacPhail was willing to move Huff and Sherrill for future puzzle pieces and now has ordered a strategic withdrawal from the starting rotation, so it's pretty obvious that the short-term objective has changed.
MacPhail remains publicly noncommittal on Trembley's future, but this actually might be a positive development for the embattled manager, since the recent front office machinations have left him with little chance of proving himself worthy of a contract extension under the conditions that were originally set forth.
Trembley was brought in to help oversee the rebuilding program and develop the organization's top prospects. Some hiccups with the veteran players notwithstanding, he should get credit for a successful job of assimilating the likes of Brad Bergesen, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie and Matt Wieters, as well as Tillman and Matusz.
Whether he will get that credit remains to be seen, but every recent decision by the front office seems to push him closer to the door. Maybe that appearance is deceiving, or maybe this is one of those times when life is just not fair.
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