For Orioles, all the right moves just aren't all that exciting

December 20, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

It has been a busy December for the Orioles - at least by Orioles standards - and the three veteran players who have been signed or acquired to solidify the roster fit specific needs outlined by Andy MacPhail heading into the offseason. But those season-ticket plans are still going to be a tough sell.

Kevin Millwood is a decent starting pitcher with a solid track record. Mike Gonzalez is a talented left-handed reliever who should fill the void left when MacPhail traded George Sherrill for third base prospect Josh Bell. And Garrett Atkins is an intriguing one-year gamble who could play either corner infield position.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but the fans want to see the Orioles sign a superstar to help them forget the past 12 years, and that does not appear to be part of the plan ... at least not yet.

I suppose if I were sipping some orange Kool-Aid right now, this is where I would tell everyone to be patient. The Orioles are a better team than they were on the final day of the 2009 season and they are headed in the right direction, which - in one sense - has to be considered great progress in light of the club's fractured recent history.

Trouble is, all progress is relative in professional sports. The Orioles have advanced over the past few weeks, but if real progress is measured by how much they have narrowed the gap in the American League East, it's hard to make a strong case that they have made any progress at all.

The Boston Red Sox have signed the top starting pitcher in this year's free-agent market ( John Lackey) to a long-term contract, and the New York Yankees acquired marquee center fielder Curtis Granderson in that three-team swap that also involved the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Orioles, meanwhile, have made a handful of modest moves that make sense in the context of MacPhail's long-term strategy.

There's just a huge difference between what makes sense and what is going to get fans excited.

Lackey wasn't interested in coming here, and Granderson wasn't a fit, so it's not a matter of MacPhail getting one-upped by the club's two top division rivals. It's just that those big moves serve as the latest reminders that the Orioles still aren't ready to run with the big dogs of the AL East.

Everybody around here already knows that, but the clamor for the Orioles to make a big trade for Adrian Gonzalez or a big play for free agent Matt Holliday is not just a knee-jerk display of fan frustration. That kind of spectacular move would be proof that MacPhail's long-term plan is actually getting close to fruition.

I'm guessing you're going to have to wait another winter for something like that, but the Orioles probably are going to be more competitive this season, and they're working pretty hard to change their image.

The club coughed up more than $100 million to re-sign Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts last spring, and MacPhail has been pushing buttons since July to bring the 40-man roster and the player development department into positional equilibrium.

Off the field, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network has upgraded to a full high-definition schedule and is pondering some intriguing candidates to replace Buck Martinez in the broadcast booth. The team also has moved FanFest back to the Baltimore Convention Center, which sends a much more positive message about the upcoming season than the scaled-down ballpark event the past few years.

In other words, the Orioles are trying harder, though I understand that a lot of fans still don't think they are trying hard enough. Whether their image will ever change depends on two things - a much better performance on the field and a fan base that is willing to accept that things have changed.

They aren't there yet on either count. The likelihood of the O's reaching the playoffs this year ranks right behind Kevin Cowherd's chances of winning a medal at the Senior Olympics and me giving up Doritos and Diet Dr Pepper for Lent.

There has been a lot of positive movement, just not enough yet to win back the hearts and minds of the dormant legion of disaffected Orioles fans who still need to be convinced and return to the ballpark.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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