The walls might seem to be crumbling at the Warehouse, but Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations, remains steadfast — or is that stubborn? — in his belief that his long-term rebuilding plan is still on track.
That probably sounds a little nutty if you've been watching the team trip over itself the past five weeks. The Orioles got off to the second-worst start in club history. They entered Saturday's doubleheader in Minnesota with the worst record in the major leagues. They're banged up and emotionally battered.
If you're a fan, you've got to be wondering how MacPhail can deny that "The Plan" is on life-support, but the architect of this currently sputtering rebuilding program isn't backing down in the face of the mounting losses and dwindling attendance.
"No, I am as convinced now as I've ever been that it's the only course that can get us back in a position to be a contending team," he said from Minnesota this weekend. "This start has not changed my attitude at all. I'm disappointed in how we're playing, but I believe by the end we'll have a better record than we had last year."
Hopefully, that's not the only measure of success. The Orioles lost 98 games last year, so a modest, incremental improvement isn't going to light anybody's fire. And, quite frankly, improving on 64 victories — as uninspiring a concept as that might be — isn't going to be easy after a 2-16 start.
The Orioles have bounced back some from that. They even swept the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series in Baltimore for the first time since 1974. But it's going to take a lot more to dig the O's out of this early-season trench and put them in position to consider anything that happens this year as progress toward the goals that MacPhail laid out when he embarked on his rebuilding project in 2007.
To his credit — and to the chagrin of many angry Orioles fans — he has chosen not to pass the buck and lay the club's early collapse at the feet of manager Dave Trembley and his coaching staff. MacPhail isn't exactly falling on his sword either, but he has stood firm against "scapegoating" underlings for the things that have been out of anyone's control.
He knows who put together this team and he's not running away from that. He was the one who gave reliever Michael Gonzalez $12 million to be the closer for the next two years. He's the one who gambled on Garrett Atkins. For that matter, he's the one who was convinced that the young nucleus of the Orioles' offense would turn a corner this year instead of run into a wall.
Though he's never been a guy to reveal much, when he put the club's underperforming hitters on notice Wednesday and told The Baltimore Sun that "this isn't a suicide pact," it was obvious that he is feeling some heat.
Obviously, it's not fair to throw the key injuries to Brian Roberts and Felix Pie in his face, but this is MacPhail's team now. He has to wear that dismal win-loss record right along with his team's surprisingly toothless lineup.
"It's a horrible start," MacPhail said, "and it's killing you business-wise because you aren't generating any enthusiasm."
It has generated just the opposite — more antipathy from a fan following that already was emotionally scarred by 12straight losing seasons. It also has eroded confidence in MacPhail's ability to clean up the mess he was handed three years ago.
The honeymoon ended when the Orioles could not get off the floor late last season and MacPhail was unable to wow anybody with a game-changing acquisition during the winter. He isn't apologizing for that, because the plan was to wait until the club was close enough to make it a more attractive destination for the big-time free agents that might boost it to the next level. The outlook for the coming offseason doesn't look all that promising either.
So, does that make "The Plan" a failure, or does it simply reinforce the notion that the only way the Orioles can ever compete in the American League East is by developing enough high-quality young players to deal for the difference-makers?
It's not a simple question. There are definitely a lot of fans who have already given up on MacPhail's approach, even though the rebuilding program has been in place for barely 21/2 seasons. Most extreme major league makeovers take a lot longer than that. Still, when MacPhail said Wednesday that his patience was "not inexhaustible," that was probably the first time in a while that Baltimore's beleaguered baseball public responded with a unanimous "Amen."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesday and Thursday at six. Also, check out his blog "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog