Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail sat in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park recently with his arm draped across the top of the bench and one leg resting on top of the other. With the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up and his sunglasses on, MacPhail looked content and relaxed.
It was a far different picture 10 weeks earlier, when MacPhail, sitting in his office overlooking Camden Yards, declared it the most difficult summer of his professional life.
"I feel much better now than I did six, seven weeks ago, and I think the industry does, too," MacPhail said. "Even when we were struggling, when we were at our worst point, I had a lot of people in the game telling me, 'You're OK, you're going to be OK.' It's nice to see that before the end of the season. It's nice to see that manifest itself now."
Still, MacPhail remains bitterly disappointed with the 2010 season, which ends Sunday. In what was supposed to a year when the team emerged from the rebuilding process and started significantly improving on its win total, it will finish with 95 or more losses for the second straight season and for the fourth time during 13 consecutive years of losing.
While MacPhail called the club's strong finish encouraging, he has to evaluate the season as a whole, and the fact remains that for three-quarters of the 2010 campaign, the Orioles had the worst record in baseball.
But at the very least, the team's play after the Aug. 2 hiring of manager Buck Showalter, who guided the Orioles to a 31-22 record entering Friday's doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, helped ease some of the pain and renewed the organization's confidence in the team's young core. It also has taken a little heat off MacPhail as he enters what could be his final offseason with the club.
MacPhail's contract expires after the 2011 season, and he said he has no plans to approach owner Peter Angelos and discuss an extension.
"I don't think it's fair to put him in that position. The deal was the deal, and we'll talk about it, as far as I'm concerned, when it's over," MacPhail said.
"All the offseasons are important. Independent of my contractual situation, they are all major. But it doesn't have any more significance or any less significance to me based on my contract. There is nothing about this job that I really dislike other than the fact that our record isn't where I'd like it to be. I love the city, I love the franchise, I like the players. We've got some challenges. We've tried to address them one at a time and make the franchise better. The ownership has been great. [Angelos] has done everything that he said that he would do. It's just a matter of whether we can put this together."
MacPhail and Showalter are expected to meet with Angelos this week, both to review the 2010 season and to lay the groundwork for all the things that need to be done before the Orioles report to spring training in February.
Showalter, who inherited the coaches of previous managers Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel, will need to hire a staff, something he would like to have accomplished by early November.
The Orioles will have to decide what to do with their seven free agents, a list that includes infielders Cesar Izturis and Ty Wigginton and closer Koji Uehara. Then, they'll turn their attention to trying to find much-needed upgrades on the free-agent and trade markets, a process Showalter will be heavily involved with.
"He'll have a lot of say," MacPhail said. "I always think it's important for a manager to be involved in the player personnel decisions. Why on earth would you want to make a move where your manager isn't supportive of it? I think Buck, by virtue of his past and by the nature of the force of his personality, will probably be more involved than our previous managers, and that's fine by us."
Showalter and MacPhail have already had extensive conversations about offseason plans, and those are expected to become more frequent when the offseason begins.
"We talked about it the first day I interviewed," Showalter said. "He laid it out: 'Here's where we are, here's the decisions that have to be made, here's what's going on.' We had periods where, obviously, the focus has been on the team and the game and presently, how to make things better in the now. But we've talked about it some."
MacPhail said he has been given no indication that spending money will be an issue this offseason, assuming the right player is available. He also said the Orioles would not hesitate to package prospects, including their young pitchers, if they felt "what was coming back would be a meaningful, important part of the franchise."