“Under the circumstances, they did well,” said a high-ranking executive of one National League club. “But that's just the way it is with [the Red Sox and Yankees]. If you are them, you just have to tread water and hope that some of their kids develop.”
Buster Olney, a senior writer at ESPN Magazine, and former Orioles beat writer for The Sun, liked the Orioles' moves this week but said, “they still have so far to go.”
“If they were in the American League West, we'd be talking about if X, Y and Z happened, maybe they would contend. But in this division, they are 100 miles away,” Olney said. “They have so far to go upstream, it's like watching a salmon at the mouth of whatever river. … That's why, in my own feeling, I wish baseball would realign and take out the divisions. The Rays' window may have just closed for good.
“There is a huge gap between [the Yankees and Red Sox] and the rest of their division. It's almost like it has to be a combination of brilliant work by someone like [Rays GM] Andrew Friedman with luck to get one of the other teams in the mix. For somebody that covered that team, I feel bad. You just have this huge generation of Orioles fans waiting to be inspired and I can't see it anytime soon.”
The Rays finished in last place in the division in nine of their first 10 seasons. However, relying on great young talent and shrewd moves by the Friedman-led front office, they won the AL East in 2008 before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. They won the division again in 2010, but their roster this offseason has been ravaged. Not only did Crawford agree this week to terms with the Red Sox, but they also lost slugging first baseman Carlos Pena, who signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Tampa Bay has already lost top setup man Joaquin Benoit to free agency, and it will also likely lose closer Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Balfour and Randy Choate out of their 2010 bullpen.
Asked about competing in the AL East with the recent moves by Boston and the Yankees' anticipated signing of Lee, Friedman told ESPN's Jayson Stark, “It was nearly impossible and probably getting closer to impossible. But it's doable.”
MacPhail knows the feeling. He has said several times during his tenure with the Orioles that succeeding in the AL East is even more difficult than he expected. Even with what the Orioles did this week and could finalize in the days ahead — they are still looking for a first baseman and are focused on LaRoche, and want to add to their bullpen — that didn't change.
In fact, it might have gotten even harder for the Orioles to compete.