Orioles manager Buck Showalter spent Thursday night watching his team from the front office suite, serving out a one-game suspension and — just maybe — getting a small taste of what life might be like if he traded in his uniform for a coat and tie.
Don't misunderstand. He's not campaigning for a promotion, but there is enough uncertainty on the Orioles horizon that you're going to hear all kinds of speculation over the next few months about the future makeup of the baseball operations department.
Here's what we know: President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is in the final months of his 4 1/2-year contract and Showalter appears to have taken his place at the right hand of owner Peter Angelos.
We're not talking about a bloody coup here. MacPhail has always encouraged Showalter to communicate directly with the big boss, and Showalter — unlike some of his predecessors — has not been shy about letting Angelos know what he thinks should be done to put the Orioles on a firm footing for the future.
The only question is how this affects the future of the front office. Does this mean that MacPhail is getting ready to ride off into the sunset … and someday the Commissioner's office? Does it mean that Showalter will soon get his secret wish to become a general manager and have complete control over the operation of a franchise?
MacPhail remains coy about his plans, but there have been some subtle signs that he might be ready to either step into a more business-oriented role with the team or even step out of the game for awhile and do some of the things that a lifetime in baseball have not allowed.
He is sending another son off to school inCalifornia this year and he relishes every opportunity to spend time with his 93-year-old father, but the job doesn't permit him to get away much.
Maybe you remember that day in spring training when Angelos, without much prompting, told me that MacPhail's contract situation wasn't an issue and he "isn't going anywhere." MacPhail's immediate reaction was muted and it was obvious that he wasn't ready to predict where he might be in a year.
Now, with his guaranteed tenure down to a matter of months, he's still not saying a whole lot on the subject, but he recognizes that his unresolved status will become a much bigger issue as the season draws to a close.
Of course, a lot has changed since early March. Angelos was inFlorida back then enjoying his newly renovated spring training complex and bursting with optimism about the newly renovated Orioles. The mood in and around the organization has taken a 180-degree turn since then, so it's difficult to say whether Angelos still feels the same way about MacPhail, or — for that matter — Showalter.
MacPhail's rebuilding plan appeared to have turned a corner at the end of the 2010 season, but the club's dramatic midseason collapse has left everyone to wonder just where the organization goes from here. The contract extension that the club is about to finalize with shortstop J.J. Hardy is certainly a positive sign, but another series of serious pitching setbacks has left the team looking almost as hopeless as it did at this time last year.
It remains to be seen if that motivates MacPhail to prevail on Angelos to give him more time to finish what he started in 2007.
If MacPhail decides he has had enough or Angelos decides not to renew his contract, it will undoubtedly spark a new debate over the direction the organization should take to pull out of its 14-year funk. Showalter likely will be the man moderating that debate, either as the guy calling the front office shots or the one who suggests MacPhail's replacement. Long-time baseball executive John Hart, who worked in the O's organization during the 1980s and was Showalter's GM inTexas, already has been rumored as a possible successor.
No doubt, a lot will depend on how the final 2½ months of the season play out. If the Orioles don't pull out of this midseason tailspin, who knows if anybody will want the job.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.