Stepping down would be step in right direction for MacPhail, O's

August 31, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

If the reports are true and Andy MacPhail is leaving after this season, it means the Orioles will be going in a new direction. Again. I've lost track of how many new directions they've gone in over the past 14 seasons. Is it more than half a dozen yet? Help me out here.

But the truth is, it's time for MacPhail to go. It's the best move for this floundering team. And it's probably the best move for him, too, if he doesn't want to end up babbling to himself and swatting imaginary flies while trying to fix this mess.

For his part, MacPhail isn't saying one way or another if he's leaving. He didn't return my calls today, and neither did team owner Peter Angelos. And MacPhail said Tuesday that his situation remains unchanged. But all the signs of an imminent departure are there.

Not once has MacPhail said he'd like to be back next season. Not once has he said anything about a contract extension. And it's Buck Showalter, the manager, who's been meeting regularly with Angelos to talk about the state of the Orioles, not MacPhail.

Translation: I'm gone, boys. Good luck with the rebuilding thing.

If you're trying to figure out whether this is good or bad, here's the bottom line: The Orioles took a big step backward this season, MacPhail's fourth with the club.

It was MacPhail who said this was the year the team should be judged by wins and losses, not by which of the young players were coming along.

So here it is: The Orioles are 54-80 after Wednesday night's 13-0 loss to Toronto.

They're headed for their 14th straight losing season. The young pitchers have failed to develop. The roster's been dotted with players (Mark Worrell, Mitch Atkins, Blake Davis) who have no business playing at the major league level. And in so many games this season, the Orioles have played some of the ugliest, most boneheaded baseball you'll ever see.

As for the fans, so many of them are bitter and disenchanted, especially after a season that began with such promise.

Attendance continues to plummet: The Orioles rank 26th in the majors. There were fewer than 11,000 fans at Camden Yards on a beautiful night Tuesday to see the team beat Toronto, 6-5, in 10 innings. A story about the Ravens third-string tight end draws more eyeballs to this newspaper and its website than anything about the Orioles.

How sad is all that? Oh, yeah. It's time for a change at the top all right.

Of course, no one in his right mind could say all of that is MacPhail's fault.

How do you explain the pitching staff's implosion? How do you explain such highly touted prospects as Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen stinking it up for vast stretches?

How do you explain Brian Roberts, your table-setter at the top of the order, your All-Star second baseman, missing almost the whole season because his concussion-related headaches won't go away?

And MacPhail has made some good moves in his tenure here. The trades for solid shortstop J.J. Hardy (26 homers) and Mark Reynolds (31 homers) panned out. So did unloading grumpy Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and George Sherrill. So did sending Miguel Tejada to Houston for Luke Scott, Matt Albers and Troy Patton right before Tejada was implicated for steroid use in the Mitchell Report.

But the Orioles have lagged way behind most teams in player development and scouting, and it's killed them. Their farm system was ranked No. 21 in the majors by Baseball America. MacPhail definitely has to take responsibility for that.

And he takes responsibility, too, for not signing a veteran pitcher to stabilize the rotation and ease the pressure on the young pitchers. (Sorry, Justin Duchscherer and his perpetually strained hip doesn't count.) And MacPhail never signed that middle-of-the-order slugger this team so desperately needed. Derrek Lee (12 homers, 41 RBIs before he was traded to Pittsburgh) and Vladimir Guerrero (10 homers, 45 RBIs) were busts, even if they were one-year contracts.

MacPhail is a good man with a sound legacy as a baseball exec. He did all he could to turn the Orioles around. And if he is leaving, he leaves the Orioles in much better shape than he found them in 2007.

Now it's time for someone else to take over.

Again.

And maybe that's the saddest thing of all.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on "The Norris and Davis Show" on 105.7 The Fan.

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