Peter Schmuck: New Orioles GM's top priority should be fixing player-development operation

October 15, 2011|Peter Schmuck

While the Orioles — once again — go through the process of trying to redefine themselves by reconstructing their front office, this is probably as good a time as any to hope that the top candidate to be head of baseball operations turns his first meeting with owner Peter Angelos into a "Jerry Maguire" moment.

Of course, no one who actually wants the job is going to leap out of his seat and shout, "Show me the money!" at the critical juncture in the interview process, but it would be nice if whoever gets the job also gets an assurance that no expense will be spared to build baseball's best scouting and player-development operation.

And you thought I was going to talk about Prince Fielder.

If the Orioles also want to pony up $160 million for a heavy hitter (and you can interpret that description any way you want), they'll get no complaint here, though this year's free-agent budget probably would be better spent on a quality starting pitcher or two and a less expensive bat. That's probably what manager Buck Showalter would prefer, and who's to argue with the one guy in the organization who has proven he can turn a floundering team around.

What the organization needs most, however, is to recognize that its inability to develop players on a par with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is not the result of some cosmic conspiracy. It's not because one of the baseball gods reached down and poked Brian Matusz in the rib cage last March to have a good laugh at our expense. It's also not because of the small-market/large market economic disparity that served as a pretty good excuse until the Tampa Bay Rays reached the playoffs three times in the past four years.

It's because the Orioles have a history of short-changing themselves at the most basic level of team construction. They've been behind the Yankees and Red Sox for years in the areas where they could compete economically. And they've been slow to recognize failure in the player-development system and hold anyone accountable for it.

This is not an indictment of anybody in particular, though you could make a strong case that the new GM/vice president of baseball operations should do some serious housecleaning. It's just time to recognize that the road back to respectability runs through every level of the player-development system and has to be paved with gold.

The Orioles can't complain that they've had limited access to the best amateur talent, because they've been picking near the top of the draft order for the past decade and have been among the top five spenders in the amateur draft the past four years. They can't claim an inability to afford more high-quality scouts, because the team's MASN-charged revenue stream is more than adequate to run a quality player-development operation.

Don't misunderstand. The Orioles have been able to put some good young players into the front end of the talent pipeline, and they have brought a several fine prospects to the major leagues over the past three years. They just aren't doing it nearly as well as the other four teams in their division.

What we're talking about here is a simple matter of priorities. The Orioles have been criticized for years for spending less on amateur and international scouting than some of their American League East betters. Newly departed president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail established a greater presence in the Dominican Republic, but the Orioles have generally remained a bystander in the bidding for the top Latin prospects.

Even though MacPhail brought a higher level of front office organization to the franchise, the player-development system remained underfunded and disjointed. Can anyone explain to me the logic of international scouting director John Stockstill and minor league director Dave Stockstill essentially trading jobs 18 months ago? Wasn't that an admission that the organization had two key executives in the wrong roles for several years?

If that doesn't have you scratching your head, consider that John Stockstill — who remains the player-development director — just went to Japan to look at players because he is the guy in the organization with the best Asian contacts. Don't other teams have scouts who do that?

This is a team that poured $4.5 million down a hole when it signed stop-gap free agent Garrett Atkins a couple of years ago but continues to pinch pennies when it comes to little things like providing adequate video technology at every minor league level or hiring enough top-flight talent evaluators and instructors.

Those are the type of things that matter to Showalter and should be at the top of the player-development to-do list for the new baseball operations director after he assembles a new front office staff. He'll never have a better chance to get that kind of stuff approved than the honeymoon period after he accepts the job.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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