Actions Speak Louder than Words
As the Orioles head off towards their 13th straight losing season and flirt with being one of the worst teams in baseball history, the one thing that almost everyone can agree on is that something is wrong. During the last 15 years that I've run Orioleshangout.com, I've been privy to lots of inside information and gossip about the goings-on within the warehouse. In the end, it was usually rumors or hearsay and honestly, I didn't think it was worth getting into all the office politics. After all, I figured fans cared about who the next prospect was and didn't think they cared all that much about the off-field stuff.
However, after the 2002 season I wrote a piece called "An Organization in Need of Change," which highlighted a lot of problems within the organization that I either saw personally or were reported by media outlets during the Syd Thrift regime. I received such good feedback about the piece that it was clear people wanted the inside information. They wanted to know why the team they loved was in such disarray.
Amazingly, despite three different regimes since Thrift, the team has not had a winning season and is in the midst of a historically bad season with little to suggest the team is close to being competitive in the American League East. So it's time to ask why. The answers are not so black and white, but if I was forced to give a simple answer, the answer is a lack of real leadership.
The root of the Orioles’ problems can be traced back to 1996, when Orioles owner Peter Angelos reportedly overruled then-GM Pat Gillick on several trades that would have brought some much needed younger players into the system (more background on this can be found in a nice piece by Mike Burke). After the Orioles made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, it was probably then that Angelos felt he was smarter than his baseball people. Thus began a decade-plus of him being involved in just about every major—and sometimes minor—baseball move. Sensing a lack of control and seeing a disaster ahead, Gillick "retired" after the 1998 season. Angelos then hired a widely considered up-and-comer in Frank Wren to be GM.
At that point, an important situation occurred that would remain a key inside political move that's used to this day. Syd Thrift, who was the Director of Player Development (Farm Director for those of you who cannot keep up with the fancy Orioles executive titles) from 1995-1998, was named Director of Player Personnel. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the job description actually entailed, but what Thrift did during that year was become a confidant to Angelos by giving him his thoughts on everything Wren was or wasn't doing. Wren probably should have seen the writing on the wall when the 1999 Media Guide came out and the owner's bio got two pages, Thrift's got one whole page, and Wren got half a page that he shared with Lou Kousouris, the Vice President/Special Liaison to the Chairmen (I really couldn't make up these titles if I wanted to). Wren would be fired at the end of the season and, sure enough, Angelos installed his confidant as the Vice President of baseball operations, thus making Wren the last man to hold the title of General Manager in
As I pointed out in my article An Organization in Need of Change, the Thrift years were about as dysfunctional as a team can get. Unfortunately for the Orioles organization, his fire sale in 2000, in which he traded away Mike Bordick, B.J. Surhoff, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, and Mike Timlin, netted him Melvin Mora and a bunch of never-would-bes. This may have encouraged Angelos to be even more involved with trades in the future.
Shortly after the piece, Thrift was fired and Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan were brought in to run the organization as a duo. Following in the footsteps of Syd Thrift, Flanagan had long been a confidant of Angelos (even before Gillick). Despite no front office experience, Flanagan was given a co-GM position while Jim Beattie, a former GM with the Expos, was given the title of Vice President of Baseball Operations. They were not put in place until December, which meant they were put behind the curve right off the bat.
Despite the changes in the "GM" roles, the one thing that did not change was the Orioles were not investing in their scouting and development. "Angelos could never understand the importance of investing in the draft, or in the Dominican," a source close to the situation concluded. "He could never understand why anyone would give millions to a high school kid."
During this time, scouting director Tony DeMacio would have to run every one of his offers through Angelos, thus taking away his ability to work with players and their agents. This occasionally resulted in a delay in the signing as they awaited word back from Angelos. (Awaiting word from Angelos will be a running theme, but we'll cover that more later.) Then there was the 2004 draft in which Angelos told DeMacio he had to select a college pitcher at the last second when he found out he was about to select high school shortstop Chris Nelson. Angelos was reportedly concerned over Nelson's lack of height (Nelson is generously listed at 5-foot-11). Under the gun, DeMacio took 6-foot-4 Rice right-hander Wade Townsend and after an acrimonious negotiation, they let him return to college instead of signing him. In that 2004 draft, DeMacio did not take one player under the height of 6-foot-1 until the 20th round when he selected 5-foot-7 Jonathan Tucker. In an ironic twist, Tucker, along with Orioles right-hander Brad Bergesen (who was taken in the fourth round), are the only two players left in the organization from that draft. Townsend was drafted the next year by
As Beattie and Flanagan tried to settle in, it was apparent they had a large uphill battle. When they attempted to get an approximate budget, it became apparent way too quickly that they were not going to be given an amount. Instead of sitting down and planning out how much money they already had on the books, and knowing how much they could spend to either trade for contracts or sign free agents, they would have to run each potential deal through Angelos and his committee. Sometimes it could take days or even weeks to get an answer, often to the detriment of the deal. Back in 2005 Steve Melewski did an interview for Orioles Hangout with then-Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan. Looking back and knowing what we know now, his answers give a pretty clear indication that he was never given a budget.
OH question from Rockbird: Has Mr. Angelos given you approval to increase team payroll or are you operating on a budget comparable to last offseason?
Mike Flanagan: We're working on the assumption that we'll be able to add payroll. As far as a hard number, I would say it's more of a soft number at this point.
Steve Melewski follow up: What is a soft number?
MF: Well, it’s not 51.5 or 52.7, it's around a certain number, whatever that's going to be.
As was mentioned earlier, things don't get done quickly with the Orioles and that all starts at the top. Peter Angelos is a man who made his money during the asbestos trials in the early ’80s. In 1982, he represented a large number of plaintiffs in asbestos litigation and reportedly made over $100 million on this single case. Angelos was also enormously successful in representing the state of Maryland as lead attorney in a suit against Philip Morris and suing Wyeth, the makers of the diet pill fen-phen.
One of his keys to success as a lawyer was to wait out his competition and to remain skeptical of original deals offered to him. This might work in a court of law, but it does not work in the fluid world of major league baseball. Sources indicate that Angelos is always skeptical of why a team is trading away their players, believing there must be something wrong with them. He would reportedly ask, "Why are they moving him?" and his executives would have to try and convince him the deal was a sound deal. Sources also indicated that Angelos had to feel like he was "getting over" on the other teams. He did not want to come out even in a trade, but had to win. Additionally, he was very concerned about name recognition of the players coming back. In the end, the waiting game cost the Orioles more than most fans can imagine.
The Orioles have a long history of making people wait on them. Whether it is spring training facility negotiations, contracts for players, concession negotiations, or getting responses back for simple things like press guides or even making payroll, the Orioles are just known for the slow process for getting things done.
The Deals That Didn't Get Done
These are some examples of the deals that didn’t get done between 2003 and 2007.
-(2003 trading deadline) - Sidney Ponson to the Giants for Ryan Hannaman (minors), Kurt Ainsworth, and a middle reliever. Reportedly Joe Nathan was the middle reliever. That's right, All-Star closer Joe Nathan (then a middle reliever) was reportedly part of the original deal. But when it went to ownership, they were concerned with getting no one back with name recognition. The deal was reworked to swap Damian Moss for Nathan because he had won 12 games with Atlanta in 2002. Moss ended up going 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA for the Orioles and was out of the major leagues by 2005.
- (2005 trade deadline) Hayden Penn, Larry Bigbie, and Sidney Ponson to the Marlins for AJ Burnett and Mike Lowell. Beattie and Flanagan worked this deal that would have brought a true ace to the Orioles along with a third baseman. After dragging out a decision for weeks, ownership expressed concern over Lowell’s .236 batting average the year before and a possible hip condition. The Marlins were upset that so much time was taken for a decision on the deal and that the deal agreed upon by the baseball men was squashed by ownership.
- (2006-2007 offseason) - Miguel Tejada to the Astros for Roy Oswalt, Adam Everett, and Morgan Ensberg. Oswalt would then be flipped to Texas.The Orioles would end up getting back Hank Blalock and John Danks as well as reliever Scott Linebrink from San Diego (San Diego would have had a choice between Ensberg and Blalock and were leaning towards Ensberg). The Orioles’ ownership sat on the deal too long without a decision and by the time the Houston owner got wind that Oswalt was going to be traded to his in-state rival, the Texas Rangers, he pulled the deal. How would Danks look in an Orioles uniform right now?
- Twice Brian Roberts and Hayden Penn were going to be traded to Atlanta in 2006-07, once for Marcus Giles and Tim Hudson and once for Adam LaRoche and Marcus Giles. Both time the answer was no from ownership.
So while Beattie/Flanagan/Duquette take a lot of heat from a lot of people for not doing much to change the team's fortunes, how much better would the Orioles have been if Burnett, Lowell, Nathan, LaRoche, Hudson, and some combination of Danks/Linebrink/Blalock/Ensberg or Santana/Aybar/Arredondo were in Orioles uniforms over the last few years?
The Orioles have struggled not only due to ownership interference, but also because of a lack of accountability and in-fighting as well as good old corporate backstabbing. From the days of Thrift, it was always a valuable thing to have Angelos' ear, and some guys in the organization have it down to an art. No one does it better than current Director of International Scouting David Stockstill, according to several sources. Stockstill has been in the organization since 1994 when he was hired as a roving hitting instructor. He served as a coach, manager, and field coordinator before being named the Director of Player Development on Nov. 3, 2004. Since 1994, besides Luis Matos (10th round, 1996) and Jerry Hairston (11th round, 1997) the Orioles have failed to draft and develop one hitter outside of the first round (including the supplemental round) that has spent a full season on the Orioles’ roster (David Dellucci and Willie Harris spent full seasons with other clubs after going through the Orioles’ system).
According to the sources, communication was not Stockstill’s strength. Multiple sources indicated it was hard to get a phone call returned from him, and there were multiple stories of players being upset by a lack of understanding of their role and/or reasons for certain promotions or lack thereof. Multiple sources also indicated that he and Scouting Director Joe Jordan were not on speaking terms, and many of the Orioles’ minor league managers and coaches were caught in the player development/scouting battle at the top. When you add it up, you had a pretty dysfunctional situation occurring. In fact, good baseball people like Andy Etchebarren and Tom Lawless were fired one offseason by Stockstill, reportedly due to them being "too close" with the scouting personnel.
What might be one of the biggest concerns is the fact that Stockstill has been instrumental along with Carlos Bernhardt in the Orioles’ Dominican scouting program that has only developed Armando Benitez and Daniel Cabrera as established major leaguers in its entire life span.
When you add it all up, you have to wonder how he kept a job all these years. Although the exact story remains a close secret, multiple sources indicate that Stockstill and Bernhardt once got some people close to ownership out of some trouble in the Dominican and have job security due to this fact. Sources also indicate that Jim Duquette tried to fire Stockstill but was not allowed to by Angelos. Sources also indicate that Andy MacPhail wanted to get rid of him as well but was only able to move him out of the Player Development role into International Scouting.
Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal alluded to this fact when he announced the switching of positions between Stockstill and his brother John Stockstill. "The Orioles will portray the change in a positive light, one source said, but club officials had grown increasingly frustrated with David Stockstill’s communication skills and approach to player development."
Former manager Sam Perlozzo was another guy who used Angelos' ear to stay employed. Perlozzo was known to use the direct line to Angelos to get his point of view noticed. When he thought he might be fired, he said he could get his old friend Leo Mazzone to become pitching coach if he was kept around. In an interesting side note, when Perlozzo was about to be fired, Mazzone was brought in and asked if he was going to be upset if Perlozzo was fired. Mazzone took the opportunity to ask for a contract extension.
The MacPhail Regime
Before we get too far, who is Andy MacPhail? MacPhail comes from a baseball family with his grandfather Larry and father Lee being the only father-and-son duo elected to the Hall of Fame for their executive work. Andy MacPhail was widely considered a baseball wunderkind after he won two World Series championships with the small market Minnesota Twins in 1987 and 1991; however, some believe those championships were aided by the collusion in the late ’80s by MLB owners. In 1986, the owner’s collusion was so extreme that only four free agents changed teams. The Metrodome effect—in which some players still attest to the fact that the air conditioning system was switched on when the Twins were at bat and off when the visitors batted—helped the 1987 Twins become the only team to win the World Series with a road losing record (29-52, .358). You have some interesting circumstantial evidence that the playing field was perfect for a run by the small-market Twins.
MacPhail, though, said there was no collusion by the owners. In a March 12, 1987 Orlando Sun Sentinel article, MacPhail was quoted as saying, ''It has no merit. Fehr overlooks the fact that the average major- league salary is $437,000 and a couple players are getting $2 million. I don't think players are improperly treated.'' MacPhail would then say collusion was "a bunch of nonsense. There's no collusion. It is just a natural leveling-off period for salaries. There is no way they could keep escalating the rate they were."
Eventually the MLB owners lost three arbitration cases and paid over $280 million in damages. Commissioner Fay Vincent then said, "The single biggest reality (MLB owners) have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved."
Who was one of the architects of the late ’80s collusion? According to the Hardball Times, Andy's father and former American League Commissioner Lee MacPhail was a big part. The Hardball Times article went on to say:
The idea of teams avoiding the free agent market began to take shape at a meeting in St. Louis in October of 1985. Lee MacPhail, the then Director of the Player Relations Committee, urged the owners not to be swayed by pressure from fans and the media to spend money on player contracts. He asked that teams “exercise more self-discipline,” and “resist the temptation to give in to unreasonable demands of experienced marginal players.” MacPhail continued, “We must stop daydreaming that one free agent signing will bring a pennant.”
At the general manager’s meeting the following month, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth followed up MacPhail’s comments when he told the assembled that signing players to long-term contracts was “dumb.”
Then at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that winter, the idea of “fiscal responsibility” was preached to ownership. A list of the 62 players who filed for free agency was circulated to all teams and a message was sent to avoid the free agent market until a player was “released” by their former club, meaning a team would have to make it public that a player no longer fit in their plans. If all teams participated in the plan, the free agent market would no longer be free, but it would be controlled by the teams.
The message was received. Not a single offer was tendered to a free agent from a rival team.
With a spike in revenue thanks to the magical 1987 run, and despite two down seasons, MacPhail was able to bring in several savvy vets and the Twins made a nice run in 1991 for their second championship. Say what you want, but you have to give MacPhail credit from winning these two championships, even if the deck may have been stacked in his favor in 1987.
After leaving the Twins in 1994, he was hired to be the large-market Chicago Cubs’ general manager, but after 12 seasons his teams put up a 906-998 record (a .476 winning percentage). These guys go into a much more detailed explanation of those years, but in the end, they concluded that MacPhail only survived that long due to the fact he was making the owners money. Whether that was true or not is unknown since MLB doesn't make teams open their books, but previous GMs were given much less time to win before being fired in Chicago. MacPhail’s tenure in Chicago was dominated by him not spending big on free agents and by keeping a small scouting staff.
In February of 2007, MacPhail joined Angelos and Larry Dolan as the owners’ representatives on the Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2007 – December 11, 2011. During that time, sources indicate, the groundwork was laid down for MacPhail to take over the Orioles’ baseball operations in the future. On June 20th, 2007, Andy MacPhail was named President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles. The entire thing was done in such secrecy that no one in the Orioles’ baseball operations department knew anything about his hiring until it was announced on ESPN, according to Jayson Stark.
Giving Up Control
Perhaps buoyed by the fact the Orioles were in the midst of their 10th consecutive losing season (the Orioles had never endured more than three straight seasons of sub-.500 ball since moving to Baltimore in 1954), Peter Angelos decided to take a step back when he hired Andy MacPhail to be President of Baseball Operations. Most people were thrilled that Angelos would be giving full control over baseball decisions to a baseball man, something none of his predecessors ever really had. But questions remained. Was Angelos truly taking a step back? Did Andy MacPhail have full authority? Was Andy MacPhail the man to rebuild the franchise?
All sources indicate that Angelos has truly given "full" baseball authority to Andy MacPhail. Obviously issues such as large contracts and the manager hiring process still involve Angelos to a degree, but MacPhail has been given the green light to rebuild the franchise however he sees fit. Sources indicate the previous regimes were not even allowed to use the word "rebuild." They certainly were not allowed to trade away established players for minor league players, as MacPhail has already done in the Erik Bedard, Miguel Tejada, and George Sherrill trades.
Everyone by now has heard of the plan, but what is the plan really? If you ask Andy MacPhail, he'll tell you it's more of a model that's based off one of his AL East contemporaries. The Yankees have a $213,359,389 payroll this year and the Red Sox have a $168,109,833 payroll. Major League Baseball has an unbalanced schedule in which the Orioles will play these team 18 times each. MacPhail is fully aware of the inequities of playing on an uneven playing field in the American League East and sees only one way out.
"I have to follow Tampa's model," MacPhail explained. "They have the advantage of doing it for a longer period of time. They have the advantage of doing it without Boston and New York moving to close that door which I think they've done recently. Closing the door may not be the right term… getting in there to the extent of applying their resources that they've done recently."
MacPhail believes Tampa's model is putting money into scouting and development and competing with the Red Sox and Yankees by not outspending them, but by out-producing and developing their own talent.
"The Tampa model was how they got out of it. Unfortunately it took them ten years. We don't have the resources to be everywhere 100 percent, so we have to pick and choose. We are going at the amateur draft pretty aggressively. This is the most important thing because that’s where most of your players come from. This is where most of our money and resources go. We've spent more and done more internationally. We're not going to be able to match Boston who gave (Cuban defector and 19-year old SS Jose) Iglesias $8 million (actually they gave him a four-year, $8.25 million contract). That's not going to be who we are unless we really thought that guy was ready to (play in the big leagues). On that rare occasion, if we thought it was somebody who was not that far away, it would make sense."
The AL East teams are certainly building up their scouting staffs or already have significantly larger staffs than the Orioles. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos hired 32 new scouts during the 2009-10 off-season— 14 on the pro side and 18 to scout amateurs. They now have 72 scouts, including eight international scouts. The Boston Red Sox have 60 scouts including 13 international scouts, the Yankees have 62 scouts including 16 international scouts, and Tampa Bay has 50 scouts including five international scouts. According to Baseball America, the Orioles employ 36 scouts including three international scouts.
"I know there's been a study that's gotten a lot of attention on how many scouts people have. You have to be leery of consultants and part-time scouts,” MacPhail said. “I've looked at the numbers in the American League East and it's true, particular Toronto lately (since) Tampa snuck up on New York and Boston and did it through scouting and development. I think Boston and New York have taken steps to close that door and they have poured more resources since '08 into that area. They're not stupid. Now we have Toronto following the same type of path that we've followed."
"In my view, a better way of looking at the commitment of the franchise in terms of scouting and development (is) what is the finished product? The finished products are the players you are trying to bring into your system. So it's really how much money you are spending to get those players into your system."
MacPhail points out that only the Red Sox have outspent the Orioles in the last two rule 4 amateur drafts (2008-09). He gave out the following dollar amounts for the AL East over this period:
New York: 12,686,500
Red Sox: 16, 511,303
"We have greatly increased our budget for amateur rule 4 signings on a level that is superior or close to what anyone else (in the AL East) has done since I've been here."
If amateur scouting is so important, then why did he sign reliever Michael Gonzalez to a contract that also cost them a second-round pick? According to MacPhail, the Orioles’ ability to sign overslot guys like Michael Ohlman and Cameron Coffey allow them to give up those second-round picks and still get the same type of talent later in the draft.
MacPhail believes he can make up for that pick, "if in your scouts’ judgment you can get that player (who was high on your board) later in the draft and if you are prepared to pay him that kind of money. Last year with (11th round pick Michael) Ohlman, the catcher, that's exactly what happened. We got the guy we had on the board pretty high. They gave him money that was indicative more of a sandwich or whatever pick. Now whether their judgment is right or not, we'll find out over time. Money unfortunately plays a larger part. So we try to take advantage of that if we can."
MacPhail believes going over slot is a way for the Orioles to compete in the amateur draft.
"I have a lot of overslots to my number and I imagine we'll have some other (overslots) this year. My own opinion is that's the area we need to be competitive in, so slotting is not an issue. MLB haven't really come down on us. They have their recommendations based on what's happened in years past. You'll get a large percentage of players that will sign (for slot), but around that August 15th deadline you'll get another wave of signings and a percentage of those will be overslot."
However, MacPhail admits they are not nearly as far along on the international scouting side of things.
"We're not as far ahead on the international side, particularly in Venezuela. We go through those places, but we don't have the presence in Venezuela that I would like. It's an area we need to expand. Seven percent of the current major league players are from Venezuela. We need to increase our presence there. We don't want to be excluded from that market."
That's probably a bit of an understatement, since the Orioles have no current Venezuela baseball complex and besides sending those scouts on occasion, they have no real presence in that country. MacPhail feels politics was part of the reason the Orioles’ presence, which wasn't strong to begin with (since the organization has never signed and developed a major league player from that country), was down to nothing by the time he arrived.
"They turned in some of their Venezuelan employees and didn't want to pay them due to the Venezuelan government before I got here. And for whatever reason, legally, they didn't feel like they could hire other people until that issue was solved. That issue didn't get solved until last summer or fall."
So what are the Orioles doing about it now? Apparently they are trying to work a deal with the Tigers to share their facility and resources.
"We are talking with the Tigers about using their facility. I met with them in spring training and here, but we don't have an agreement yet. If we were able to make an agreement with them, we would have access to their entire scouting department."
So if I understand things correctly, the Orioles are trying to share the Tigers’ facility and scouting department in a country where 7% of MLB players come from? I'm not sure I see the effort and I certainly don't see any results.
Besides Venezuela, the Orioles’ Dominican scouting and development program has been an utter disgrace. Throughout its history the team has signed and produced two major league regulars: Armando Benitez and Daniel Cabrera. David Stockstill and/or Carlos Bernhardt have been running the show down there for most of its time and it's already been explained why they are still down there. But according to MacPhail, how players are scouted down there has changed, and the Orioles are changing as well.
"We do the Dominican a little differently because we'll run more of our American scouts through the Dominican. We'll have a greater presence there, but it won't necessarily be the local Dominican (scouts). I think part of that is a recognition that it's not scouting as we used to think of it or customarily think of it. There are buscons there now. What the buscons are doing now is they'll feed, clothe, and prepare their player and take them from complex to complex to complex or in Boca Chica where about ten other clubs are and they'll do the workouts and let a player stay three or four days in a place."
By having the top players in known camps at known times, MacPhail feels he's about to get his top scouts down to see the players more instead of relying on the scouts that have produced two major league players in over 20 years.
"(It) lends itself more to having more seasoned scouts in there to evaluate those players is how we've taken that position."
Still, the inequities of baseball are never too far from his thoughts.
"We're not going to be able to go dollar for dollar with at least a couple of teams and that's the reality in our division. Nor is anyone else, by the way. It's a function of New York and Boston having resources most of the other clubs don't enjoy. So we have to make decisions as to where the money is spent and we have our theories and they don't have to be necessarily any better than anyone else's, but we have done the research on what's been successful in the past. That doesn't necessarily mean those models will go into the future but we do have an understanding of where the money has been spent."
Apparently these theories differ from the rest of the AL East as they have invested heavily in the Caribbean market. The Blue Jays signed amateur free agents Adonis Cardona and Gabriel Cenas from the Dominican this past month. Anthopoulos confirmed the Cardona signing was for $2.8 million and that Cenas was signed for $700K. In the last year the Red Sox paid $10,800,000 on their top seven international amateur signings. In 2008 the Yankees invested $3.975 million on six Latin American players and the Rays gave four players bonuses in excess of $100,000 according to Baseball America. The Rays have relatively new complexes and summer league teams in both the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, bringing their total of minor league affiliates to nine, tops in baseball. The Orioles set a club record a few weeks back by signing 16-year-old Dominican third baseman Hector Veloz, but that still seems to pale in response to the other teams in the division.
As for developing the players they do sign, MacPhail points to the hiring of Bobby Dickerson this offseason.
"One of the ideas of hiring Bobby Dickerson was to have a director or a field coordinator for our Dominican program to work with our infielders. If you look around the major leagues, a large percentage of middle infielders are coming from the Dominican and we are not getting our share. One of the reasons we had gotten (Dickerson) away from the Cubs was because we think he's a good infield instructor, he been a field coordinator and Triple-A manager. With (Gary) Allenson coming and running third base for us, Dickerson has had to do a lot of managing for us in Triple-A. He's also, in our view, a good evaluator. He's been there this year, but he would have been more often if not for the circumstances."
So if I understand this correctly, Dickerson was so important to the development and evaluations in the Dominican but it was more important for him to manage in AAA, where most players are fairly mature and where most people would consider it the least important level for a manager to be? I'm not sure I'm following here.
Big Time Free Agents? Nope!
Since Andy MacPhail has taken over the Orioles, his biggest free agency signing has been the 2-year, $12 million contract for Michael Gonzalez. This signing was interesting for several reasons since it was done without an MRI. As anyone who knows the Orioles’ history of dealing with injuries is aware, Angelos was very skittish after the Xavier Hernandez debacle as well as the Albert Belle situation. On numerous occasions throughout the years, deals have been struck down by Angelos due to injury concerns. So the fact that Hernandez was signed without an MRI shows that MacPhail is truly in charge of the signings.
"That's how Peter plays general manager," said Frank Wren in an interview with the NY Post. "He uses medical reasons to kill or change a deal if he doesn't like it."
The one real test to see if MacPhail was interested in getting a mega-expensive free agent was in the 2008-09 offseason when All-Star first baseman and former Mt. St. Joseph star Mark Teixeira hit the open market. For years Orioles fans had drooled over bringing the hometown boy back to Baltimore. And with a severe need of power in the Orioles lineup, it seemed like a good fit. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, the Yankees wanted him as well. And as we know, if the Yankees want a player, they will get a player.
The only real concern, though, was how MacPhail conducted negotiations. Multiple sources indicated that MacPhail offered Teixeira a seven year, $150 million contract and never budged or called the star to get his reaction to the offer. Sources indicated that MacPhail did not really want Teixeira due to his exorbitant price tag.
"I have no interest in making Mark Teixeira look bad,” said MacPhail. “What's done is done. Who's to say he made the wrong decision? I don't think I would have done anything different. The offers that were publicized at the time were accurate and I think what I made clear was that we had more room. Not that it was going to be what he ended up getting."
MacPhail insists that the idea that he was inflexible on his offer was incorrect, but it appears he was waiting for Teixeira to make the next move.
"It wasn't that we were inflexible, a take-it-or-leave-it. We were like, ‘Here's what we have and we're prepared to go a little more.’ If he was serious in engaging us, that was his opportunity to do it, and he chose not to do it. They got a better deal elsewhere in a more competitive circumstance. Everybody acted in their own self-interest."
Teixeira's contract was going to cost the Orioles around $21 million a year, so did MacPhail take that money and invest it back into the organization?
"We ended up signing (Nick) Markakis and (Brian) Roberts for what was about $100 million, so that's where a portion of it went over the same period of time. We have made investments in our scouting and development over time, probably not to the degree that you would like to see, but we have definitely spent on facilities and on signing bonuses."
So if I understand correctly, the $21 million went into signing two guys they would have needed to resign anyway. And does this suggest if Teixeira was signed they wouldn't be putting more money into scouting and development? I guess I don't see it as an either-or situation for this organization.
In the end, it appears MacPhail was not very aggressive in pursuing Teixeira. And in the world of high-priced pampered athletes, that’s not going to get things done. Maybe Teixeira never was going to come to Baltimore—and as MacPhail said, he wasn’t going to give him what he got in New York anyway—but in the end, MacPhail’s deliberate negotiation tactics failed to land the big prize.
No One Wants to Come Here?
With the Orioles in last place and going on their 13th straight losing season while playing in the AL East, a lot of players don't want to come to Baltimore. It's especially hard to get a player who needs a rebound year to sign here when they’ve got to play Boston, New York, and Tampa 56 times a year instead of some patsies in other divisions where they have a better opportunity to pad their stats. For pitchers, Camden Yards still has a hitter's-park reputation, so that doesn’t help either. Is it MacPhail's fault that he's only signed a few mediocre mid-tier-level free agents? Do players avoid coming here?
MacPhail believes that is part of the problem, but another reason is that buying expensive pitchers is not part of his plan.
"It was better last year than my first year, but I think it's getting progressively better. I do think, frankly, that it exists to a degree. I think it's tougher for pitchers. If you are getting into the business of free agent pitching, it's fragile and expensive. If you are the Burnetts, Sabathias, the Becketts of recent past, Daisuke, the Pavanos of the past, I just think that's a market you stay out of. It's hard for us to get them and it's a really risky market. Not that there's not a lot of risk everywhere else. That's an area where you need to really develop your own. All you have to do is look at our board and see (Chris) Tillman, (Brad) Bergesen, (Jake) Arrieta, (Brian) Matusz in our rotation now. That's what we're trying to do."
So a valid question at this point is: What has MacPhail done in the last three years to improve the organization? Besides upping the amateur draft budget, he feels his computer systems and programs will pay off.
"This didn't exist before I got here," MacPhail says as he shows Orioles Hangout a stapled stack of paper with stats on them. "This is a day's minor league report. It's a lot of pages about pitchers, velocities, and percentages. That comes through every day. I'm not the only one that (gets the report). It gets disseminated to about 10 or 12 different people (farm director, rovers, minor league managers). We have a new computer system that gives us the ability to chart things without us really charting them. The managers put in all the information so I can tell you which of our pitchers throws the greatest percentage of fastballs for strikes, which one of our pitchers throws the greatest percentage of first-pitch strikes, who can throw their curveball for a strike, what percentage of their repertoire are changeups. So really what you’ve got is a checks and balance."
"The reason you do this is if you look at the list, and you have a highly thought of prospect that can't command his fastball, it's a red flag for me. What this will really do is generate questions, not just from me but from anyone else that gets it. We have enough guys going through our system so we try to get as complete a view on what we think of our players. This will happen occasionally like with a guy like Tillman. They'll breeze through the minor leagues. He'll throw a no-hitter and one-hitters but it's not going to play here because maybe they need to throw their third pitch more often. What they'll chase down there, they're not going to chase here. The strike zone is smaller up here. Sometimes they have to come up and got beat up a little bit and go back down and it's not about getting Durham out anymore. It's about throwing that third pitch as often as they need throw it."
Despite all these reports, Tillman, David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters and to an extent Josh Bell have all struggled in their initial action of major league baseball. This goes back to the Orioles’ evaluation of their own prospects. For MacPhail, he doesn't see the value in talking up his prospects like the Atlanta Braves have done so well traditionally in order to up their possible trade value.
"I'm not big on talking up our players. They have enough pressure to do what they’ve got to do (without having) to feel the weight of the world on them. There's a big prize out there for them. They're all within close proximity. They all know what's going on at different levels. When guys like Wieters got ballyhooed as the second coming, I think it makes the burden on them tougher for them. At the end of the day it's going to become pretty clear how many guys came up (and) contributed and how many didn't and how frequent a basis that you can compare it with what other clubs will get."
MacPhail's Leadership Style
The more sources you talk to, the more you understand that MacPhail has a very tight-knit group of people he discusses things with. If you are not in the circle of trust, you can expect to have little to do with the everyday operations. He currently does not have one person in his front office with GM or assistant GM experience. Some believe that former assistant Wayne Krivsky took a lateral transfer with the Mets due to not having as much responsibility with the Orioles as he would have liked. Sources have also indicated there may be a morale problem within the organization due to not having spelled-out responsibilities and it contributes to what some would refer to as his “deliberate way of doing business.”
"I am deliberate, it's true,” MacPhail said. “I'm sure somebody feels excluded, but I would feel like I do delegate. I don't delegate to 100 different people. For example (professional scout) Bruce Kison will be in with Matt (Klentak), Ned (Rice), and Lee (MacPhail), and we will go through where we are two weeks from the deadline to make sure our pro scouts are where they should be based on the conversation I've had up to this point. With technology today you have access to so much more information, which to me means it's much more about check and balances."
One has to wonder, though—with MacPhail working everything from improving International scouting and development, the trading deadlines, team injuries, internal roster management, and minor league development while overseeing all areas of the baseball operations—if having an experienced assistant GM with real responsibilities wouldn't help out. Although he has his “circle of trust” people, rebuilding this organization can’t be done by one man alone.
So What About the Managerial Search?
With the trading deadline coming up, the managerial search has slowed significantly. Some believe MacPhail's deliberate style and inability to delegate real responsibilities to his staff will cause a delay. Others believe MacPhail wants a manager he can “control” and does not want anyone who will threaten his authority. MacPhail, though, sees the team playing better and doesn't see a need to rush to judgment and believes the media is making more of this then they should be.
"They'll be critical of me because we have not declared on the manager yet. There's nothing worse you can do to the media then hanging something out there that's going to happen, one way or the other, whether Juan (Samuel) got full status or whether you bring someone in from external. Until they get here, it hangs out there and drives (the media) nuts. They want it done. But that's their time table, not mine. There are reasons that we take the approach that we have. Over the last three weeks the team has been playing a little over .500 and Juan is doing fine. There's no need (to make an immediate change). I'm a little concerned someone new comes in and they can't influence much and they get tarnished with the record. They're supposed to be able to start fresh. Of course the one thing is if you bring them in new, the advantage is they get a chance to make some of their own judgments on guys and make determinations."
"I've never been one to really care about what other people's deadlines are. There are deadlines that mean something . July 31st (trading deadline) means something and we’ve got to get that done. August 15th or 16th (amateur draft signing deadline) means something.
Once he makes a decision on the manager, will he allow his manager to pick his own coaches?
"I think the GM gets veto power but that's about it. I'm not one for putting spies in there or telling them who their coaches have to be. Never have been.”
Are There Any Changes Coming That Could Help the Orioles Level the Playing Field?
"There has been more attention spent to realignment and the schedule, and I'm hopeful that some day that those issues will resolve themselves,” MacPhail said. “The unbalanced schedule probably doesn't quite have the same economic impact that it had initially. I think after a while people (would) rather see other teams come through. That's my opinion. Of course it’s in my own vested self-interest. Hopefully someday there will be some kind of modification to what we go through now. We just get hammered the third time through the American League East. It's been too much. Here we are trying to get Matusz, Bergesen, Tillman, Arrieta, these young guys, and we stick them into the fray. It's always a tight race and we stick them into the fray and they're running on fumes. It's tough."
Tight race? The Orioles have been getting killed by the American League East opponents pretty much from the get-go and I don’t know what tight race the Orioles have been in of late unless it’s the race for fourth place.
Is It the Bottom Line or the Wins That Count?
Probably the most damaging criticism leveled by multiple sources is that MacPhail is more concerned about his bottom line than winning ball games. One source had this to say: "If it came down to winning or getting a good bottom line, he's going to take the bottom line." MacPhail was obviously upset over this criticism.
"I would have no idea how anyone could venture that as an opinion because the bottom line is not that pretty either. I think the one thing that should be clear is the most important thing in my mind and in Peter's mind is righting the ship. It's hard to convince an 80-year old man at the time that your best avenue of doing this is trading Bedard and Tejada and going underground and buying these kids. In the past the preferred method was to sign the Bradfords, the Jamie Walkers, the Baezes, the Huffs, and Millars and trying to patch your way through it, and that's more expensive then doing what we’ve done by putting it back into the infrastructure (like) getting spring training straightened away, upgrading our computer system and medical areas and the new facility in the Dominican. To me, that was the path to more wins than losses. It's not the path to try and make the thing more financially feasible. That's going to happen when you start winning more games at this level."
"It annoys me that someone would venture that. It could be their opinion based on the fact that our payroll is less then probably what it was, and they're welcome to their opinions, but calling it a source has to be an overstatement."
Unfortunately, when your teams continue to lose like they did in Chicago and now in Baltimore, and you continue to get the top baseball job, people are going to wonder why.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Even the sources believe that Mr. Angelos wants to win badly, but some believe he may have finally given up. He doesn't come to the games like he used to and with his advancing age and the continual failure of his club, it may have finally beaten him down. The Hangout requested an interview with Mr. Angelos for the article, but it was denied. It's unfortunate because it would have been interesting to hear his take on the vetoed trades, the lack of a Teixeira signing, and the current shape of the franchise.
As for MacPhail, I think the piece stands by itself and I'll let you make your own decision on what's going on. Although the Orioles have taken some steps to improve their international scouting and development, they still don't have any presence in Venezuela or Colombia and their Dominican signings are still way behind their AL East rivals. MacPhail pointed towards their increase in Rule 4 amateur scouting expenditures and that's all well and good, but they are still being outspent by the Red Sox and when international dollars are accounted for they are still in the bottom of the division.
The team is dead last in the standings and has been getting beat up by their division rivals (along with everyone else) the last few years. The Orioles have fewer scouts than their AL East counterparts on the pro and amateur sides, and they have the smallest payroll in the division when you take into consideration money owed to former players and money coming in from other teams to pay for contracts. The minor league system has one impact prospect in the upper level of the system in Zach Britton, and the young cavalry of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta has a combined for a 7-16 record with a 5.42 ERA (through 7/20). The "can't miss" Matt Wieters is currently on the disabled list but has put up an anemic .672 OPS this season. In other words, the core that MacPhail was counting on has mainly arrived, and the Orioles are the worst team in baseball.
Over the years we’ve heard the Orioles talk the talk. But the facts remain quite simple. The Orioles have never invested in Latin America, they’ve signed one international free agent in the frail Koji Uehara, they have struggled to draft and develop impact major league players, and their payroll is in the lower half of baseball and lowest in the AL East when all things are considered. The team runs per game average of 3.59 is the second lowest in the American League while their 5.34 R/G allowed is worst in the AL. Their .981 fielding percentage is tied for the second-worst in the American League. In other words, the team can’t hit, pitch, or field.
As for putting their eggs into the scouting and development basket, that remains a risky proposition. Out of Scouting Director Joe Jordan’s first-round selections, Brandon Snyder (2005) has struggled to hit above AA, Billy Rowell (2006 and drafted ahead of Tim Lincecum) is a bust, Matt Wieters (2007) and Brian Matusz (2008) have struggled this season in the major leagues, and Matt Hobgood (2009) has struggled with weight issues and velocity and although it’s too early to make any real opinions on him, he has not lived up to expectations of the fifth overall selection so far. David Hernandez and Jason Berken have become solid relievers and Garrett Olson netted the Orioles Felix Pie. This is not to slam Joe Jordan or his scouts, but it does show that putting most of your eggs in the amateur draft arena is a risky situation at best.
According to Forbes magazine the Orioles are worth $376 million. Angelos bought the team for $173 million in 1993. MASN brings tens of millions of dollars a year to the Orioles who are profiting from Steven Strasburg’s popularity. It’s hard for anyone to believe the bottom line is not good.
As for me, I'll stand by my motto for life, "Actions Speak Louder than Words."
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Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.
Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.