Monday, March 31, 2008

Who's On First?

It is Opening Day, you know. Enjoy.

It is Opening Day (I am pretty sure that has been trademarked by someone, I am just too lazy to acknowledge them), and I am excited. Yes I am aware that the Orioles are probably going to be a giant vortex of suck this year. Of course, last year they lost 93 games, and over the last 10 years they have averaged 89.6, or as I like to say, 90 losses per year. So from that standpoint how much worse can it be?

Don't answer that.

Be that as it may, for the first time in years the team has an actual plan other than "Let's throw some money at some borderline talented players and if EVERYTHING possible breaks in our favor (and all the other AL East teams suffer total roster failure) we could win 85-90 games and make the playoffs". That was not working. Instead Orioles owner Peter Angelos brought in one of the best baseball minds in the business in Andy MacPhail, and told him "do what you have to do". And so far he is. He traded Miguel Tejada (making my Orioles jersey moot, but I will forgive him that) and Erik Bedard for 10 prospects. The odds are that Brian Roberts will be gone no later than the trading deadline (and he will probably be joined by a few more players if MacPhail thinks he can get something for them). All of this has been well documented and talked about by many people (including me). So what else could be filling me with such excitement?

There are a few things that are not talked about, like MacPhail establishing an international scouting department, with a focus on Asian and Latin players. And along that same line, his building academies in Latin American baseball hot spots, and committing the resources necessary to make them viable pipelines of talent (the Orioles are woefully behind these trends, but at least they are finally making the attempt to rectify that). But there are two other things that really have me excited for the future.

1. The signing of first round pick Matt Wieters. I like this because the Orioles signed a Scott Boras client (something they have been loathe to do in the past), and they went after a player that they knew would cost them. It is a fact that in baseball probably more than any other sport the draft is a risky proposition. The sheer number of minor league teams (the Orioles alone have 7 minor league teams, there are 30 teams in MLB, some teams have more than 7 minor league teams, very few have less, and there are independent league teams too. Average roster is 25 players. Do the math) means that there are a lot of players in any organization at any time. The odds are against most of these players. That the Orioles spent $6 million just on his signing bonus is a sign that they are omitted to using their resources on the future instead of blowing it on a Jay Payton or an Aubrey Huff , who have already proven out as mid range ability players at best. Angelos signing off on a move like this is very encouraging. But not nearly as encouraging as my second point.

2. The cutting of Jay Gibbons. Look HERE, HERE, and HERE for 3 reports of the release of Jay Gibbons. All of them say pretty much the same thing, but all are worth looking at if for no other reason than what MacPhail says. In particular, when he says

"I gave him the ramifications and what my thinking was," MacPhail said. "I hadn't really reached any conclusions myself. I was wrestling with this one. I was really, to be honest with you, looking for some advice. His advice was, 'You gotta do what you gotta do.' Those were the last words that he left me with, and I took the position of, 'Well, this is what we have to do.' "

The thing that really strikes me is that Angelos, known for meddling in the day to day baseball operations (much to the overall detriment of both the team and the team's reputation) told MacPhail to do whatever he felt was best for the team. The Orioles owe Gibbons just shy of $12 million over the next two years. For ANY team that is a lot of money to eat in order to (probably) lose 90+ games while giving his roster spot to an unproven young player, even if that player had a better spring training than the veteran player. If this does not prove to people that Angelos is serious about rebuilding from the ground up and that he has promised to allow MacPhail to do his job and not get in the way I don't know what will. And to anyone who has a problem with MacPhail going to Angelos about it, the man is the owner of the team and has a right to be involved in the financial decisions. Don't think that the Steinbrenners and John Henry, as well as every other owner, aren't asked for their opinions before their money is spent. The important thing is that Angelos listened to MacPhail and basically said "do what you have to do, I've got your back". They cut a major league player that is owed a good bit of money for an unproven player with minor league options. It is possibly the most encouraging thing that I have seen or heard about this team in years.
I am going to enjoy this team this year. I think that they are going to play hard, play fundamentally sound, and "leave it all on the field". Also, to use another cliche, "this year it is about the name on the front of the uniform, not the one on the back of the uniform". And until they put "Baltimore" back on the road jerseys, "Orioles" will do just fine by me.
4 1/2 hours until Opening Day. I'm ready. Are you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Okay, it is obvious that with everything else I am doing in my life, the twice a week thing (or even once a week) isn't going to happen with any regularity. But whenever I can get here I will. So without further ado...

  • John Harbaugh is the new Ravens head coach - An excellent choice. I know I have been trumpeting the abilities of Rex Ryan as a head coach, and I will fully admit to fervently backing him as the successor to Brian Billick when the whole search first started (and even before Billick got fired if the truth is to be told), but in the grand scheme of things I think that John Harbaugh will be a better overall choice. There is a reason that Ryan didn't get the job with the San Diego Chargers after 2006 and both the Atlanta Falcons and the Ravens after 2007. It seems that he might be a little TOO "straight from the hip" as it were. Ryan even said as much after it came to light that the main reason he didn't get the Falcons job (it went to Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith) was because of the tenor and tone of some of his responses to questions in the 2nd interview. It seems that he might have a little too much of his father (Buddy Ryan) in him. I am beginning to think that he will either remain a coordinator for his entire career or he will have one or two unsuccessful to moderately successful head coaching gigs in between his stints as a defensive coordinator. I really do like him as a coach so I hope that I am wrong. But with all that said, Harbaugh's specialty for the last decade has been special teams. Personally I have always wondered why special teams coaches don't get the recognition that offensive and defensive coaches do. Especially when you realize that while special teams play is at LEAST as important to the game as the offense and defense (when you consider the amount of impact a good or bad special teams play can have on the outcome of a game and compare it to the amount of time special teams units are on the field compared to offense and defense, it may be MORE important). Add to that that most special teams players are a mixture of backups and probably never-will-be off. and def. position players, and that the special teams coach is the only coach besides the HEAD coach that deals with players from both sides of the ball, and special teams coaches seem to me to be uniquely qualified to be head coaches. They are like the backup catcher in baseball (who always seem to make the best managers because they have to know EVERYTHING about not only their team but the other team and spend a lot of time on the bench sizing up how their hunches play out when compared to what actually happens during the course of a game). There is an excellent chance that Harbaugh will not only do well, but also open the doors for more special teams coaches to run teams. Special teams is all about building a unit out of castoffs, formation and execution. Let's see what Harbaugh does with that mentality while running an entire team. Jason Garrett might be an excellent head coach one day, but I don't know if he is really ready, and he has only had one year of success (and that was with a loaded squad). I want to see Mike Singletary run a defense before I give him the keys to a team.
  • The Bedard Trade - It is finally done, and if you look at the package that the Orioles got for him (especially if you compare it to the package that the Minnesota Twins got for Johann Santana - a better pitcher) might turn out to be the deal of the year. I am preaching patience to all the Orioles' fans this year (and probably next). And along that vein I hope that MacPhail completes the trade of Brian Roberts, but at this point not only am I not going to give him grief for not making it already, I am going to praise him for waiting as long as he feels he needs to in order to get the deal that he wants. Looking at what he did with the Twins and the Chicago Cubs, he gets more than the benefit of the doubt, he gets a free pass until he proves that he doesn't deserve it any more. I don't see that time coming any time soon.
  • The NFL Draft - I said previously that I think the Ravens should trade down in order to collect more picks, since I don't see anyone of the value of the 8th pick that would fill one of the Ravens dire needs, at least not anyone that the Ravens couldn't get later on. The Ravens are picking 8th. None of the mock drafts I see are anywhere close to agreeing on anything. I have seen Matt Ryan going from 1st to 8th, and Glenn Dorsey going from 1st to 5th. An intriguing possibility is Darren McFadden, who I have seen going to the Oakland Raiders, but also with wildly varying draft positions. I know that the Dallas Cowboys have expressed some serious interest in him (especially with Marion Barber as a restricted free agent and Julius Jones as an unrestricted free agent). I also know that Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones is an Arkansas alum who would love to add him to the team. To me, that smells like trade bait, and willing trade bait. I can only hope that Ozzie Newsome pulls one of his patented awesome moves*.

Okay, unfortunately I must abruptly wrap this up now, but as always feel free to ask questions you want answered, either about things I have covered or just things you are curious about. And I also promise to (hopefully) make the next post much more coherent and theme based and less bullet point-y.

*Moves not actually patented, but are universally classified as awesome with enough consistency by the community at large that the awesomeness of his moves are not to be questioned.