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I propose we call him Andy MacWin

By on February 9

Despite the consecutive streak of losing seasons reaching 13 during his tenure, I think Andy MacPhail is doing an excellent job as the Orioles president of baseball operations. While I would acknowledge that the beginning of last season was one of the most painful in team history, and that his efforts have yet to translate into more wins, I see those facts as evidence of just how profoundly dysfunctional the system that he inherited was, rather than an indictment of his ability to evaluate or acquire talent.

I’ll try to explain.

“So … nothing’s changed,” I hear you saying.  The Orioles were a fourth place team when he came in, and they’re actually a last place team now.  While I can’t dispute that, I would argue that turning around a baseball team doesn’t occur in baseball as quickly as it does in other sports, namely in the NFL, where high draft picks are often ready to contribute immediately to the team. In baseball, even if you make all the right moves, you still may need to wait years for an advanced prospect to make it to the majors, and then a few years after that to find out whether or not he’s even any good.  Prospects who make it to the majors in one or two years and set the league on fire are by far the exception rather than the rule.  And even if you get one of those players, one talented young player does not a team make.

The road back to respectability in baseball is longer and more arduous than most of us would like to admit.  Thankfully, Andy MacPhail understood that if you’re going to build something, you have to start with a solid foundation.  And today the club is in a position to move forward because he did.  That, as much as anything else that has transpired recently, is why I propose that we call him Andy MacWin.

If some fans were hoping that Andy MacPhail, or Santa Claus, or anyone else was going to come in and immediately restore the Orioles to prominence, I think they may have misunderstood what a rebuilding project entails.  More to the point, trying to bring the Orioles back to immediate contention by signing high price free agents every few years was the recurring theme in the failed tenures of the succession of GMs who preceded MacPhail.  To his great credit, Andy understood that the only real way back to respectability was to start completely over—jettison everything of value, invest in the best young talent available, and draft well.  And I think he’s done exactly that.

I’ve outlined some of MacPhail’s accomplishments since joining the team in 2007 in the chart below.

Exhibit A.  The Andy MacWin timeline.

Exhibit A. The Andy MacWin timeline.

Among other things, the players he has acquired have constituted the sole Orioles representatives in the past 3 All Star games. He has also extended two fan favorites and career Orioles (Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis), presciently traded Miguel Tejada to the Astros for 5 players (!) days before steroid allegations were levied against him, hired Buck Showalter, and signed Vladimir Guerrero.

Or how about this:  he turned Erik Bedard into Chris Tillman, Adam Jones, and George Sherill, who he then flipped for Josh Bell and 1/2 of Mark Reynolds.  Bell, Tillman, and Jones have the potential to be everyday players for the Orioles at least until they reach free agency, while Bedard went on to appear in just 30 games over 3 years for the Mariners. There can be no argument that the Orioles farm system is greatly improved and that they have a great deal more organizational depth than they’ve had at any time in recent memory.

Having laid that groundwork, I think the Orioles acquisitions and free agency maneuvering this offseason are proof positive that Andy was serious when he said he had a plan. Power right handed bats? Check and double check. Upgraded offense at the shortstop position? Affirmative. Established 1B production? Yuppers. Low-cost, high ceiling free agent starter? Uh huh. Bullpen depth? Yes ma’am.

There is nothing that remains on his 2010 offseason to do list.  He took care of everything.

Let’s not forget that he’s doing all of this while working with Peter Angelos, perhaps the most trying managerial partner in all of professional sports.  No one, not a single person in over a decade, has convinced Angelos to spend money wisely.  Whatever Harry Potter enchantments MacPhail has used to finally get Angelos to do things that make sense, we should all be glad that we’ve been graced by such an enchanter, rather than another ineffectual  sycophant for Angelos to manipulate and discard at his convenience.  For even being willing to deal with Angelos—whose misguided ownership has disenchanted and driven away an entire generation of potential Orioles fans—Andy has my undying gratitude.

Now, does any of this mean that the Orioles are guaranteed to finally break through this season?  Of course not.  In the end, I’m sure that Andy MacPhail knows that the team’s record is the only standard by which he’ll be judged.  And that’s fair.  But I think it’s easy to miss the point that everything he has done up to now, however painful, has been as integral to building a sustainable winner as what he will do going forward.

Now that the farm system has been improved and we finally have a quorum of talented young players with potential, this is probably the first season where it’s even fair to evaluate Andy by his record.  But whatever the results, let’s not lose sight of the fact that even faint glimmers of hope are more than this franchise had before he arrived.

Upon signing his contract extension in 2008, no less an authority on the subject than Nick Markakis himself counted MacPhail’s prudence among his reasons for agreeing to terms. “I can’t really disagree with anything he (MacPhail) has done,” Nick said during the press conference to announce his extension.  And this was before Roberts’ extension, long before Showalter was hired, and certainly before the flurry of activity this offseason.  By all means, let’s congratulate MacPhail for what he’s done recently, but let’s also not allow ourselves to forget that this offseason wouldn’t have happened had he not laid the groundwork years before.

As I mentioned in a previous post,  it took the well respected Dave Dombrowski 5 years to restore the Detroit Tigers to prominence.  As we enter the fourth full year under new management, are the Orioles on track?  Because of Andy MacWin, I think we can finally say that the time is now (and the place is now) to find out.

One Response to “I propose we call him Andy MacWin”

  1. Michael Kanaly says:

    Prior to every baseball season for the past 13 years I have stated “this is the season that the franchise returns to it’s former glory!” Usually by October I am cheering for whatever team in the American League has the best chance at defeating the Yankees.

    When Dave Trembley was named the Manager of the O’s. I felt as if I was watching the movie Major League. Now when Buck Showalter was handed the team late last season, I thought perhaps he could turn it around during the 2011 season. Never expecting that he would have the effect on the team that he did.

    Regardless of the players that we picked up during the winter, I already had a good feeling about the season. Taking these new players into consideration just makes me that much more hopeful. Looking forward to a new season and a chance to show my kids what “Orioles Magic ” really is!

    Hear, hear! Thanks for reading.

    Adam

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