Friday, December 24, 2010

When Will the Orioles Get Creative?

I believe the Baltimore Orioles can compete in the AL East. I really do.

When I hear others say that there is no way the O's can compete with the massive payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox, I say that they can. It just takes four things:

1. Develop Your Farm System
2. Make Shrewd Trades
3. Spend In Free Agency on Select Talent
4. Get Creative

I didn't just pull these out of my hat. These are things teams like Oakland, Minnesota, Texas, Tampa Bay, San Diego and even the Red Sox have done to build themselves into winners and contenders in the past. The Orioles can do the same thing...but will they?

The first one, the Orioles are doing a good job with. Remember, the Oriole farm system was a desert from about 1987 to 2007. Think about it. How many regular players did Baltimore develop in those 20 years outside of Mike Mussina, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis? Few. Andy MacPhail has had to revamp the whole thing and is slowly getting it back to respectability. It's still a pit that needs filling but in 3-5 years, it could be a consistently good system churning out useful talent.

The second, MacPhail does a good job with, too. Trades have brought a lot a value back to Baltimore and I won't highlight those here. Check the Oriole Trade Monitors to see that.

Free agency is where Baltimore gets in trouble. They can't always get interest from the top free agents so you are left with overpaying them either in years or cash or you have to go without. Thankfully, MacPhail has avoided the temptation of giving the wrong player a cumbersome albatross of a contract. Baltimore can afford to spend more than people think but they don't have the farm system or the revenue to overcome a big mistake. But MacPhail does tend to reach and spend in unwise areas like ill-advised reclamation projects or giving big cash to relief pitchers (although, he has kept these contract to two-year deals or less so far).

This leads us to getting creative. You have to know that there will be times when the top free agents may not want to come to Baltimore. So why get held up by the likes of Adam LaRoche just to fill a hole in the infield? That's where you have to get creative.

Years ago, the Athletics saw something in castoff Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg. They turned him into a serviceable first baseman for three seasons (and then he went to the Reds and did it for two more seasons). You see the Padres trying to do it with Brad Hawpe now...taking an oufielder who could rebound to his 2007-2009 levels of offensive production and plugging him into their hole at first base.

Just because Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee are the only prominent names left with the "1B" designation left next to their name doesn't mean you can't get creative when trying to add an impact bat. The idea of shifting Luke Scott to first base and allowing a greater offensive pool of DH types to be available to the Orioles is an idea that is gaining traction. But it's not new. I called for it last offseason (as an alternative to Garrett Atkins) and Scott himself is on the record saying that he doesn't want to be a fulltime DH and would love a chance to play some first base. This is the kind of thinking a team like Baltimore needs. You don't have to get held up by a guy like Adam LaRoche. He's an OK talent, not one worthy of a three-year deal at this point. Tell him to pound sand and tell Luke to start working with his first basemen's mitt again. Get on the line with the agents for Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Ask them how a big one-year deal grabs them.

These are not ideal situations but this is Baltimore. You're not going to face a lot of ideal situations as you work to improve your club. And in that case, you have to get creative.

Sadly, I don't see this happening and it's the one thing that leaves me thinking that eventually this club will need someone young and hungry running this front office before the Orioles take real steps back to contending. It's a quality I don't think Andy MacPhail possesses.

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