MacPhail opts to not return as Orioles’ GM/president

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is expected to leave the organization when his contract expires October 31, confirming the long-rumored speculation that he wouldn’t accept any kind of extension.

The news — first reported definitively by and confirmed by multiple sources on Friday night– is hardly unexpected, but still brings a state of flux for an organization with 14 consecutive losing seasons. There have been whispers manager Buck Showalter –who was hired on last August, –would be the candidate to replace MacPhail and move upstairs, although he has declined comment on the matter and there remains growing speculation that principal owner Peter Angelos will hire another seasoned GM/president with a baseball pedigree similar to MacPhail’s.

Whatever does happen, Showalter will have major input as he has a strong working relationship with Angelos and is well aware of the critical juncture the organization finds itself is as their Minor League and player development system has come under fire despite MacPhail’s best efforts to “grow the arms, buy the bats.”

Introduced on June 20, 2007 as the Orioles president of baseball operations, MacPhail became familiar with Angelos when the two worked together on labor negotiations in 2002 and 2006, and the consensus around the hire was Angelos –an incredibly hands-on owner – would step back and turn over the reins to MacPhail.  Bullish on the necessity to have homegrown starters and rebuild a farm system in dire straits, MacPhail orchestrated a pair of trades in his first offseason that continue to pay dividends, sending Miguel Tejada to Houston for Luke Scott, Mike Costanzo and pitcher Troy Patton, Dennis Safarte, and Matt Albers. He also shipped Erik Bedard to Seattle for five prospects:  outfielder Adam Jones and pitchers George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio.

Known to be patient and incredibly close to the vest, MacPhail was far better on the trade market than in free agency, as the Orioles continued to add past-their-prime veterans –such as Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero – while faring far better in deals for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds this winter.  MacPhail’s midseason deal to acquire a pair of 25-year-old’s –in pitcher Tommy Hunter  and Chris Davis – in exchange for Koji Uehara was more indicative of his trade history, although Uehara –who was the organization’s first Japanese-born signing – provided a valuable late-inning arm and was one of the best signings under MacPhail’s tenure.

The mantra of building from within placed an emphasis on the Draft and Minor League system under MacPhail and although the Orioles selected and signed the likes of lefty Brian Matusz –who struggled this season but still has frontline starter potential – and current catcher Matt Wieters (who was not selected under MacPhail by signed by him), they are still behind the rest of the division in terms of depth and quality in the upper levels.

That hasn’t always been the case, as the 2009 and ‘10 seasons saw the graduation of pitchers David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Matusz and Tillman lending credence that MacPhail’s reliance on the young arms would start to pay dividends at the Major League level.  But that group has struggled mightily, with Berken and Bergesen moving to the bullpen, Tillman still floundering at Triple-A and Matusz turning in the highest ERA this season of any Major League starter in modern baseball history. Rookie Zach Britton, the last of the young “cavalry” of arms, has had an erratic first season, but remains a candidate for next year’s rotation, while Hernandez was dealt to Arizona for Reynolds and Arrieta had season ending surgery to remove a bone spur on his pitching elbow.

The starting rotation’s struggles, by and large, sunk the Orioles 2011 season, and MacPhail dealt Uehara and Lee at the deadline, as well as swapping closer Michael Gonzalez for Rangers’ reliever Pedro Strop. Gonzalez proved to be a prime example of the Orioles’ struggles in free agency as Baltimore doled out a two-year, $12-million guaranteed deal to Gonzalez, who never lived up to expectations with injury and underperformance prompting this winter’s multi-year deal to Kevin Gregg, who has also struggled in his first season as Baltimore’s closer.
Still, for all of MacPhail’s shortcomings in the free-agency market, he will leave the Orioles organization far better than he found it, as he pushed for the team to streamline spring operations in Sarasota –moving from Fort Lauderdale – and played a huge part in the newly removed Ed Smith Stadium complex. He also signed Hardy to a three-year extension to shore up  that position and acquired Reynolds to help supplement an abysmal 2010 offense.  Since 2005, the Orioles have spent more money than any other team in their division on the amateur Draft, and –while their lack of international scouting remains a major concern – there is some top-tier talent in the lower levels of the O’s system.

MacPhail dismissed manager Dave Trembley last season and had a much better working relationship with Showalter than many pundits could have predicted, given their opposite natures. Showalter has long professed his allegiance to MacPhail and both men have attested that they are far more similar than outside perception would suggest.

It’s unclear what the next professional move will be for MacPhail, who by all indications seriously weighed the offer to return to Baltimore and continue his efforts to bring the organization back to prominence. He is expected to spend some time away from baseball and be with his family in the immediate future.

The 58-year-old MacPhail began his baseball career as a Class A business manager in the Cubs organization and won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 as executive vice president and general manager of the Twins. He then joined Chicago in 1994 as president and chief executive officer, and remained there until stepping down after last season. He was named Major League Executive of the Year by The Sporting News in 1991.

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