October 2011

Looking back & ahead in the Orioles’ front office

The announced departure of Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail over the weekend brought about some questions concerning the organization moving forward. And rightfully so. You can read all of the details about MacPhail’s announcement, as well as a recap of the four-plus years he spent in Baltimore, here.

So, if we kept hearing about MacPhail not wanting to come back, why did this take so long?
That answer is two parts. One, MacPhail is very deliberate and with his contract running until October 31, he clearly wanted to weigh his options. The sense I got, as well as the rest of the media –both nationally and locally –was that MacPhail was ready weeks ago to step down. But, in talking to others and backtracking, it appears a lot of that was premature speculation. Principal owner Peter Angelos and MacPhail seem to have a mutual respect for one another and there was an offer on the table for MacPhail to return for at least one more season.  So, beyond the general cautiousness and patience MacPhail exhibited while serving as president, he also had Angelos’ proposal to consider.

In the end, as you know, he chose to not take an extension and walk away. MacPhail is expected to take some time off before returning to baseball in some capacity. Perhaps the longtime rumors of his interest in the Commissioners’ job will start to surface in the next year or two, but for now, he’ll be largely off the grid.

And no, he won’t have any input on his successor.

But will manager Buck Showalter get a say?
Absolutely.  Showalter will publicly downplay his role in selecting a new GM/president but he has a strong relationship with Angelos and will be heavily involved in selecting MacPhail’s replacement. The rumors that Showalter wanted to be GM were true to an extent, but in the end the organization felt he was too valuable in the dugout and will remain there next season. (I wouldn’t rule out a move upstairs or in some front office capacity after his contract is up after the 2013 season, but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.)
Angelos and Showalter are expected to convene again midweek, and will likely finalize next year’s coaching staff and other housekeeping items now that he’s definitely going to remain in the dugout. I’ve been asked a bunch about contract status for the coaches, and here’s what I know. Pitching coach Rick Adair has another year on his deal (Seattle was actually paying his 2011 salary), as does hitting coach Jim Presley. First base coach Wayne Kirby is on a two-year deal as well. I’m not positive on John Russell’s exact contract standing, but Willie Randolph was on a one-year deal. The latter two men also swapped roles midway through the season, so there could be a change there, although both men have expressed an interest in remaining in the organization. The Orioles will also need to hire a bullpen coach, or promote one from within. There should be more clarity on that situation by the end of the week.
This week’s meeting with Angelos and Showalter will also focus on gathering names and asking permission from other clubs to speak with potential candidates. As of Monday morning, that hasn’t happened yet, and I can’t imagine they make much headway there, beyond some preliminary feelers, until  Showalter flies back to Baltimore Wednesday.

So, the Orioles need a GM/president. Who might want the job and fit the role?
Most people familiar with the situation say the Orioles will stick with the current makeup they had and hire one person to replace MacPhail, rather than go with a separate GM and club president. Angelos has a history of hiring veteran people (so, no young-gun Theo Epstein types) and given Showalter’s heavy input it’s likely whoever comes on board will have a heavy background in scouting and player development areas.
This list is by no means definitive, but here are some names that have been speculated on already, including some interesting candidates to keep an eye on, as we move forward. Some of them have crossed paths with Showalter, while others are names that have emerged as top GM candidates in general.  Hopefully over the coming days (or weeks) the list will be whittled down to just a few of these names…

Dan Jennings (Marlins asst. GM )A respected talent evaluator, Jennings has a strong background in player personnel and was also Tampa Bay’s scouting director from 1997-2002. His name has already been floated by several national outlets for the job, and Jennings has been in the mix for several vacancies before.
Tony Lacava (Blue Jays asst. GM) ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Orioles had interest in Lacava, who oversees Toronto’s player development and Latin American operations, an area Baltimore is incredibly behind in. Lacava also has 20-plus years of experience to draw from, which could make him an enticing candidate.
Gerry Hunsicker (Rays senior VP of baseball operations) A very impressive pedigree, including leading Houston to four division titles as GM, Hunsicker is incredibly well-respected by baseball, and has been singled out several times by Showalter. He would be an excellent choice provided he’s willing to move back into more of GM-type role than he has with Tampa Bay.
Deric Ladnier (special assistant to the GM for the Nationals) Prior to that, he was the scouting director for the Kansas City Royals with a lot of the organization’s top talent drafted by Ladnier. Several well-respected baseball people have already begun lobbying Showalter on Ladnier’s behalf and he grew up with Showalter in Florida, along with Jennings.
Jerry Dipoto (Diamondbacks senior VP)  Prior to the D-backs hiring of  Kevin Towers, Dipoto was interim GM and he stayed with the organization –despite losing the permanent GM job to Towers – as senior vice president of scouting and player development. A candidate for GM vacancies before, Dipoto was with Boston during its World Series run in 2004, and he ranked tops in MLB Trade Rumors’ list of possible GMs.
Damon Oppenheimer (Yankees scouting director) Under the radar to some extent, Oppenheimer, worked with San Diego and Texas before joining the Yankees in 1993, becoming the director of player personnel in 2001 and assuming the scouting director role in 2005.
Logan White (Dodgers asst. GM, Amateur and International Scouting) Another long-rumored GM candidate White also spent seven years in the Orioles organization, overseeing west coast scouting operation, before being hired by the Dodgers.
Allard Baird (Boston VP of player personnel and scouting) The former Royals GM is now the top talent evaluator in a strong Red Sox farm system. Baird is a very well respected baseball man and was a candidate for the Mets vacancy last winter.
A.J. Preller (Rangers senior director of player personnel) A big part of Texas’ recent success, the 33-year-old Preller is younger than a lot of candidates on here, but that could make him easier to lure away. A Cornell graduate who works under GM Jon Daniels, Preller assists in all aspects of scouting and is an advisor on key acquisitions.
Scott Servais (Rangers senior director of player development) Another name from Texas to watch, Servais is head of one of the most well-thought of systems in baseball.
Scott Proefrock (Phillies assistant GM) While he doesn’t have a scouting/player development background, he’s more on the business side of things regarding arbitration and contract negotiations, Proefrock is a shrewd baseball mind that might fit well with Showalter’s style.
Wayne Krivsky (special asst. to the GM, New York Mets) A former Orioles exec before leaving for his current post, Krivsky also served as the Reds GM and has more than 27 years of experience in baseball.

When will this all be resolved?

This is just a pure guess, but if Showalter really does have a heavy hand in the process it will be done sooner rather than later. I can’t really imagine a scenario where the World Series ends and free agency is set to begin with the Orioles still conducting a GM search.  It’s possible, but I’d stake my bet on this being resolved before the postseason ends. It is frowned on for teams to make announcements during the World Series, but it’s not completely unheard of.

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 FoxSports.com 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.

Your no-frills front office update

First, my apologies for not blogging much over the last few days. Although, to be fair, there hasn’t been much (OK, anything) to write about.

Here’s what I know as of this moment:  President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has not made a decision regarding his future and there is no timetable in doing so. His current contract runs through Oct. 31, and while there was initially a lot of speculation in the media (including by yours truly) that MacPhail would not return, it’s a scenario that’s not completely out of the question.

So, given that we don’t know what route MacPhail will choose, it’s impossible to say what will happen in terms of manager Buck Showalter’s role next season. For now, Showalter is in Florida for the Orioles instructional league. He’s expected to be there until the end of the week when he will fly back up to Baltimore for more meetings.

I know everyone wants answers. But right now it’s not panic mode in the organization. It’s my understanding things are proceeding like a regular offseason this time of year and MacPhail is still serving in his current role.

MacPhail is notoriously close to the vest and outside of owner Peter Angelos, I don’t think anyone knows right now which way this thing is going. Stayed tuned. I’ll keep you updated as best as I can.