Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Commitment to the Draft Can't be Overlooked

So it’s official, whether the front office is willing to admit it or not- the Orioles are in complete and utter free fall, earlier this year than most but seemingly inevitable. All we can hope for at this point is that the team doesn’t ruin its young pitchers by giving them such adversity and forcing them up a year before they should reasonably be in the starting rotation. We have seen it so many times before, but this time the stakes are higher. If Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and David Hernandez leave this season shell-shocked, bruised, and beaten down mentally or physically, the entire rebuilding project will be derailed and it may take years to pick up the pieces. For a fan base that has seen a dozen losing seasons (can we put this one in the books yet?), Baltimore fans can be pretty impatient. Asking them to wait another 3 years might not be so kind.

However, even as this team has a meltdown rivaling Greg Norman on Sunday, it has shown a commitment to the future- and I am not talking about 2010 or even 2011. Signing draft picks isn’t easy, but when the front office found a player they wanted they didn’t cave until they had him. Sure, some prospects got through unsigned, but bringing in 25 of your top 30 picks is extremely impressive. Moreover, the Orioles paid above the recommended salary slot for most of them, particularly in bringing in Mychal Givens, the hot-hitting shortstop from Florida who didn’t endear himself to the fan base with statements that amounted to “If they want me, they will do what it takes to get me.” Regardless, he is an Oriole now and for as long as he is under club control, he will have to enjoy it. The fact of the matter is that this team didn’t let pride get in the way of negotiations, and didn’t let a few hundred thousand dollars here or there get in the way of signing who they wanted to make this team better in the long run. The Orioles spent almost $8.8 million on the 29 draft picks they signed, and signed 9 of their top 10 draft picks (though correct me if I am wrong on the latter point). They paid generously for later rounder players like Michael Ohlman and Cameron Coffey, proof that this team is determined to build this team through the draft.

Much attention has been paid to Andy MacPhail and his trades, but not enough credit can go to Joe Jordan, the Orioles scouting director who was in charge of most of these negotiations. Jordan came to Baltimore not with MacPhail, but as a holdover from the Beattie administration after stints with the Marlins and Expos in various roles of player evaluation. I guess the old administration got something else right besides Nick Markakis.

Windsor insists to me that the O’s will be in contention next year (or at least over .500, though to me that would count). That may be true, though I am still thinking it might take another year for all the pieces to come together. However, whether this team will be in contention in 2013 or 2014 is decided on days like today, when this front office makes sure they hold onto the players they want for the future. Ignore the nightly shelling for a moment; today it is good to be an Orioles fan.

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