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Friday, November 4, 2011

It's Time to Feel Bad for the Orioles

Andy MacPhail has done some great things in baseball. He led the Minnesota Twins to a pair of championships in 1987 and 1991, and built something resembling a competitive franchise for the Cubs from 1994-2006. Then he went to Baltimore, and things became a joke.

After several years of failing to develop quality starting pitching, despite a laundry list of exciting young pitchers (Bedard, Cabrera, Loewen, Guthrie, Tillman, Britton, Arrieta, Matusz), and, as a result, failing to build a competitive team in the tough AL East, MacPhail stepped down from his post as President of Baseball Operations last month, much to the joy of Orioles fans. While it is a shame he was never able to put together a good team in a great baseball town, this is something that all teams experience at one time or another: a GM simply failing at his job, for reasons leading back to him, or otherwise. What is sad is the ensuing circus of trying to find a replacement for MacPhail.

The most well-known example is Tony LaCava, which occurred earlier this week. LaCava is respected as one of the best talent evaluators in the sport, and, since his promotion to Blue Jays Director of Player Development in 2009, has shown great administrative skills. He has interviewed for GM positions in the past, and along with the White Sox' Rick Hahn and Texas' Thad Levine, is viewed as a top prospective GM.

LaCava nailed his interviews with Baltimore brass and was allowed to meet with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, at which point he was offered the position of Orioles General Manager. He turned it down.

Keith Law recently said that, aside from geographic reasons, he has never heard of an executive turning down a promotion to the position of General Manager. While I'm sure there have been instances, it speaks to the rarity of the event. The Orioles job, on the outside, should not be a tough one to take. They have some very exciting good young players. Matt Wieters might be the best defensive catcher in the AL, Adam Jones looks like a star, and Manny Machado is one of the top prospects in the sport. There is talented pitching there that, while it hasn't panned out yet, likely has a future. Much worse, though, is that the job isn't unappealing on the outside -- the turn-off is behind the front office doors.

There is a reason Baltimore has failed as a franchise despite decent drafting and the ability to spend money: they are poorly run at the major league level. MacPhail has failed to modernize his front office in almost every way: statistical analysis, international scouting and spending, even spending in the draft. Baltimore is an archaic front office, and it needs to be revived. But, ok, lots of front offices are run 'old-school', but they either make it work or slowly get with the program, what's the problem here?

Peter Angelos.

The reason LaCava did not take the job is because one condition was that he wanted, foolishly, to be able to run his front office. He wanted to modernize (remember, he cut his administrative teeth with the uber-creative Blue Jays) Baltimore, which included letting many of Angelos' 'old boys' go, in an attempt to run a more efficient program. Angelos said no. LaCava walked away from Baltimore, said all the right things in the ensuing interview, and received a standing ovation when he walked into Toronto's offices the next day.

The situation that this revealed was as disturbing as the ensuing trend. The men working under the Baltimore GM are untouchable. They have a direct line to ownership, and would essentially be running the asylu-er, show. As Keith Law said, no executive with self-respect is going to take that job -- and none of them are.

Dodgers Assistant GM De Jon Watson has declined to even interview for the position. The Twins (one has to assume, at his request), denied permission for the Orioles to speak to VP of Player Personnel Mike Radcliffe. The Orioles obtained permission to speak with Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Red Sox Scouting Director Allard Baird, but both have yet to set up an interview with them. Rick Hahn and Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman have both failed to respond to Baltimore's advances, and the Orioles' offseason began with being spurned by Jerry DiPoto, who took the Angels job instead. Buster Olney has stated several times that Baltimore is not viewed within the industry as a positive work environment, and claimed on Twitter Friday morning that: 'What is happening in multiple cases is that possible candidates for the Orioles' job are telling others they are not interested.'

Perhaps most terrifyingly, the Orioles are now interviewing their Director of Baseball Operations, Matt Klentak (more of the same mediocre management and results), and former Expos and Red Sox GM, and founding father of the Israeli Baseball League, Dan Duquette.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Orioles' problems have less to do with on-field talent and even the front office personnel than they do with ownership. Their issue goes straight to the top; it's turtles, all the way down. Until he relinquishes his grasp on the club or has a radical shift in management methodology, the Orioles are in bad shape.

Bandwagon jumping is usually viewed in a negative light, but for all you Maryland fans, there are some exciting things happening down in DC.

10:40 PM ET Friday: Orioles Failure Update: Baird has officially declined to interview with the Orioles.

Saturday Orioles Failure Update: Olney knows of about "a dozen assistant-level executives" that have passed on interviewing for the Orioles' still vacant GM job.