HEY, GEORGE,"a front-row fan at Fort Lauderdale Stadium called to a Baltimore pitcher beforean intrasquad game this spring. The player didn't respond.
This is an article from the March 31, 2008 issue
"George!"the fan persisted. Still no response.
"George, areyou pitching today?"
Finally, thepitcher turned around.
"It'sGarrett," said the minor league lefthander, Garrett Olson.
Meanwhile, theOrioles' website listed the team's manager as Mike Trembley (it's Dave), andteam president Andy MacPhail kept referencing a numerical roster to figure outwho was who among his own players in the intrasquad game.
If you havetrouble recognizing the Birds, that's exactly how the ball club wants it. With39 newcomers in camp and a fresh mission statement--which is to say that theyactually have one--the Orioles are trying their damnedest to bear noresemblance to the teams of the last 10¬†years, the most fallow decade infranchise history. The 93-loss outfit from last season was particularlygruesome: It walked the most batters in the majors, set a league record formost runs allowed in one game (30) and had the seventh-worst record in one-rungames (13-31) in AL history.
After the latestdebacle MacPhail, who was hired last June, cried uncle and launched anhonest-to-goodness rebuilding plan, with pitching, defense and fundamentals asits foundation. "To think that if everything breaks right, you might win 85games and have a shot at the playoffs is the thinking that had to change,"says MacPhail, who had previously turned the Twins and the Cubs into playoffteams. "That's not going to cut it in the AL East. You're up against two ofthe most well-financed and well-operated franchises in the game. The only wayto trump that is through solid pitching from one through 11. This is the onlypath available to us--better than being stuck in neutral."
MacPhail invested$6¬†million on his top draft pick alone last year (catcher Matt Wieters),commissioned a training academy in the Dominican Republic, established theposition of international scouting director and spent $250,000 on astate-of-the-art video system. His most visible moves, however, were tradeswith Seattle and Houston that turned two of the club's most valuable assets,pitcher Erik Bedard and shortstop Miguel Tejada, into 10 new players--seven ofthem pitchers and only two of them older than 28. The best of the pitchers areprospect Chris Tillman, 19, who was the Mariners' minor league pitcher of theyear last season; Dennis Sarfate, 26, a power righthanded setup reliever; andMatt Albers, 25, who could start or provide help for what was a ghastly bullpenlast season (5.71 ERA).
Baltimore's mostimportant newcomer is centerfielder Adam Jones, a .291 minor league hitter. TheOrioles believe they have two lineup fixtures for at least the next five yearsin Jones, 22, and rightfielder Nick Markakis, 24, whose 112 RBIs last year werethe third most by a 25-and-under player, behind Miguel Cabrera and PrinceFielder (119 apiece in 2007). "[Jones] is not a finished product by anymeans," Trembley says. "He's going to get better. He's enough of anathlete that, when it comes, it's going to come in a hurry."
Trembley, 56, rana training camp that reflected the organization's commitment to fundamentals.In particular, he emphasized holding base runners ("Our pitchers wereabysmal [at it] last year," he says), situational hitting ("We startevery batting practice with it. Last year we had no program") and workingthe count ("The top five teams at seeing the most pitches went to theplayoffs").
Baltimore stilldoesn't have a bona fide shortstop or closer, and second baseman Brian Robertsfigures to be the next veteran asset traded for inexperienced players. In theshort term the Orioles may be risking a last-place finish for the first timesince the infamous 1988 team that started 0-21. This year won't be pretty, butthey're trying.
CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal . . .
Baltimore hasthree bright pieces of its future in centerfielder Adam Jones, rightfielderNick Markakis and catcher Matt Wieters, its top pick in last year's draft, whowill start the season in the minors. Having unloaded shortstop Miguel Tejadaand put second baseman Brian Roberts on the block, the Orioles might as wellpull the plug on 36-year-old third baseman Melvin Mora and hand the job torookie Scott Moore (left). Acquired from the Cubs for Steve Trachsel lastAugust, Moore, 24, showed good power in the minors, a big plus consideringMora's power has virtually disappeared. Despite getting eight hits in his first12 spring at¬†bats before an abdominal strain slowed him, Moore is ticketedfor a utility role--an odd move for a team that says it is fully committed torebuilding.
On-base percentageof Orioles outfielders last season; only the Diamondbacks' outfield had a lowerfigure. With the acquisition of centerfielder Adam Jones (.350 career OBP inthe minors) and leftfielder Luke Scott (.366 career OBP in the majors) fromSeattle and Houston, respectively, to play alongside budding star Nick Markakis(.362 OBP in '07), Baltimore should put more pressure on opposing pitchers thisyear.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER DAVETREMBLEY SECOND SEASON WITH BALTIMORE
|LUIS HERNANDEZ (R)||SS|
|SCOTT MOORE (R)||IF|
|LH||George Sherrill (|
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
SEPT. 11, 1995
THAT'S WHAT they called Baltimore: Charm City. But thename never stuck. See, the schools still didn't work, crime's a problem, taxesare murder. Somehow, all the Disneyfication of the downtown didn't winBaltimore the label that the rulers really wanted: big league. Now they'vegiven up on the catchy nicknames. They've just mounted Cal Ripken¬†Jr. upfront, like a hood ornament, to symbolize what Baltimore's all about.
--Richard Ben Cramer
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