The anatomy of winning and losing

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Withstanding this past week, it’s a long off season where news coming from teams is spread far and wide until the end of February or so. Therefore you might see an article or two on this topic out of me in the coming weeks and months. If the Orioles can’t post a winning record in 2012, it’ll be the 15th straight losing season for the franchise. It goes without saying that you have to have good players in order to win in any sport. While the Orioles have had some good players in that span of time, for the most part they’ve seemingly been a step or two behind the rest of the league.

This past week Dan Duquette said that the goal for 2012 was .500; a daunting task. The question is whether or not that’s realistic. Possible or not, why have the Orioles been so bad for the past 14 seasons?

Again, if your talent at the big league level isn’t what it should be you’re already at a disadvantage. I think that Andy MacPhail changed that a bit when he arrived. Whereas previously the O’s would obtain older players, upon MacPhail’s arrival suddenly the O’s had Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, etc. But again, the line between winning and losing isn’t just on the field. In the span of time since 1998 until now, there’s been very little organizational structure. Until now, the Orioles haven’t really had an international scouting effort, which is part of the reason that Duquette was hired (for his international contacts).

The team would also find ways to justify not going after big name free agents, in some cases even their own. Mike Mussina desperately wanted to stay in Baltimore, but at the end of the day the Orioles couldn’t raise their offer the necessary $500,000 that was needed to keep him out of pinstripes. Mussina’s a pitcher; on the offensive side they would offer three-year contracts worth $10-$15 million and call it a great deal. This would also come at a time when many sluggers were wanting to come to Baltimore because Camden Yards is such a great hitters’ park.

It’s no coincidence that the Yankees and Red Sox’s respective rises came at the time when the Orioles seemed to have no orgnizational structure. They in turn were willing to offer the big contracts to players, and they would do so at the right times. Boston signed Manny Ramirez right at his peak, as did NY with Alex Rodriguez. Instead, the Orioles signed the likes of Kris Benson to pitch in 2006 because he had a few good seasons with the Mets. Kevin Millar came over from the Red Sox in the twilight of his career. Even bringing fan favorite Rafael Palmeiro back at the end of his career was probably a mistake in retrospect. He took up a spot at the big league level that could have been held by the next version of Palmeiro, albeit a younger one.

So there’s no hope, right? This organization has made more SNAFU’s than Janet Jackson with her wardrobe, right? That may be true, but this isn’t hopeless. Under Andy MacPhail the Orioles did on occasion bring in a veteran or two, but that’s often necessary when you have a young team. However the majority of the player aquisitions were young guys, which brought some new blood to the team. One might argue that many of those players such as Matusz, Bergesen, Tilman, etc. haven’t worked out. Be that as it may, they’ve also had injury problems. The point is that these young guys (including Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, and Matt Wieters) are being given the opprotunity to succeed or fail at this level as opposed to someone that was good on another team three or four years ago.

Organizationally, perhaps the biggest indication of the fact that things could get better for the O’s is that they aren’t making any “splashes” in the off season. They’ve been crucified by fans for that this week, however it depends on how you look at it. Certainly they didn’t sign Prince Fielder, however they did express interest in him. Furthermore, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Jorge Posada are all free agents and looking to still play. The Orioles have expressed interest in none of them, and Dan Duquette directly said that neither Posada or Varitek were fits for the Birds. Under previous regimes perhaps one of those guys would have gotten a two-year contract from the O’s, who would have used the line“Varitek/Posada/Wakefield know(s) this division, and he knows how to win.” They would have talked about how great it was to be a Baltimore Oriole, and by June they would still be collecting a paycheck and struggling to stay above the Mendoza Line.

Luckily none of that is going to happen. Duquette said that the goal in 2012 was .500. Again, whether or not that’s possible is another story. I would say that if they hovered around that spot most people would be happy. 78 or 79 wins would still technically be a losing season, but I think most fans would call that a success. In fairness, the O’s are always an illustration of Murphy’s Law with regard to injuries; everyone has to stay healthy for this to work. The Orioles do have a decent roster, and if the players are healthy they will in fact win more games. However speaking for myself, I’m happy to say that I think the organization is headed in a better direction than it was years ago.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

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