December 23rd was a potentially crippling day for the Baltimore Orioles and their hopes for a successful offseason.
That was the dark day that Mark Teixeira agreed to terms with the New York Yankees. The first baseman, the biggest free agent ticket available, the major target for GM Andy MacPhail, and the subject of millions of wishes from a desperate fanbase in the Charm City, was gone.
Even worse, he was gone to a city, team, and rival where franchise players are a dime a dozen. Suddenly, Teixeira wasn't the hometown messiah.
He was just "one of them," a free agent headed, despite his words during his press conference, for the highest bid. Loyalty didn't come into play because there was no loyalty to consider.
So how did MacPhail respond to the setback? He recovered, and found another way to go.
He had already dealt lame duck catcher Ramon Hernandez to Cincinnati for a solid platoon option in Ryan Freel, and plugged a hole at shortstop without breaking the bank by signing Cesar Izturis. A defensive wizard, Izturis lands on Baseball Tonight more often than John Kruk.
But his work post-Teixeira was his best. MacPhail opened a pivotal international door by signing Japanese star Koji Uehara. He dealt struggling pitcher Garrett Olson to Chicago (finally) for highly-touted outfield prospect Felix Pie, a move with no costly downside but plenty of upside.
And most recently, he used those unused Teixeira dollars the best way he could, by locking up budding All-Star and franchise player Nick Markakis. Six years, $66 million. Most of the readers of this article will be Orioles fans, but for those who aren't, the 25-year-old rightfielder is worth every penny.
If nothing else, MacPhail has shown this offseason that he knows what he has to work with. Teixeira was the one, a hometown star in his prime. If he doesn't sign, which eventually was the case, no one does. Not Adam Dunn, not Manny Ramirez, not Ben Sheets, not anybody.
He understands his team is not one that can spend money for the sake of spending it. Furthermore, he knew the plethora of talented prospects in the system.
He knew Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta are coming. He knew Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, and Lou Montanez are coming.
The nine-figure additions weren't just unfeasible, they weren't necessary.
Now, the Orioles are a team with an improved international reputation. They are a team with a stockpile of talented bats and arms. And they're a team with a homegrown star to build around.
One major item remains, which MacPhail has acknowledged. The Brian Roberts situation has to be solved, and soon.
If Roberts wants to play here, keep him here. If he doesn't, get rid of him for someone who will. Get something for him while you can.
It's still a work in progress. But for a team without a .500 finish in 12 years, that's not a word the Orioles have been used to.
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