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The Thin Line Of Baltimore's Rebuilding Process

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Jake Arrieta #80 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Florida Marlins during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on February 27, 2009 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
Drew BonifantAnalyst IIApril 17, 2009

Andy MacPhail has made no secret of his strategy to rebuild the Baltimore Orioles.

The future isn't now. This season, while not a throwaway year, is a work in progress. A .500 record has been considered a dream for this bunch, while a second straight last-place finish is far more reasonable.

The future, instead, is a couple of years from now. Three years, two years, perhaps next year, if all goes absolutely according to plan, and star pitching prospects mature quickly.

Even that much uncertainty can lead to problems. That "couple of years" it will take for the Orioles to return to prominence had better be narrowed down soon.

Currently, the synopsis of the O's is simple: The lineup's strong, the pitching stinks. With more pitching on the way through the minors, in the forms of Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergeson and Brian Matusz, the question marks will be filled, right?

Not so fast. Several of the key factors in the Orioles' offense are sure deals. Markakis and Roberts, at 25 and 31, respectively, are signed to long-term deals, while Adam Jones, 23, will almost surely be locked up this offseason. Matt Wieters and Felix Pie are other promising bats that should be around for years.

After that, the future is shaky. The team's current cleanup hitter, Aubrey Huff, is 32. The current starting third baseman and No. 6 hitter, Melvin Mora, is 37, injury-prone and possibly in his final season as a Baltimore Oriole.

Luke Scott and Cesar Izturis are also starters who may not be in MacPhail's vision of a playoff contender, which begs the question: How long is too long for the rebuilding process to take?

The perils of rushing prospects have been well-documented, both by the Orioles and other teams.

The desire to get hurlers such as Sidney Ponson, Adam Loewen, Daniel Cabrera and Radhames Liz to the majors as quick as possible was met with disastrous consequences, as each time, the pitchers struggled mightily, resulting in either blown confidence or poor mechanics and injury.

What about the perils of a conservative approach? What if the pitching help stays in the minors for too long, only to come up to a major league roster that now needs to retool its lineup?

That question forms a thin line between sitting too long and acting too fast. A few mistakes either way could spoil the work the front office has put in to this point.

No one told MacPhail his job would be easy, and though he's likely gotten the hardest step (acquiring a base of young talent) out of the way, he's faced with a new challenge. He has to manage it.

He has bright, young hitters. He has bright, young pitchers. Both pieces do little unless they're working together.

When MacPhail decides to finish that combination is a decision that could make or break the next few years.

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