Are The Baltimore Orioles Finally Putting It Together?

Ryan TiceContributor IAugust 4, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Brian Matusz #86 of the Baltimore Orioles poses during photo day at the Orioles spring training complex on February 23, 2009 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

On the heels of the Orioles’ 8-2 win over Detroit tonight, the team has now produced a win in a rookie starting pitcher’s debut five times this season. The team, which has not had a winning season since it won the AL East crown in 1997, is finally beginning to reap the benefits of Andy MacPhail’s two-plus years as the president of baseball operations.

The Orioles have been the benefactors of frugal, but wise, decisions, in the form of great trades and terrific drafting in the past couple of years. Sure, their record doesn’t hint at improvement being made; the number of wins each season has decreased since 2004’s 78 wins, but full-scale rebuilding efforts like this don’t show up in the standings.

Only a mere three or four years ago, the Orioles were in shambles and not even the most optimistic fan could say there was a promising future. Albert Belle and his $88 million contract haunted the Orioles for years after “Joey” flopped, and it just came off the books in the last couple of seasons.

The team routinely overpaid for players past their prime and made horrific trades. I don’t need to cite examples...there are so many to choose from.

Just ask your nearest Oriole fan and he/she will give you one of five or six options. When MacPhail took over, he said he would tear down the team and start over. He had no choice.

And he said it would all start with pitching.

No wonder MacPhail has two World Series Rings.  This man knows what he is talking about.

Gone are the days of perennially hanging the hopes of a city on a first-rounder bound for bust: Darnell McDonald, Mike Paradis, Richard Stahl, Keith Reed, Beau Hale and Adam Loewen to name a few of the "next great things" in Baltimore.

It used to seem that the Orioles’ drafts were a woody station wagon to their division rival’s Aston Martins, Bentleys and even the modest Toronto Blue Jays' Acura. To say the least, Orioles fans were getting jealous of the old beater passed down through three older brothers.

Recently, the Orioles have been slowly trading up (sometimes, literally). Nick Markakis, Chris Ray (although he has struggled this season, he did save 33 games in ‘06), Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold are just four current Oriole stars that the team drafted and developed. Brad Bergensen, David Hernandez and Jason Berken are all promising arms that the Orioles have developed and are currently in the bigs.

Brian Matusz can now join that group. In addition to Matusz’ impressive win tonight (5 innings, 1 run, 5 strikeouts), Koji Uehara, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken and David Hernandez all won in their MLB debut this season with the Orioles. Highly-touted rookie

Chris Tillman has also made his debut this season in the Orange and Black. Tillman allowed three solo shots in just 4.2 innings but the team pulled out a win that night, 7-3 over the Royals.

Tillman, like many of the other promising young Orioles, was a part of the recent run of great trades done by the front office over the past few years.

While unloading the likes of a 31-year-old Miguel Tejada, Erik Bedard (another homegrown arm) and 32-year-old George Sherrill (who was actually a part of the Bedard deal), the Orioles have received All-Stars Adam Jones and Luke Scott (who has developed into a solid DH, batting .276 so far this year with 18 HR), current major leaguers Matt Albers, Chris Tillman and Dennis Sarfate and young pitchers Tony Butler, Troy Patton, Kam Mickolio, and Steve Johnson. Bedard and Tejada were each traded for five players.

The coaching staff of the Orioles must also be doing something right, finally. The Orioles developed waiver wire pickup Jeremy Guthrie into their ace and countless other youngsters are developing, whereas five years ago, they were flopping more often than not.

In addition to Orioles’ mainstay Brian Roberts, the Orioles tout a lineup of promising young players at most positions. The outfield consists of Jones and Markakis, two of the American League’s top young outfielders, and Reimold, who was recently named the July Rookie of the Month.

There is not a team in the majors that wouldn’t want to be guaranteed that outfield three years down the road. 2007 first rounder Matt Wieters is behind the plate handling the young pitchers and looks to be on his way to a promising MLB career. 

The Orioles still lack a dangerous middle-of-the-order presence and, especially with Melvin Mora’s recent spat with manager Dave Trembley, need to develop some prospects at the corner infield slots.

In the Tejada trade, they received third base prospect Michael Costanzo and they also acquired Josh Bell, a standout third baseman at AA, for Sherrill.

Patience is still key because the Orioles are a year or two from being able to contend in the AL East. They are missing the pieces needed to contend in the ultra competitive division, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for Oriole fans.

Suddenly, every move is not backfiring on the O’s, and a team is starting to take shape in the Charm City.

With the dividends already starting to pay off from the MacPhail hiring, it’s only a matter of time before the Orioles are back contending for the AL East. As the Rays showed last year, develop some young pitching and make smart trades in the majors and the sky is the limit.

These Orioles are just starting to take flight.