As the Baltimore Orioles complete another disappointing season and prepare for 2010, there are five key questions that team president Andy MacPhail must answer.
Can The O’s Contend in 2010?
Before any other decisions about the team’s future can be addressed, MacPhail and the Baltimore front office must assess the team and realistically determine if they think the Orioles are capable of being a contender in 2010.
If so, then they should be much more aggressive in the off-season looking for the final pieces to help the Orioles challenge in the toughest division in the game.
If MacPhail thinks the team is still not quite ready to make the push, then they will certainly approach the offseason differently as they continue grooming the talented young players on the club.
I know the AL East is the toughest division in the game and contending against the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees is a lot different than trying to compete with the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox, but I personally think it is time for the Orioles to stop playing for the future and instead make the commitment to winning in 2010.
The team may not have a very good record in 2009, but the pieces are there to be a consistent contender. To accomplish that, MacPhail and the ownership must be committed to spending the money it will take to get the Orioles the top-line players needed to push them toward the top of the division.
Should Dave Trembley Be The Manager in 2010 and Beyond?
This is a tough, but critical question. Since taking over as manager of the Orioles during the 2007 season, Dave Trembley has posted a record of 156-213 (.423 winning percentage). The Orioles have had a winning record in only three of 13 months during his tenure and have not had a winning month in 2009.
Trembley is a career baseball guy who finally earned his chance to be a major league manager after years toiling away in the minors and as a major league coach. He seems to be well liked and has earned praise for how he handles the young players.
However, one of the ingredients that will be crucial if the Orioles are to ever break out of their decade long losing streak is a new, winning attitude. That attitude must start at the top with a manager who exudes confidence and expects for the team to win every single night.
Given that he has been a part of so much losing, I’m not sure that Trembley can be the guy to create that new attitude in the locker room.
Will Aubrey Huff Be Back in 2010?
I think this is one decision that is dependent on how MacPhail is approaching 2010. If he thinks the Orioles are ready to contend, then he should resign Huff at least for one year. However, if MacPhail is gearing towards 2011, I think he would be better served letting Huff go and either using the money on a pitcher or saving it for the following season.
Huff is not having quite the season he produced in 2008, but he still provides consistent pop in the middle of the lineup and is a proven run producer.
Though Huff is still a very productive player and would be a valuable part of the team in 2010, the O’s could get by with Luke Scott at first base to start the season with the plan to give Brandon Snyder a chance to get accustomed to the majors with a mid-season call-up.
Who Will Be The Number One Starting Pitcher?
More than any other move the Orioles make prior to the 2010 season, who they envision being the “staff ace” for the pitching staff will speak volumes as to whether the Orioles front office sees the team as a contender.
Securing a top-line starting pitcher to anchor a talented young pitching staff would illustrate a commitment to winning. In recent years the Orioles have filled their pitching staff primarily with retreads while waiting for their “young guns” to mature.
The “young guns” are now ready, but need a veteran “ace” to lead the way.
Jeremy Guthrie has been the number one starter the last two seasons and while Guthrie is a solid pitcher, he is not a quality No. 1 pitcher. If the Orioles don’t make a significant pitching move and are looking for Guthrie or one of the young pitchers currently on the team to be the staff leader, then it will be another long year for the Birds.
There is no question that putting significant money into a starting pitcher is a little bit of a gamble. However, for the Orioles it would be one worth taking. This is a pitching staff that desperately needs a leader.
You could argue that except for brief periods in the tenures of Erik Bedard and Sidney Ponson, the Orioles have not had a real staff ace since Mike Mussina left following the 2000 season.
Mussina was one of those pitchers that you knew would give you a chance to win every single time he took the mound. The Orioles need someone like a Mussina or CC Sabathia, Johan Santana or Roy Halladay who grabs the ball every fifth day and makes things happen.
Acquiring Halladay and signing him to a long-term contract would potentially be a franchise-changing move for the Orioles.
Adding Halladay or another top-line veteran hurler would not only improve the Baltimore pitching staff, but also immediately provide a spark to the rest of the team. Making a move of that nature would signal to the entire franchise that the front office believes they can win.
Even if they are not ready or able to spend the money on a pitcher like Halladay, at the very least the Orioles need to bring in a pitcher like Derrick Lowe or Brad Penny who may not be a staff ace, but is a solid pitcher and can be expected to regularly pitch good enough for the team to win.
Who Will Play Third Base?
Much like the situation with Huff and first base, what the Orioles do at third base will probably be contingent on whether they are making a playoff push in 2010 or building for 2011.
It seems apparent that Melvin Mora’s days as the Orioles third baseman are coming to a close. He has been a solid player for the team over the last decade, but his numbers have diminished in 2009.
Baltimore had hoped that Scott Moore would be the third baseman of the future, but that is looking more doubtful as he has struggled with injuries. Josh Bell, who was acquired in the George Sherrill trade, could be the third baseman of the future, but is still in need of seasoning.
The Orioles could get by in 2010 with Ty Wigginton as the regular and acquire another versatile infielder to provide depth.
However, if the Orioles are looking to contend, they will instead need to acquire a regular third baseman and then allow Wigginton to continue in his role as a role player.
So, it is obvious that the off-season will be an interesting one for the Orioles as Andy MacPhail continues to orchestrate the future of the franchise.
He has made some great decisions over the last couple years and put the team in a position to eventually become a contender.
However, all will be forgotten if he cannot make the final moves that push the team over the top and back toward the top of the AL East.
It is great to build for the future, but the time has come and McPhail needs to make the moves that illustrate to the Orioles and their fans that next year has finally arrived.
Check out more from Dean Hybl at Baltimore Sports Then and Now where passionate fans can stay updated on the latest in Baltimore sports while also reliving the great moments, players and teams of Baltimore's tremendous sports history.