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Guthrie trade a symptom of poor foresight in Baltimore

February 7, 2012

The Baltimore Orioles have completely lost touch with baseball. After 14 consecutive losing seasons, a revolving door of coaches and support staff, and a devoted fan base that deserves so much more, Monday’s trade of SP Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies is just one of many baffling front-office decisions that have driven the three-time world champs into a free-fall that sees no signs of hitting bottom. But what the Guthrie trade lacks in originality, it makes up for in significance: by shipping away the lone stability in a very young rotation in dire need of one, the Orioles organization has demonstrated a disconnect with their passionate fan base, as well as the current baseball climate.

As the rotation veteran, Guthrie struggled through his Oriole career with compiling wins. Though posting a 4.16 ERA with the Orioles, the right-hander had the misfortune of facing inconsistent run support and the weight of the pitching staff on his shoulders. But what he lacked in support from his organization, he gained ten-fold from the fans. Guthrie became a personality in Baltimore, as much for his undying love for the Backstreet Boys as his two-seam fastball. The former first-rounder was active in the community, promoting the Boy Scouts of America in the Baltimore region and interacting with fans on Twitter. As the stalwart presence on a staff consisting of washed-up veterans and mishandled youngsters, Guthrie forged a relationship with the organization and the city.

Which is why his absence on the 2012 team is simply another symptom of poor organizational management and focus. The Orioles have consistently lacked direction and foresight since manager Davey Johnson’s resignation and GM Pat Gillick’s contract expiration. Once a ballclub focused on blending strong young talent with experienced role-players to form a team with chemistry and drive, the Orioles have begun signing older free agents, seemingly haphazardly, while neglecting to nurture the future of their organization. Although Baltimore prospects consistently rank among Baseball America’s top 10 lists, reality falls far short of expectations as heavy burdens are placed on unproven young arms and fresh position players are pushed aside in favor of one-dimensional veterans. The team that once built success on solid fielding and basic run production ranked 11th in the league in errors made and posted average run totals in 2011. Faced with the worst pitching staff in the American League, the Orioles need to fare far better on the other side of the ball to make any inroads. For a team that literally cannot afford to continue down this track–attendance numbers are down 53% since 1997, although MLB totals are consistently rising–the Orioles are doing very little to inspire confidence for the players or the fans–something that has become evident in the standings, season after season.

Financial disparity and divisional competition have been cited as excuses for such sustained struggles. This would be true were it not for having the advantage of being able to compare the Orioles’ shoddy front office with that of east coast rival-Tampa Bay Rays, whose recent “rebuilding” was actually used to rebuild–in a smart, baseball-minded way, grooming early draft picks and complementing them with clubhouse-friendly supporting players. Meanwhile, Rays’ ownership has allowed its staff to do their job. Since 2005, owner Stuart Sternberg–described as a “baseball junkie”–has run a program of proactive baseball, eliminating the position of general manager and surrounding himself with smart baseball minds. Conversely, Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos, a trial lawyer who made millions litigating against large corporations, was named the “worst owner in baseball” by Sports Illustrated. Reports surface multiple times a year of Angelos’s interference in the way the Orioles are run, supposedly circumventing baseball personnel in favor of his own preferences. This is evident in the revolving door of executives running through Baltimore, most of whom either resigned or were run out of the organization by Angelos’s insistence on having the final roster say. Whether Angelos was ultimately correct in his player decisions–a fact that is up for heavy debate–the constant alienation has led to organizational instability and a reputation that surely drives the better baseball minds into the arms of other teams.

This is not to say that the responsibility for the team’s success or failure rests solely on the front office. Adults should not need their hands held to ensure performance. Centerfielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis, the latter of whom is possibly the most talented player on the roster, have battled inconsistency at the plate. Second-baseman Brian Roberts has endured injury after bizarre injury. And then there is the rotation, whose crop of promising young pitchers have yet to stay healthy at the same time. But the organization has done little to foster confidence in the potential of its team, and the trade of their rotation anchor only bolsters that sentiment. With a strong fan base long waiting to embrace any semblance of success, the instability and futility of the Orioles–top to bottom–continue to let their loyal supporters down.

It would be unfair to expect another Cal Ripken to materialize and save the organization from its unclear philosophy; there are no singular heroes for rebuilding teams. But this is not Ripken’s era, either. Since baseball cleaned itself up, emphasis is on production from fundamentals: bunting, stealing bases, and clean singles through the infield. With a combination of smart baseball minds, energetic, hard-working players, and a good dose of luck, small-market teams can compete with the big guys. And that should make fans justifiably frustrated. If the Orioles don’t work to protect their young pitchers by surrounding them with confident veterans and complement their offensive weapons with quick-learning (and inexpensive) prospects, success will be a long time coming. Even if they weren’t in the American League East.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. J.Flash permalink
    February 7, 2012 2:51 pm

    All very true! I seriously can’t remember being this deflated going into Spring Training

    However, you failed to mention that Guthrie was asking for 10+ million for one season heading into arbitration. To put that in perspective, Sean marcum made 3 million last season. Guthrie, while an awesome guy, would never have been more than a number 4 starter on a good team. Reports are also that the O’s got zero interest or offers for Guthrie during this whole off-season. No team would give up legit prospects for a guy who leads the league in losses and gives up a ton of homers who you’ll only have around for 1 season before free agency, at a minimum of 8 million.

    Ultimately though, it just kind of puts an exclamation point on a really crappy offseason in which the team really solidifies that it has no direction or long term plan

    • February 7, 2012 2:55 pm

      Rockies ended up paying him $8 and didn’t go to arb at all. Guy’s got a 4.16 ERA. For the AL east, that’s pretty solid.

    • February 7, 2012 2:57 pm

      But I’m definitely interested in the debate. Frustration has to be reaching a boiling point.

  2. Brewcrewfan9 permalink
    February 7, 2012 6:39 pm

    I see this trade benefitting the Orioles for the simple fact that Hammel has been getting better every year and Lindstrom can flat out BRING the heat. Between Hammel and Gurthie, it may come out to be a push or a potential slight edge to Guthrie but we should keep in mind, the fact that Hammel has been pitching in Colorado (inflation!). Thoughts?

    Fun to read

  3. Brewcrewfan9 permalink
    February 7, 2012 6:40 pm

    pardon the run on sentences

    • JJ Finn permalink
      February 15, 2012 1:48 pm

      You did not use any run-on’s. A sentence is not a RO simply becuase it’s long.
      We should be much more critical about Run-on SEASONS….like, say, hockey!

      • JJ Finn permalink
        February 15, 2012 1:49 pm

        oops!…”because”

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