by Matthew Taylor
Dan Connolly observed in The Sun this past weekend that AndyMacPhail prefers to build pitching from within rather than go the free agency route. It's a refreshing read. This is unquestionably the direction the Birds must take.
When Orioles club president Andy MacPhail dealt two of his stars this offseason for 10 players, there were rumblings that he should have netted more hitters.I learned early on - largely from listening to my grandfather bemoan the state of the Orioles' pitching staff whenever we asked him, "How 'bout dem O's?" - that it starts with pitching. My grandfather saw the likes of the 20-game gang - Palmer, McNally, Cuellar and Dobson - so it must've been particularly painful to watch any O's pitching staff after that. It wasn't until recent years, however, that I really came to appreciate how futile it is to attempt to build a staff from outside the organization. (Perhaps I'll one day tell my grandkids, "We need pitching, but it should come from the farm!")
Of the bounty he received for Miguel Tejada ( Houston Astros) and Erik Bedard (Seattle Mariners), seven were pitchers. Of the Orioles' top 20 prospects as ranked by Baseball America, 13 are pitchers.
MacPhail's philosophy is to collect as many good pitchers as possible, building a staff primarily through the farm system and eventually supplementing any offensive holes through free agency.
Consider the O's last winning run - in '96 and '97 - when the likes of Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson, David Wells, and Scott Kamieniecki took the hill for the Birds. The Birds had a nice short-term fix, but there was little organizational strength to plug the holes that quickly developed in the starting rotation. Doug Drabek (remember him in Orange and Black?) and Juan Guzman certainly weren't the answer from the outside, and Rocky Coppinger, Jason Johnson, and Sir Sidney couldn't patch the slow leak that later sunk the ship. Mike Mussina was the home-grown thoroughbred, which is why, at least for me, he'll always be remembered favorably despite signing with the hated Yankees.
Consider also some of the big bucks, free-agent arms the O's have tried for since '96 and '97 - Kevin Millwood, Carl Pavano, A.J. Burnett etc. - and it's clear why acquiring pricey pitching is a risky proposition. The Birds will need to spend the bucks on a front line starter at some point, but only after they've solidified the foundation to support such an acquisition.
There are signs that the O's are making the right moves when it comes to creative acquisition of pitching. Randor Bierd, Jeremy Guthrie, and - as Dempsey's Army pointed out in a comment on Roar from 34 - Brian Burres are all potential examples. Rule 5, the waiver wire, and trades are all good sources for the young arms the team needs.
Here's hoping The MacPhail Way continues to have shades of The Oriole Way.