Andy MacPhail Elects to Leave

This past weekend, lost in the excitement of October baseball, the Baltimore Orioles announced that their GM, Andy MacPhail, has “elected” not to return for 2012. It is unclear if he is done with baseball for good, or if he is just taking a break from the game.

Andy MacPhail’s lineage is steeped in Baseball. His father, Lee, was the president of the American League and his grandfather, Larry, was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. MacPhail was born intro the game and made his General Managerial debut with the Minnesota Twins in 1985, taking them to the World Series and winning in 1987 (for the first time since 1924) and again in 1991. In 1995, MacPhail moved from Minnesota to the Chicago Cubs to become their President and CEO, where he sat until 2000 when he became their GM, a position he held for two years. On June 20th, 2007 the Orioles hired MacPhail as President of Baseball Operations (GM).

MacPhail was extremely successful early on in his career. In his first eight years he won two Championships and compiled a .516 winning percentage. In the nine years that followed, he wasn’t nearly as successful, winning 611 games versus 797 losses, good for a .434 winning percentage. Part of the drop can be attributed to moving to the AL East, where MacPhail inherited a weak team and led the Orioles to four straight last-place finishes.

Evaluating a General Manager is extremely difficult for many reasons. It is not sufficient to simply look at a GM’s win-loss record and pass judgement. For one, it is impossible to isolate the actions of general managers from the actions of owners and team presidents. Additionally, unless you are the New York Yankees, you can’t win the AL East by signing free agents. Most teams need to build through the draft and Latin America, which takes time, something we don’t have when looking at MacPhail’s four years with the Orioles. What we can see from MacPhail’s short stint is the state of the Orioles’ minor league system (which has to be viewed as a product of ownership and MacPhail’s general managerial skills), an imperfect proxy but one that management has more direct control over.

Baseball America ranked the Baltimore Orioles as the 21st best farm system in baseball. That is not horrible, but it is troublesome when everyone else in your division is ranked higher. Not only is Baltimore the weakest in their division at the Major League level, but they also have the weakest farm system in the East. Baltimore’s state of despair cannot solely rest on the shoulders of MacPhail. In 2009, ESPN ranked Peter Angelos, Orioles’ owner, as the worst owner in all of baseball. A GM is only as good as his owner/president will allow. Whether you blame Angelos, MacPhail, or even the AL East, it is clear that they have not produced a winning combination.

Whenever a GM leaves, the question inevitably asked is: Who will replace him? There is a long list of potential replacements: Ben Cherington (BOS), Jerry DiPoto (ARI), David Forst (OAK), Rick Hahn (CWS), Matt Klentak (BAL), Tony LaCava (TOR), Thad Levine (TEX), Bryan Minniti (WSH) and John Ricco (NYM). This is not an exhaustive list by any means. LaCava and Klentak are the two names that immediately stick out. LaCava jumps out because I think he would make the best GM of the group, and Klentak sticks out because he is the natural choice.

Tony LaCava could easily be the most likable person in Baseball. In my short time with the Toronto Blue Jays, Tony wowed me with how approachable he was, even to a lowly intern. On top of his humility he is truly a brilliant baseball mind with a background second to none in scouting and player development and an open mind to advanced statistics. In an age where most GMs (and brain trusts) understand the value of advanced metrics, the competitive edge in baseball seems to be moving back towards effective player development. Additionally, a GM’s ability to create and maintain relationships with other GMs is a skill that is often overlooked when discussing General Managers, and is paramount to their ability to negotiate successfully. LaCava excels at these aforementioned skills and any franchise would be lucky to have him calling the shots. Not only does he live in nearby (closer than Toronto) Pittsburgh, but he also has eight years of experience in the AL East. Unfortunately, Baltimore is not a very attractive location for a new GM (especially with the current playoff structure).

The Orioles are in a division with three of the top five teams in baseball, and the Blue Jays will be ready to contend in a couple years. To make matters worse, Peter Angelos has been labeled as a bad owner. Whether he has been wrongfully labeled or not, it will be difficult for prospective GMs to see past his reputation.

The fact that the Orioles will have some difficulty attracting outside suitors makes hiring from within all the more probable. The next man in line for Baltimore is Matt Klentak, who is, in his own right, very qualified to take over as GM. Klentak grew up rooting for Cal Ripken and the O’s, and has been working as assistant GM for the Orioles for the last four years. His years working for MLB have made him an expert on the current Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as a formidable force on contracts.

No matter which GM Baltimore decides to hire, the Orioles will have an uphill battle. They have some useful building blocks in Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Brian Matusz, but you need a far more substantial core to compete in the East. The Orioles have two great models to follow towards success: the Blue Jays and Rays. Unfortunately, Baltimore will have to get past them and two other behemoths to return to the playoffs.

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24 Responses to “Andy MacPhail Elects to Leave”

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  1. swieker says:

    Maybe you meant: “They have some useful building blocks in… [Zach Britton]”? Brian Matusz’s abilities are in doubt after his record-breaking performance.

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    • Noah Isaacs says:

      I think it is too early to give up on Matusz, but you are absolutely right Britton should be included, and possibly Roberts.

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      • swieker says:

        Yeah, I wouldn’t give up on Matusz if I were the O’s management. But he really has a long way to go to turn it around.

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      • Kyle says:

        hardy instead of roberts

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      • AK says:

        Roberts? How in the world did I end up back in 2004?

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      • Bill says:

        I would include Britton and Wieter’s certainly. Jones has shown he can be a bit better than a league average player, which is fine. But, he probably won’t get any better. Markakis has likely plateaued as a league average player, as well. Matusz looks broken. It’s too soon to give up on him, but if he can’t either develop a new pitch or figure out what happened to his velocity, he won’t ever be more than a back of the rotation starter (at best). Roberts is past his prime. He isn’t a “building block” by any means. This team has graduated all their prospects. MacPhail’s rebuild in is complete and it is an epic failure. He seemed to draft ok,at least according to the experts, but the Orioles’ player development system is terrible. You expect a lot of draft picks to not develop as the experts expect, but you don’t expect all of them to fail. The O’s had the best rated minor league system a few seasons back and every single one of them has fallen well short of expectations. This team is bad and will be bad until their player development system is completely gutted and rebuilt.

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      • Kyle says:

        ^ adam jones is prob better than league average, especially given he is a CF. I don’t think he will get much better unless the plate discipline does, but regardless he is pretty good. Markakis is pretty much avg. tho

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  2. SC2GG says:

    It’s good that the site put up an article reviewing MacPhail’s tenure, but in the same grain, I was a little sad that there wasn’t even a mention of Tony Reagins and LAA “parting ways” due to “organizational pressure”. If anyone deserved an entire article devoted to failure, it would have been him.

    Also unrelated, it’s cool that you got to intern with the Jays. When was that? What did you do there, and are you continuing to do so?

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  3. Erik says:

    Also, Matusz broke Roy Halladay’s record and he turned out ok.

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    • Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

      That’s true, but Roy is an exception not the rule when you’re a young pitcher who pitches the (historically) awful season he’s had.

      It’s not just the mechanics or pitches that need to be refined but also the mental and emotional aspects of the pitcher. Most of these guys were successful at every level till the majors. A beating like this can and will mess one’s head up.

      The mentally tougher ones can learn from this. The fragile ones never come back.

      On top of that there’s the Oriole’s woeful minor league development… I’d say the odds are not good.

      I really do hope the kid does come back because he seemed to be an ace in the making in 2010.

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  4. Mike says:

    “In 2009, ESPN ranked Peter Angelos, Orioles’ owner, as the worst owner in all of baseball. A GM is only as good as his owner/president will allow.”

    The whole article could have been summed up by those words.

    This is an owner who reviews free agents medical records personally. And walked into the room 10 minutes before a draft was ready to start directing that his team take a college pitcher that year.


    This guy is a very successful ambulance chaser, but a horrible baseball team owner. At least, if you’d a fan of a team that he owns.

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    • Kyle says:

      In all fairness he is probably checking their medical records for mesothelioma so he can sue someone

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  5. Dave in GB says:

    Well, the Orioles are still nonexistent in international scouting.

    Thier elite prospects have fallen victim to poor player development.
    MacPhails free agent picks were either past thier primes, on a steep decline, injured, or was picked up on a flyer.

    His campaigne slogan “grow the arms, buy bats” sounded great at first, but he failed to supplement any of the young talent with depth, which ultimately resulted in prospects being rushed through the system before they were even close to ready. At least Wieters worked out.

    But he made a few good trades. Bravo.

    Sounds like more of the same in Birdland.

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    • Bill says:

      Hardy was an excellent pickup. Reynolds had a good offensive year, he just had no business minding third base. I can’t knock these acquisitions. The Gonzales signing was inexcusable, but the Gregg signing was even worse. Especially because it showed he learned nothing from the Gonzales signing. As an O’s fan though, I’m terrified that they are going to go after Hendry. I know it’s going to be an old school guy, but a move for Hendry is just the type of thing Angelos would do.

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      • JohnnyComeLately says:

        Would the fact that they plucked McPhail from the Cubs discourage them from getting Hendry right from the Cubs? I’d have to think it would.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Great job with trades. The Erik Bedard trade basically ended Bill Bavasi’s career. The Miguel Tejada and George Sherrill trades didn’t exactly work out, but looked promising at the time.

    He also wasn’t afraid to go after the high-price guys in the draft. Wieters, Machado and Bundy all had huge price tags, but got all of them to sign. Arrieta was another one that they were willing to pay extra for (he set the record for most money received for a 5th rounder).

    Just bad luck with developing talent. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz were supposed to be aces. Radhames Liz, Jake Arrieta and Troy Patton had starting potential. There was once a lot of excitement about guys like Brandon Erbe and Pedro Beato. Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder and Billy Rowell all busted. Wieters finally stepped up and had a solid year, but he’s had a slow start. Of course this failure to develop talent extends far beyond the start of MacPhail’s tenure.

    You look at a team like the Rays, who seem to have an bottomless well of talent, and have to wonder what the O’s are doing wrong.

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    • Bill says:

      If an above average number of draft picks fail, you can blame that on bad luck. The fact that every single one of their draft picks under MacPhail have failed to meet expectations can’t be written off as bad luck. Their player development system must be very poor. MacPhail had the power to evaluate and rebuild his player development system. Yes, its incompetence extends back 20 years, but he had it in his power to fix it. All failure in this area must ultimately rest on his shoulders.

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    • Kyle says:

      sherrill for… jim johnson and josh bell right? id say it did work out, as sherill is an average releiver. All the rest I agree. I don’t know how much blame can be placed on him for player development. The consensus when he drafted a player or traded for one was that he did a good job, something just fell apart along the way

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  7. goldmurano says:

    Brian Matusz is on his way AA in 2012. He completely lost whatever he had in 2011, or stopped taking what ever he was using in 2011……hmmm?

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  8. goldmurano says:

    The draft picks are being judged as good picks, when the fact of the matter is, no one can really tell if they are good picks or not, because the team only drafts High School players. They haven’t even finished growing up when they are drafted. These pitchers aren’t even sure if they would rather be firemen or policemen instead of a BB player.

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  9. DavidE7 says:

    I have been an Orioles fan from the 1960s until the present day. I lived through the glory years, and then watched a great frachise destroyed by its current owner. I feel sorry for all those who write in this column about this player or that, as though getting better players is the answer.

    Championships are not won by the teams with the best players, but by the teams whose players play best. Owners, GMs and managers can’t make players play great, but they can disrupt team cohesion. MacPhail signed Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis to long term contracts and both went into eclipse. Why? Because the big money took away their motivation? No. Because they saw Angelos come between the GM and the manager by developing a “special relationship” with him. That destroys morale because it means the GM can’t do his job properly.

    Now MacPhail has walked away and Showalter is in charge (he will help choose the GM). What kind of situation do you think that will produce? The Orioles will continue to be a laughing stock until Angelos is permanently gone. Wish it were otherwise, but it is not.

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