As the baseball offseason rolls on and free agency heats up, the Orioles are still, for now, without a top executive.
Whoever replaces Andy MacPhail, whether it's former Monteal Expos and Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette or someone else, will be handed the keys to an organization that hasn't had a winning season since 1997, then immediately will be faced with the inevitable question of why he would want to take the helm of the Orioles.
Once the introductory news conference ends and the new executive speaks about restoring faith in a once-proud franchise, the real work begins.
Where does the new GM start? And what must be his first acts in trying to right this wayward, if not sinking, ship?
Here are five priorities for the new top executive.
Get on the same page with Buck: This is crucial, because Orioles manager Buck Showalter is no wallflower. He has ideas on how the operation needs to run to get back to winning, and there was some sense early this offseason that he might steer it as the next GM. He is staying in the dugout and has said repeatedly that he has his hands full with managing the club and isn't interested in doing more than one job.
But make no mistake, Showalter's voice will be heard on the field, in the Warehouse and at a certain prestigious downtown law firm. So, co-existing with the manager -- and striking the delicate balance between being Showalter's boss while working in concert with him -- is key.
With all the problems this organization has, it cannot afford a disconnect between the GM and manager. At the same time, two experienced, knowledgeable voices are better than one.
Hire the best lieutenants; dump or reassign the deadwood: One of the criticisms of MacPhail's regime is that he didn't put his own stamp on the front office, preferring to keep most of those already entrenched in the organization in the same spots. That, of course, drew speculation that he couldn't remove certain personnel fixtures.
And there have been whispers that the Toronto Blue Jays' Tony LaCava didn't feel he would have enough control over personnel issues, leading to speculation that is what prompted, at least in part, his decision to turn down the Orioles' job offer last week. To be fair, LaCava has stressed publicly that his sole reason for rejecting the offer was because of his loyalty to the Blue Jays' organization.
As one candidate said in a casual conversation this week, who can or can't be fired shouldn't be a dealbreaker. A good executive must quickly and correctly assess who is an asset, who is not and where to properly place everyone. It doesn't need to be a complete overhaul, the candidate said, as long as people are put in positions to maximize their talents, or in the worst-case scenario, do the least damage. You don't have to fire them, just use them properly.
Really, the most important personnel decisions for the new GM will be bringing in the right people to fill current holes -- such as director of amateur scouting and perhaps player development director -- and adding several more top talent evaluators in scouting and development. No position, though, might be more crucial to get right than scouting director.
One of the few bright spots in the LaCava situation is that he was assured he could bring in more than a half-dozen employees. That's a big step in the right direction if they're the right people.
Reinvigorate international scouting: This started as a priority in the MacPhail regime but eventually petered out, with few resources thrown into international scouting and development. That has to change for the Orioles to be competitive in the American League East.
MacPhail felt it was foolish to throw huge bonuses at international prospects when few ever reward the investment. That philosophy is understandable, but the Orioles, traditionally, have done a woeful job mining talent -- high-priced or otherwise -- in places such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Consider that the Orioles' best two homegrown finds from the Dominican in the past two decades are pitchers Armando Benitez and Daniel Cabrera. The Orioles have never signed and then developed a Venezuelan who has made the majors.
Part of the Orioles' ineptitude internationally is that they have among the lowest number of international scouts in baseball. The new GM needs to hire scouts and get current ones into other countries as soon as possible.
Host organizational meetings immediately: As much research as these candidates do, nothing can help a new GM more than talking to everyone in key spots and hearing what they think needs to happen and where they believe the organization is.
The GM is going to have to make up his own mind, but getting a snapshot from people who have lived it will go a long way toward formulating a plan. Many have been with the Orioles for years, know the score and have developed blueprints in the past that might not have been implemented.
Plus, nothing hampers an organization more than a breakdown in communication. The new top office guy has to quickly establish that he is in control and that everything goes through him. Bypassing the GM to talk to ownership or the field manager should not be tolerated.
Skeptics will say that the hierarchy established by the general manager doesn't matter because the owner will control all decisions. Ultimately, managing partner Peter Angelos has the final say, but MacPhail stressed throughout his tenure that he had the authority to make the moves he felt were needed. And it's hard to imagine -- after the way this hiring process has gone -- that the new GM would take the job if he didn't think he would have decision-making power.
That should be stressed in the GM's first speech on the first day of organizational meetings.
Get a handle on the roster, specifically second base and leadoff: Showalter is the main resource here, but the GM needs to acquaint himself with the current roster before he can decide which direction to go this offseason.
And that plan starts with what happens in 2012 with second baseman and leadoff hitter Brian Roberts, who had a lost 2011 because of concussion symptoms. The future is fuzzy for Roberts, but it's the GM's job to peer into his crystal ball and find solutions.
The smartest scenario is to proceed as if Roberts will not play next year. That would make finding a second baseman and a leadoff hitter (who might have to be separate players) a major priority -- behind starting pitching but in the same breath as a power-hitting corner infielder.
The trick, however, will be luring a quality second baseman and/or a leadoff hitter with players knowing that Roberts is lurking. It's a complicated situation, and Robert Andino could probably handle the everyday second base job again. But that still leaves the club without a true table-setter, which might change what type of other hitters the Orioles would pursue.
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