Posted: Friday September 9, 2011 1:34PM ; Updated: Friday September 9, 2011 2:01PM
Jon Heyman

MacPhail's likely departure a blow to O's in more ways than one

Story Highlights

Andy MacPahil is all but certain to leave as Baltimore's president and GM

The meddling of owner Peter Angelos could be a deterrent in a GM search

There's a chance Buck Showalter could become Orioles GM as well as manager

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Andy MacPhail
Andy MacPhail has been unable to build a winning team in Baltimore in his four-plus seasons running the front office.

Baseball insiders are all but certain that well-respected executive Andy MacPhail will leave his post as president and general manager of the Orioles. MacPhail's expected departure is the latest in a string of blows covering more than a decade for the storied franchise gone south. But the real question now is the interesting one: Will anyone of stature take such a job?

"Who'd want it?'' wonders one high-ranking baseball person.

No one since Hall of Famer Pat Gillick quit in 1998 has been able to get the Orioles to the playoffs, and lately no one has even gotten them close to .500. MacPhail, a true pro, is a loss. But he really never had a chance from the start. (MacPhail, who won two World Series championships with the Twins, hasn't talked publicly about his plans and declined to do so when asked a couple weeks back.)

The word was out long ago that owner Peter Angelos is involved in all the big decisions, and the latest is that he loves manager Buck Showalter, last year's savior who has been sucked into the Orioles abyss with everyone else this year. Showalter guided the Orioles to a miraculous 34-23 finish after taking over a 32-73 team last season, but has led them to an AL-worst 57-85 record this year.

Whoever takes the big front office job by now understands that Angelos sometimes makes the biggest calls, even if his calls over the past decade-plus have resulted in one losing year after another. Plus, whoever takes the big job also knows that Showalter is entrenched, at least for the time being. So the new GM would presumably be caught in the same spot as MacPhail, between the overbearing owner and his current favored son (not to mention Angelos' real two sons, who are sometimes involved, as well).

So it's no surprise that the latest buzz going around Baltimore is that perhaps Angelos, understanding his options may be limited and knowing he trusts Buck, may simply expand Showalter's powers to include the GM duties. That would be highly unusual and is probably still a major long shot -- although Showalter is said by sources to have once expressed a desire to be a GM in a discussion with then-Rangers owner Tom Hicks at his previous stop. Showalter, who undoubtedly is a brilliant baseball man, has himself carried a rep for being a bit overbearing on occasion. Showalter took on a lot of added responsibility beyond his managerial duties when he went to Arizona, but he characterized those duties in a phone interview as something he "had to do,'' with that franchise in its infancy. Showalter declined by phone to talk about any possibilities regarding the Orioles' GM job, citing his respect for MacPhail.

Adding the GM title for Showalter would be highly unusual in this day and age. But Angelos' respect for his manager is immense, and it has been said by multiple insiders that Showalter was actually the managerial choice of Angelos when MacPhail was said to be leaning toward Eric Wedge, who was also sought by the Pirates and eventually hired by the Mariners. The Angelos-Showalter connection has gained steam since they began having private chats this year without MacPhail included.

Showalter said of MacPhail, "He's been great,'' and he professed not to have an inkling about whether he's leaving. ("Andy's very close to the vest and very professional. He hasn't said anything to me.'') The manager laughed about the implication that his tete-a-tetes with Angelos suggest that he's the current fair-haired boy. "That was Andy's idea,'' Showalter protested about the meetings. "We've met three, maybe four times, for a half an hour.''

That may be so. But among the most qualified GM candidates, it's questionable whether anyone would take the O's job. According to one talent evaluator, "They are fifth in talent in their division in the majors, and fifth in the minors, too.'' The bigger issue, though, may be Angelos, whose reputation for over-involvement seems to be discouraging the most obvious name candidates.

MacPhail actually seemed like a natural fit from the start, a highly successful longtime GM with steep ties to the team and area. But the question must be asked now: Is anyone a natural fit for this job?

Three of the more interesting possibilities -- Cal Ripken Jr., John Hart and Brian Cashman -- look like supreme long shots today. Ripken confidants don't see him accepting a job to become a GM for Angelos after witnessing first-hand the annual disappointment in his hometown under Angelos' stewardship. Ripken, they say, has seen ultra-qualified GMs swallowed up as club decisonmakers and would want assurance that the big calls would be his. Ripken would be more qualified for a role similar to the one filled by Texas icon Nolan Ryan with the Rangers, anyway, as he is said to have no interest in becoming immersed in the mountain of information a GM needs these days. Ripken also is said by some to want to stay out of day-to-day operations while his son is still in high school (Ryan Ripken, a budding prospect, is a senior). So Ripken appears to be out.

Hart, who began his ultra-successful executive career as a coach in Baltimore, had a couple chances at GM jobs after his Rangers tenure, and it's pretty hard to imagine him agreeing to take on one of baseball's most difficult GM jobs unless he were given significant say-so, and perhaps even carte blanche, which is unlikely under Angelos. Hart is said by intimates to be happy working as a consultant for the Rangers and an on-air personality for MLB Network, which doesn't consume nearly the hours of a GM job. His is a name that will come up, though, because of his Baltimore ties and connection to Showalter, whom he hired in Texas.

Cashman has been speculated publicly as a candidate, but people who know Angelos say his distaste for the Yankees runs so deep that he won't even make trades with them and is just as unlikely to name a Yankee to engineer his team's turnaround. It's also hard to imagine Cashman leaving a perennial playoff team for the sad-sack Orioles (or probably any other team, for the matter).

A more likely possibility could be a younger alternative with the personality and patience to defer to the strong-willed duo of Angelos and Showalter. One option could be well-regarded young Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, a Baltimore product. Showalter is expected to have big input in the GM hire, at the very least, and it isn't known how he would react to the appointment of someone from the regime that ousted Showalter in Texas (one person said that Showalter isn't known to have any issues with Levine, though).

Whoever does take the job will have a mountain of a task on their hands. Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay said on the air that Showalter has told "people'' that a team needs 25 pieces contributing to a championship, and that he may have only eight. Showalter said in the phone interview, "There aren't exact numbers ... We have some people here who can be part of a championship team.''

Showalter cited Matt Wieters ("if he doesn't win the Gold Glove, something's wrong''); power-hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy, whom the team re-signed; reliever Jim Johnson; and infielder Robert Andino as among the players who have contributed this year. Showalter said Mark Reynolds' body of work "has been pretty good,'' and expressed hope regarding some off the team's midseason pickups, including Tommy Hunter and Pedro Strop. Showalter also mentioned that powerful Chris Davis (who whiffed five times in a game this week) just needs to show that he can make the step from Triple-A to the majors, and one outside talent evaluator said, "At worst, he's Russell Branyan, but better defensively (than Branyan).''

Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts have long been seen as the team's stars, but Roberts' second concussion in two years makes his future uncertain. There are some wondering whether he'll make it back even next season, but Showalter asserted that he expects to see Roberts back playing next spring.

Beyond the front office, the big issue is the starting pitching, which was questionable to start the year and is now even more questionable. Injuries have decimated the rotation, with hard-throwing Jake Arrieta recently taking care of a long-term arm injury with surgery and previous golden boy Brian Matusz having what amounts to a wasted year (he was just pulled from the rotation by Showalter).

"You've got to get the starting pitching. That sets the team up for so many things,'' Showalter said. "Trying to match up with Tampa, Boston, the Yankees and Toronto isn't easy.'' Promising 23-year-old left-hander Zach Britton "got a little bloodied,'' in Showalter's words, in some mid-year trouncings, but he remains the biggest hope for the future.

As one competing exec puts it, "They have a ton of work to do on the rotation.''

They have a lot of work to do everywhere, and it remains uncertain who will be doing it.
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