Baltimore Orioles: The case for loyalty

On Sunday I wrote about fickle fans and how they’re becoming more and more commonplace – in the Baltimore Orioles’ fan base and elsewhere. And I think I made myself clear in that I firmly disagree with the idea of fan loyalty being somewhat conditional or tied to winning. Anyone who’s read me for some time knows that, incidentally.

Fan loyalty is important – and that’s a blanket statement. But this isn’t just some mouthpiece of the Orioles saying that. There are two reasons for why fan loyalty is important. Yes, the first one admittedly is an emotional one. As I’ve said previously, most people pick their teams when they’re children. So…are people that fickle now to where they’re willing to turn their backs on perhaps their earliest memories?

To me, part of the draw of rooting for a team is the time you spent on your mother’s sofa watching the games growing up, or however you followed the games. That’s why I get frustrated when I hear about fans of any franchise saying they’re switching allegiances. To me, that’s forsaking all of that time spent as a youngster.

However the second reason for fan loyalty is more logical. If fans across the board get frustrated with a team because they aren’t going in the direction that people seem to think is correct to the point that they find a new team en masse, who does that serve? If people are basically going to start supporting someone else both emotionally and financially, doesn’t that in effect create a situation whereby only a few teams are financially stable and able to compete?

Now bearing all of this in mind, there’s also a new kind of fan in a sense: one who’s geographically and thus perpetually up for grabs. I know a few people like this myself; some people who seem to relocate for work reasons every few years seemingly relocate their fan loyalties as well. So if they live in Baltimore at that given time, they root for the Orioles and Ravens. If they pick up shop and move to Chicago, they might start supporting the Bears and the Cubs.

Honestly, while I still do believe in loyalty in perpetuity, this is a bit more explainable than switching because you think your original team is going in the wrong direction. This is the act of someone moving to a new community and trying to fit in right away. Speaking for myself I still think it would make more sense to bring your teams with you given the fact that it’s a link to the old hometown, but as I said I know a few people who fall into this category.

I suppose my main point in bringing any of this up is that fandom should be through thick and thin. Yes the Orioles fell on some incredibly hard times from 1998-2011. But if you were a true fan to begin with, you stayed with them and never wavered. But that’s just my view. The opposing one says that sports are supposed to make you feel good, so if your first team doesn’t work out find one that makes you happy. But these are the times in which we live.


Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters not given a qualifying offer

Yesterday was perhaps the first busy day of the off season for the Baltimore Orioles. Catcher Matt Wieters was not given a qualifying offer for 2017. This means that he’s truly a free agent in the sense that he’s not a protected free agent – to use NFL terminology.

In essence, Wieters is now free to sign with any other team, and they won’t have to give up a draft choice to the Orioles. My personal opinion is that this is a mistake on the Orioles’ part. Are they worried that Wieters would once again accept the qualifying offer, putting them on the hook for a $17.2 million contract for next year? I don’t think that he was going to accept it anyways, so in my mind the Orioles just gave away a draft pick. With that said, they have as good a shot as anyone to sign him.

The Birds did make a qualifying offer to Mark Trumbo, and he has until November 14th to accept it or turn it down. Most of the time players turn it down and test the waters in free agency. But of course this means that wherever Trumbo signs that team will have to forfeit their top draft pick to the Orioles for 2017. That is of course unless the team that signs him is the Orioles.

Again, this is why I don’t understand why the Birds aren’t giving Wieters a qualifying offer. What do they really have to lose? He’s expected to be the top catcher on the market this year, although obviously there’s always the chance that he stays in Baltimore. If the Orioles are thinking there’s a good shot at that happening, perhaps that’s why they didn’t make the offer. But they also did that with Markakis a couple of years ago – and he walked.

In other news, Buck Showalter is a finalist for the Manager of the Year award, however he wasn’t nearly as happy about that as he was angry about an apparent snub. Closer Zach Britton was not named a finalist in the Cy Young voting. Instead, three starters were named finalists. And Showalter didn’t hide his feelings about the matter (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):

That’s a real poor reflection on the people who are evaluating him. God bless the three guys in front of him. They were doing it every fifth day and he’s doing it every day. I’m not so sure any of those guys could do what Zach does.

This guy had maybe the best year in the history of relief pitching. He should have finished in the top three in MVP, OK? He should. There’s nobody in baseball who’s more valuable to their team than Zach Britton is to the Orioles.

Now I’ve made my opinion clear in another incarnation of this column over time – I don’t think that relief pitchers should be Cy Young award winners. I don’t think you can compare what someone does over one inning to a starter who’s doing this for between 5-9 innings every fifth day. However let’s also keep in mind that Britton saved 47 games this year and didn’t blow one. Over 67 innings of work, he posted a 0.54 ERA. So do we not think he’s at least worthy of consideration?

Incidentally, that quote above is partially why so many players love Buck Showalter. The guy takes up for his team and then some. It would have been simple just to say that the voters made their decision and so forth. But he kind of went the extra mile on this one. But that’s how he’s consistently been – a manager who looks out for his team and his players.

Going back to Trumbo for just a moment in closing, I have serious doubts as to whether he remains an Oriole. But he did express an intent to stay remain with the Orioles towards the end of the season. However whether he’s willing to accept what the Orioles offer is another story. And that’s not to say that the Orioles are trying to low ball him; they just recognize that they’ll need that money more for the likes of Machado and Schoop.

Baltimore Orioles: Are fickle fans smarter than their old school counterparts?

Let me be clear; whether you root for the Baltimore Orioles or some other team, I don’t believe in being fickle when it comes to sports fandom. That’s easy for me to say as a writer who believes he should call things down the middle in a sense. But it goes deeper than that, as is generally the case.

Most people form their sports fandom at a young age, and in fact they generally tend to do so based on who their parents supported – which is generally the home team. Mind you folks, this is somewhat of a blanket statement, however I’m speaking in generalities. The point is that for most people, these sports loyalties run very deep.

Think of comedian Bill Murray, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan who’s from the Chicagoland area. When interviewed after game seven of the World Series, Murray mentioned that he was thinking a lot about his Dad, grandfather, uncles – people with whom he had attended Cubs games as a kid. And he was wishing they were still there with him to see this. I think that’s something with which a lot of us can identify.

That aside, I saw someone on a message board saying that he was a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, and that he was switching his allegiance to a new team. Basically, he’s dropping the Browns and offering his services as a fan to whomever wanted them. And I’ve heard similar stories over time with various teams – including the Orioles. What gives?

What people are effectively saying is that they won’t support a loser. And while it makes no sense to support a loser, I think it’s a bit different in sports. Speaking for myself, it’s tough for me to turn my back on a team or tradition with which I had grown up. But…is this new “mentality” actually smarter?

People argue all the time that if enough people defect (which means that they stop going to games, buying merchandise, etc), the team will get the message and mend their ways. So…is that not in essence a smart thing to do? Could you not argue that they’re actually doing more for the team than the loyal fans who support them through thick and thin?

Those fans will make that argument for sure. And they’re within their rights to do so. Who am I to dictate how people spend their money? But my point goes back to the roots of why you rooted for that team to begin with. In my view, that’s turning your back on all of those days you spent watching that team with your family as a kid. And turning your back on your past is a tough thing.

Baltimore Orioles: Is the Birds’ personnel management flawed across the board?

Yesterday I wrote about how Dom Chiti will no longer be a part of the Baltimore Orioles’ organization moving forward. There is undoubtedly more than meets the eye to this, and probably a lot more than we’re ever going to know. And that’s good news in a way given the fact that it means that there are professionals on both sides. Neither Chiti or the Orioles is going to leak anything or bad mouth anyone to the press.

However again, there do appear to be conflicting stories. Chiti says that he left three messages for VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. On the flip side, Duquette says that he never heard from Chiti. So where does the truth lie?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Chiti did in fact reach out to Duquette at some point. And the reason I say that is because when given the option, Chiti didn’t appear to hesitate to jump over to the Atlanta Braves. In his mind the fact that Duquette didn’t return his calls was all he needed to know.

However as I made clear yesterday, Chiti isn’t without blame for him not to be in the Orioles’ organization any longer. He apparently was asked by Buck Showalter what his interest was in the pitching coach position. Chiti’s response was that he didn’t campaign for jobs but would do whatever the organization wanted.

At the end of the day, not even being willing to say yes I’m interested in the job might have indicated that Chiti wasn’t the guy they wanted. But nevertheless, this isn’t the first time there’ve been questions about how the Orioles manage the human side of things. I’d be the first one to tell you that in my view it’s gutless not to return someone’s phone call. Unfortunately however, it happens all the time – you ever applied for a job? Sometimes you’re calling and leaving messages for weeks about the status of your application, all for nothing.

So here’s my question; should the Orioles take a hard look at their own management style? And I’m not talking about perhaps lowering the standards of their physicals or anything like that. However the reputation that they’re tough to deal with is out there. Heck, the evidence is in the fact that Dan Duquette has fleeced so many other GM’s in trades. But do these things matter?

Perhaps they do and perhaps they don’t. As I said, it’s entirely possible that they decided to go in a different direction from Chiti. I would argue that they should have at least told him that, however it is what it is. And for what it’s worth, once again there are two sides to every story. Chiti’s never been shy about expressing his view on the direction of the organization. Is it possible that rubbed someone above the wrong way?

Baltimore Orioles: The line between winning and losing

We’ve talked a lot about how Buck Showalter was in essence blamed for the Baltimore Orioles being bounced from the playoffs. The whole should he have used Zach Britton argument has been well laid out on both sides. However for sure, it’s something that will lurk in the minds of Orioles fans all winter.

But in my view we saw Joe Maddon commit some pretty egregious mistakes in terms of utilizing his bullpen and even with starting pitching during the World Series. I’ve said this before, but I wouldn’t have used Aroldis Chapman in game six. My personal opinion is that  Maddon committed a pretty bad error there.

Furthermore I would have pulled former Oriole Jake Arrieta after Chicago took a 7-0 lead in that game. It would have meant keeping him fresh so that if he was needed in a game seven, he would have been available. Yet Maddon stubbornly refuses to take anything more than one game at a time, as opposed to looking ahead.

In my view both of those mistakes are pretty bad. But the Chapman one really sticks out. However Maddon isn’t going to get scrutinized at all for that – because he won. At the end of the day, you don’t have to ask those questions when the team wins. That’s why they’re there to begin with – to win games.

Sometimes you can chalk wins and losses up to dumb luck. Showalter committed what a lot of people thought was a bad mistake. He lost. Maddon committed what a lot of people (myself included) thought was an equally bad mistake. He won.

And I’m not suggesting that wins and losses always come from good or bad luck. However sometimes things just work out. And sometimes they don’t. It’s fair to ask why they work out for some and not others, but sometimes that’s just how things go.

In the Orioles’ case, all they can do is keep the fires burning brightly during the winter. And come February and March, hope springs eternal once again. It could be worse – they might have to wait 108 years!

Baltimore Orioles: A World Series for the ages

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series the Baltimore Orioles (as they exist now) didn’t exist. And in fact they wouldn’t exist for a long time from that point. Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, and the legendary double-play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was still active. Just for some historical perspective.

Two world wars, a great depression, a cold war, and generations later, it’s finally happened again. I suppose that the only sad thing about this particular World Series was the fact that someone had to lose. Both Chicago and Cleveland were feel-good stories, and both had compelling storylines that made you want to root for them. This World Series was truly a win-win for baseball.

The main storyline of course is Chicago breaking the curse that had made it to 108 years. However another major part of this is the fact that Chicago was down 3-1 in the series before coming back to win. That’s how you break a curse!

Ironically, the other big curse that was broken in most of our lifetimes was the Curse of the Bambino, of course with the Boston Red Sox. In that case, keep in mind that Boston was down 3-1 in the ALCS against New York before storming back and advancing to the World Series. So perhaps there’s something to be said for having your back against the wall. It sure seemed to work for those teams!

Needless to say, this will go down as one of the greatest World Series’ in history. In fact, game seven itself might go down as one of the greatest games in World Series history. Heck, perhaps even baseball history. The rain delay at the end seemed to add to the mystique of the event, and that combined with the curse made it perfect.

So with that said, the entire league is now in the off season. But given that this World Series ended in November and spring training (games) begins in February, we have only two full months without baseball. Easy, right?! The Orioles specifically have a lot of work to do regarding which players are staying and which are walking. Needless to say, there’s no such thing as an off season in that sense.

But with that in mind, America should take a collective breath today and celebrate with the new champions of her national pastime. It’s certainly been a long enough time coming. And as I said, this World Series was a win-win for everyone involved.

Baltimore Orioles: Did Chicago pull a Buck Showalter?

As I’ve made quite clear over time, I had no issue with the Baltimore Orioles’ Buck Showalter not using closer Zach Britton in the American League Wild Card Game. I thought it was actually smart, as you don’t want to use a guy in a spot in which he’s unfamiliar in a game with stakes that high. However I recognize why it rubbed some fans the wrong way at the time and still. Needless to say, I get why it was controversial.

So with that said, did we possibly see the foundation for another controversy involving a closer last night in game six of the World Series? Chicago manager Joe Maddon opted to use closer Aroldis Chapman in middle relief, prompting Chapman to throw 20 pitches in game six. After the game Maddon said that everyone on the roster was availabile in tonight’s game seven. But…

…did he set himself up for criticism? Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have used Chapman. Now I recognize that some people are reading this and saying that my view is compromised given the fact that I thought Buck was right to leave Britton in the bullpen nearly a month ago. However Chapman also threw 40+ pitches in game five. While there was a day off in between, that’s almost three games worth of work in a sense.

And it also gets back to using someone in a strange spot. Chapman isn’t used to working in middle relief. Now granted you should be able to pitch in any spot at any time, however I’m refering more to who would in theory end up pitching in Chapman’s normal spot – just as I was in the case with Showalter and Britton. What happens if you bring in someone who’s not used to closing as it is…in game seven of the World Series?

This is debatable both ways for sure. My point also comes out to be that last night’s game was all but in hand. Was it really necessary to use Chapman? At the end of the day, if Chicago wins the World Series tonight it won’t matter. Nobody will even remember whether or not Chapman pitched last night. (Especially when you factor in the fact that it’s been 108 years.) That’s a given…

…but Maddon will be crucified in the Chicago media if they lose and somehow the Chapman situation comes into play. What if they have the lead and he blows it? Do we think that fatigue might not be a factor?

At the end of the day, Maddon is aware of the fact that this type of scrutiny comes with the job. And if it comes to that, I suspect he’ll be the first one to accept the blame. That’s to his credit. However leaving Chapman in the ‘pen last night would have taken that issue off the table.

Baltimore Orioles: Are the Birds doing it all wrong?

Along with the rest of the league, the Baltimore Orioles will be at home watching game six of the World Series tonight in Cleveland. First off, both teams are great stories. I would also submit that neither team’s “suffering” will truly continue (as it did before at least), as they both exorcised a few demons this year.

However in looking at the Cleveland Indians more specifically, it makes you wonder if the Orioles’ way of doing things isn’t starting to become outdated. One could definitely argue that here the Birds were spending all of this money on the likes of Chris Davis, and here Cleveland is playing their small ball game and getting to the World Series. There’s always a certain amount of luck involved in getting that far, but the fact is that Cleveland deserves to be there.

The Orioles built their team to compete in the AL East. It’s always been a division of mashers – look at Boston, NY, and Toronto. Yet all of those teams are at home also. And again, it’s Cleveland and their small ball game that’s representing the American League in the fall classic.

I cover an east coast team – so from my perspective while it does on occasion serve it’s purpose, small ball is almost foreign to me. However in the midwest it’s how the game is played. For the record however, there is a small ball team in the AL East: Tampa. And look at where they finished this year. So…

…it’s all kind of a Catch-22. It’s tough to compete by playing small ball in the American League East. Unless your pitching is so off the charts it’s impossible to lose, it just doesn’t work against the likes of Boston, NY, Toronto, and the Orioles. But whether or not fast and furious home run reliance works come October is another story also.

Again, I’m not suggesting that how the Orioles are construed is wrong. They had to re-sign the likes of Davis. Replacing him with a first baseman who was really good at moving runners over just wouldn’t have sufficed. But whether or not this type of team is going to make it to the World Series is another story.

The Orioles, just like all mashing teams, have a horrible habbit of having all of their bats go to sleep at once. With small ball that’s much more unlikely given the fact that the offense is based on making outs and piecemealing runs together. Is this the direction in which the game is going? That remains to be seen.

Baltimore Orioles: What to do about Chris Tillman?

The Baltimore Orioles will enter the 2018 season with a lot of questions surrounding them, but perhaps the one regarding Chris Tillman is the most unsung of all. We hear a lot of the likes of Machado, Schoop, and a few others needing to be signed down the road. But we nary hear a lot about Tillman’s situation.

Chris Tillman is in what’s known as a walk year, which in essence means he’s in the final year of his contract. He’s the closest thing that the Orioles have to an ace pitcher. In fact, he’s probably the closest they’ve had to an ace since the days of Mike Mussina (with all due respect to Erik Bedard). So is re-signing and thus retaining Tillman as important as it is to do the same with Machado and Schoop? I say yes.

The Orioles’ issue in 2016 was pitching – this much we know. So it thus becomes imperative for the Birds to keep what decent pitching that they have, all which trying to better themselves. Tillman had a solid 2016 after struggling in ’15. And given the fact that he’ll be in a contract year shortly, odds are he’ll have an even better 2017.

If they don’t re-sign him, the Orioles won’t necessarily lose Tillman. They could make him a qualifying offer next year, which would tax their payroll but if he accepted it he’d remain an Oriole. However I would submit that in the immediacy of today (that being next season), keeping Tillman around should be of supreme importance in the Warehouse.

The contracts of Gallardo and Jimenez will also come off the books after next season. So there’s some money right there that the Birds could put towards Tillman. This is one of the reasons why front office jobs in baseball are so difficult. You aren’t working so much for today as you are a year or sometimes two down the road.

My personal opinion is that the O’s should get Tillman squared away this off season. Right now they’re the only team with whom he can legally deal – they should take advantage of that! But that would also say a lot to Tillman about how dedicated the organization is to him personally, and how much he’s valued. It would say we didn’t want to wait so we wanted to ensure now that you’ll be with us down the road.

That would also give them a chance to open up their time next off season to deal with guys like Machado. You’re only as good as your roster, and if your roster ceases to be what it has been you’ll cease to be as good.

Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton wins AL Reliever of the year for 2016

Prior to last night’s World Series Game Four at Wrigley Field, Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles was presented with the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the year award. Britton of course was virtually unbeatable in 2016, with a sub-1.00 ERA, and 47 saves. And in saying 47 saves, I mean of course 47 in a row. Britton didn’t blow a save in 2016.

This is a high honor for any reliever, however it was all but a given that Britton would get the honor. There are a lot of great bullpen guys out there (including Cleveland’s Miller), but nary any of them have ever come close to not blowing a save over the course of a season. But putting it like that unfairly removes it from a bit of important context; Britton didn’t blow a save while having 40+ chances.

When asked about the award, Britton was incredibly humble and credited his teammates around him for helping him win it (quote courtesy of Mark Newman,

I think it’s a credit to the teammates around me. Obviously you’re only as good as the guys behind you on the field. Me relying on ground balls, obviously we have a great defense back there. So a lot of the credit goes to the teammates and putting me in situations to be successful, too. The coaching staff, everyone really went out of their way to make sure — or put me in situations to be successful. That’s really what it comes down to at the end of the day. You’re only as good as the guys around you.

That speaks volumes about Britton, but also to what the Orioles are all about. There are very few individual achievemetns on this team. Everyone else’s success comes as a result of the team around them. And that’s how it should be on a team.

In 69 appearances, Britton also had a record of 2-1. He only gave up 38 hits and one homer. Britton is also thought of as someone who should be in the running for the Cy Young award, but that’s another story for another day. Whether or not relief pitchers should be eligible for that award is a matter of opinion. But needless to say Britton was THE BEST guy coming out of the bullpen for any team in baseball in 2016. You don’t win 47 games in a row and chalk it up to simply good luck. This award was well-deserved without any doubt.