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August 3, 2010

Four questions involving Showalter that will start to be answered

A lot of the questions that Buck Showalter was asked at Monday’s 45-minute news conference concerned issues that likely won’t be settled for months. While this season has pretty much come down to whether the Orioles have a really bad season or a historically bad one, there are still several questions that will be answered over the coming days. Here are four:

1. How will his presence affect performance of players?

It became evident in early April that the Orioles are a deeply flawed team, and a new manager doesn’t change that. But Showalter’s presence in the dugout and the knowledge that he will evaluate the players over the final two months will certainly turn up the heat. Just being around the clubhouse over the weekend, it’s clear that the players realize things are going to change, and many of them know that they are essentially playing for their roles next year. That should always be the case, but the idea has certainly intensified with the arrival of the more-demanding Showalter, who probably won’t be as patient as his predecessors were and who will have much more of a say on the composition of his roster. The Orioles who wilt over the final two months probably won’t be around next season.

2. Will he make an immediate example of somebody?

Showalter’s reputation as a no-nonsense guy who insists on his teams being prepared and playing the game the right way is well documented, and in doing his homework on the Orioles, he has undoubtedly heard plenty about the Orioles lacking effort and energy at times. So what will he do if Julio Lugo jogs to first base or Adam Jones casually plays a single into a double or Felix Pie gets picked off at first base in back-to-back games? Does he immediately pull them from the game and send the message early that such things won’t be tolerated? Or does he wait and see whether such things become habitual? I can’t wait to find out the answer.

3. What will he do with the young pitchers?

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has already said the rotation will go one more turn intact so Showalter, who has been watching many of the Orioles' games, can do a little more evaluating. None of the young pitchers is performing well, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of options. Brad Bergesen had a good last start, but that was the exception, not the norm. Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta are walking too many people and not getting deep into the game. The top two young arms at Triple-A Norfolk – Zach Britton and Chris Tillman – also have strung together a couple of rocky outings recently. So the Orioles’ choices are to keep sending them out there to take their lumps or drop them to Triple-A and send a message that they have to perform to stay in the majors. It’s irrelevant at this point who replaces them because getting these kids right for the future has to be the priority.

4. Who will he use as the closer?

Alfredo Simon has converted 15 of 18 save chances, but most team officials don’t view him as the long-term answer at closer. The Orioles paid Michael Gonzalez $12 million over two years to be that guy, but he blew two of his first three save chances and then went on the disabled list for three months. Since coming off the DL, Gonzalez has allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings. His velocity is getting very close to being back to normal, and his slider has gotten better. Showalter is going to have to decide whether to plug Gonzalez back in to the role or continue to let him work off rust in setup situations. I’d have to think they’d want to see whether Gonzalez could get the job done in the ninth inning again before they head into the offseason.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 10:37 AM | | Comments (26)


Hey Jeff,

Who are those team officials that don't think that Simon is a closer in the long run?

My Take

1.) Simon is a better pitcher
2.) He's a better pitcher because he has more natural ability!
3.) Dave Trembley was cheered when he brought the hook to Gonzalez for the final time and was booed off the field to make sure he left by the Oriole faithful
Simon has not
4.) Simon is 3 year younger then Gonzalez
5.) Most important I think the fans like Simon. Gonzalez is not so popular.

So who are these Oriole officials that think Mike Gonzalez is the answer besides my main man Andy M?

For a little levity did your conversation go like this?

Discussing the fate of Simon and Gonzalez
Maj. Eaton aka Andy M: We have top men working on it now.
Indiana Aka Jeff Z: Who?
Maj. Eaton aka Andy M: Top... men.

And if they really feel that Simon is not the answer he should have been traded before the deadline.

Jeff Z's reply: They think he can be an effective back end of the bullpen arm. He also is relatively cheap and it's not like a guy who the Orioles signed out of the Mexican League and is little more than a year removed from TJ surgery has a tremendous trade value. Not sure why you would trade a guy like that immediately when you wouldn't get much in return. But I agree Simon obviously has closer's stuff. But there's more than that which goes into closing - mound presence, holding runners, workload, etc. Simon has done a very commendable job, but I think team officials feel he would be more suited for a role, like the ones David Hernandez and Jason Berken have, where they can came in for multi-innings and get the ball to the closer.

Is there any position more irrelevant than 'Closer' on a team with 3 victories since the All Star break?

"... who probably won’t be as patient as his predecessors" this has been written about every previous O's replacement manager since Davey Johnson left the team.

Buck definitely has high standards, and he doesn't like being around people who don't measure up. I was living in Phoenix when he became the Diamondbacks' first manager. Buck and some other guys from the team came to the opening of a new park. When Buck saw a kid wearing his baseball cap backwards, he asked the kid, "So is that your cap on backwards or your head?" He wasn't smiling. He put the team on track to win the World Series in 2001, but Jerry Colangelo, the principal owner, spent a lot of money on free agents to get them there.

I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear Buck's first team meeting.

Time for O's players to start actually playing for their roster spot. Bonehead baserunning mistakes, bad fielding, bad approaches to hitting, and an overall lack of enthusiasm for being a major league player is what its about now. You have 2 months so show Buck and the fans you deserve to be here for spring training next year. Its all about competition, dedication, concentration, and the desire to win. Collecting a paycheck is unacceptable. If the Orioles need to eat contracts so be it.

I cant wait to see Bucks first benching for poor play.

Simon has done his job well. He’s our closer for the rest of the season. Many good closers have come out of the blue. Gonzalez cost us the season! That poor first week that the fans were so upset about, remember the press couldn’t figure out why we were upset, set the tone for the first month and thus the season. Keeping Gonzo around just because we owe him a lot of money would be representative of what has gone wrong with this club. Gonzalez can take tickets for all I care, if we have to eat the contract then eat it. We’re not paying him so much money to blow games! If the best he can do is stay out of the way, then stay out of the way!
Showalter should make an example out of someone!!! I’m sick of seeing ground balls to third be jogged out. Run, run fast, that third baseman may have the easiest play in the game, but we need to make darn sure he gets it right and quickly.
Showalter knows Millwood, so Millwood should get “no pressure” starts. On those days evaluating the bullpen should be a priority. Guthrie is the only person on the staff that was there when Trembley took over. Guthrie needs a good kick in the rear, he’s a bona fide major league starter. He’s got no idea what it’s like to win at this level and does not need to make losing acceptable. The rest of the pitching staff needs to kick it into high gear! Get that experience!! Learn what the Yankees are like at home in late September, if you can’t hack it, if you can’t bounce back, perhaps you’re better suited for the NL Central. In the AL East each team needs to be an All Star team, which means that you will get rocked on occasion simply because the opposition if so good and you MUST be able to shrug it off and bounce back.
If a guy like Showalter doesn’t make an impact on a player then that player needs to be peeled off like dead skin.

#3 is by far the most important. I think the Orioles have made themselves a bit of a mess with their young pitchers. The policy of stockpiling young arms has just created a logjam at the top, hindering development (especially Tillman's as he's been yo-yo'd around). MacPhail should have traded a few of these guys before they were exposed (Bergesen, especially). Now they are going to have to sort out who is going to be useful next year, and perhaps start thinking about who is going to have to go. It is hard to give up on young talent, but they have to do that now. Unfortunately, our return won't be as good as it would have been if MacPhail hadn't been so conservative in the off-season, but it's still better than allowing this ineffective, amorphous logjam to continue.

So Showalter has to devise a plan, and allow for the team to assess its pitchers. To do this, they may need a 6-man rotation. To me, Bergesen and Arrieta have the most to prove, Matusz should just be allowed to pitch through his struggles because he has shown the most signs of talent, and Tillman should be allowed to come up and pitch for a sustained period. Britton is the only guy we can wait on, but even that can only lats into next year, probably.

Dan w ---you are just another dumb Oriole fan who evaluates a proven major leaguer(Gonzalez) during 2 weeks while injured, yet you like Simon who is absolutely terrible and a waiver draft pick up. This town no longer deserves a good team ,all the knowledgeable fans left when they got shut out of tickets at the Yard. Tickets that are now the possession of visiting team fans and ticket agencies.

Did someone really just say "Gonzalez cost us the season?" So the O's would be in the playoff hunt if they had back the 2-3 games Gonzalez cost them? Really?

I like Simon's makeup...he doesn't get rattled. But like so many other O's pitchers, he nips the corners and walks too many guys. I'm all for giving Gonzo another shot, especially if you're evaluating who you want in that role next season.

IMO, this is another reason Kranitz has to go. I've heard so many people harp about Crowley, but when it comes to pitching, it's always the pitchers and never the coach.

These guys need a pitching coach (and I'm sure Buck will help) who absolutely stresses throwing strikes and TRUSTING YOUR STUFF.

Matusz especially has some filthy stuff, but like early-Bedard, he nips and nips and can't command his fastball.

I'd rather see a pitcher give up 10 hits and no walks than 4 hits and 6 walks. Make the hitters work.

I expect... kind of hope actually.. that he makes an example out of somebody -- or -- knowing that he will evryone tries harder.

As for closer, I'd say stick with Simon for ther rest of the year. Let Gonzo get his arm and confidence back, see what Simon's got, and then let them, some free aganet pick up and/or a young phenom fight it out next spring.

I'd like to add a fifth question: What will he do with the young position players (i.e., Wieters, Pie, Bell, and even Jones)? Each situation is unique, but how long should we wait for better results? How long should you teach plate discipline and fundamentals at the major league level? Finally, who are their replacements if they persist in performing below expectations?

Gotta luv all the O's internet managers lol. Showalter is just going to watch for the next two months. I do want to see what the line-up looks like for his first game. If it doesn't change significantly, he just be an observer until next years spring training,then the real changes will happen.

I disagree that Guthrie needs a good kick in the rear.
The past few games that I've seen him pitch, he was right there, keeping the team in the game.


May a manager fine players for their crimes of omission? Does the players' contract rule that out?

Jeff Z's reply: No and what the manager can't fine for, the kangaroo court can.

Here's my four questions:
(1) After 13 years of disgracing themselves, why would we possibly believe that yet another new manager will make a difference?

(2) Given that Major League Baseball has essentially rigged the system to ensure that either New York or Boston win the AL East every year, why should we follow the sport at all? Because once every 15 years or so a fluke might happen like Tampa?

(3) How can a new manager reverse a culture of failure that goes from the bottom to the top?

(4) Is there any reason to believe that the Orioles will ever play .500 ball at any point in Peter Angelos' lifetime?

lets get the talent first then get some coaches to cultivate that talent.
Jones = over estimated Weiters = over estimated
Pie = lacks instincts
Patterson = waste of speed
Markakis = needs weight trainer

And there's question number 5:

Will the "Keystone Kops" of a coaching staff (Crowley, Kranitz, Datz, Samuel is already out, and T Bone) still be around, or will they be filling out applications at the nearest Wawa?? Crowley has been around since the start of the Os debacle, under Kranitz's "tutlelage" the pitchers has regressed, Datz is just an air thief, and the only coach out of the whole bunch worth keeping is Shelby.
Clean house Buck!!

Lefty, I agree with your comments completely. You hit it right on the head.

Jones is not overestimated. He needs a kick in the [butt].

Patterson does what he does, and there is no reason to expect more from him. He is what he is.

Markakis is also what he is, a Mark Grace type hitter and there is nothing really wrong with that. Put him in a lineup with a couple of power guys and Markakis would be putting up huge numbers. He is a victim of circumstance.

Wieters cannot be called overestimated, not after not even a year and a half. People have compared him to Joe Mauer or more recently Buster Posey. I've heard people say that if Posey is hitting, why not Wieters? It's a ridiculous question. First of all, Posey started in the minors this year and when he first came up, played first base. That's why we saw the nimble Aubrey Huff in the outfield.

Then, Posey had a true veteran to tutor him, Benjie Molina. Wieters has not had that luxury. When the Giants deemed Posey ready for the plate, they traded Molina and Posey got off to a good start. And keep in mind also that Posey is not expected to be one of the main pieces of the Giants offense, they have others, Huff, Sandoval, Rowand. His expectations were a heck of a lot lower.

And take the Giants pitching staff. Even with the talents of the Orioles young guns, none of them are Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, or Zito. Those are established major league stars who can help a young catcher learn. Wieters' pitchers are just as inexperienced as he is. Millwood tries, but he looks like he's past his prime so Wieters and the kids are all learning together. The fact remains that Matt has become a sold defensive catcher, throws well and is getting better at pitch selection. And right now, that is what is important, getting Wieters defense together. The offense will have to wait.

So, all I can say is, lay off Wieters. He had the weight of the world placed on his shoulders and was given no help to carry that load. He gets a pass.

As for it being rigged so that Boston and New York always win, well, you do know that the Sox are likely not to make the playoffs this year, the Rays and Yankees are tied at 6.5 games ahead of the Sox, and the Twins are a game behind both Sox. It's likely that whoever finishes second in the Central will miss the playoffs, but they are right with Boston.

The Yankees have spent their money, which means there's a ton of players available who won't be able to count on the Yanks driving up their price. Tex is at first for the next seven years, so Pujols, Fielder, Konerko, et al will have to do without Yankee money. ARod has seven years left, so he's at third or DH or even moved to first. Jeter will have to be signed, where he will play is a good guess, maybe OF, so that's another position the Yankees will not be able to fill through free agency. They are not going to let Cano go, so any FA second baseman is available to the rest of the league.

The Yanks might be able to sign another pitcher or two, but they have CC for another several years, same with Burnett. And Hank Steinbrenner has said they will be cutting back. So, using the Yankees as an excuse for not winning is no longer an option. That team is old and filled with big money long term contracts. That leaves the door ajar.

The Orioles have the resources to take advantage of it and I don't think a guy like Showalter would have come here if he didn't think the ownership would make the necessary moves.

Ken --- Interesting perpspective on the state of the Yankees. I'd like to think that even the Steinbrenner Estate cannot spend unlimited amounts of cash, and since Jeter, A-Rod, Tex, Burnett, and CC have, what $300 million tied up for the forseeable future, you may be right about the "DOOR BEING LEFT AJAR" for the rest of the teams. How do you suppose the Orioles could pull off a Miami Heat trifecta and have three superstars like Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder all decide to come to Charm City together to rekindle the glory days of yore?


I know it's early, but do you think there are any potential free agents that would consider the Orioles now that Showalter is here?

Jeff Z"s reply: As you said, a little too early to speculate on that. But I think in general, Buck as the manager will certainly send a message that the organization is serious about winning.

It makes sense to let Gonzalez have a try at closing, that's what they got him for, lets see what he can do now that he's healthy.
I like Simon, I think he could be a solid bullpen guy, maybe long relief or spot starts, in the middle, whatever, he seems like he could fit in almost anywhere.
I am really interested in how this team responds to Buck. I think there is more talent on this team than most of us credit and I hope he's the guy to bring it out. The big question for me is simple: Can he prevent this years team from taking it's usual end of year swirl down the toilet in Sept.? If they show some spine in the final weeks and don't just sleepwalk their way through the end like they have in recent years, that will give me more reason to hope than I've had since spring.

Showalter will give this team of self worth and get everybody rowing in the same direction. What he did last night leaving Gonzo to start the 9th is the knd of out of the box thinking I love. trembely and Sameul wen' too content to lose. I want a killer instinct in the mamager who plays all the angles.TheO's aren't as bad as 32 losses,they just had no sense of direction.They'll get better as they grow condfidence in Buck. It makes a huge difference when the mgr. cares about winning.

I just hope Buck has a lot of say so on player movement after the season.

THE message was delivered with force last night when Showalter answered the reporter who asked why he removed Gonzalez in the 9th when that cost him and Simon a chance for a save under the rules. Buck's answer was I know the save rules quite well but the most important rule to me is the win rule.

To the O's-it's not about you, it's about winning. Beautiful!

Rocket 88: Answer to question #3. Ask Bud Black, he's got last year's last-place Padres in 1st place and playing like they deserve to be there. Black has made a believer out of me.

Can't wait to see ANOTHER Oriole not run out a fly ball! People want to give Samuel credit for having the players' respect but I disagree. When Lugo did not run out a fly ball that ultimately fell in, after seeing Luke Scott do the same thing, a week earlier, I knew then that Samuel did not have the team's attention. He said he was stressing that the game be played the way it is supposed to be played. I believe Buck will pull the player on the spot, or the next inning, or at least leave them out of the lineup for a few games. I don't think he'll let his players show up the organization by not hustling.

Modern mangers rarely chew out openly or bench a player who doesn't play well.. Can anyone give me examples at Buck's other stops where this has happened?

Players who dog it get traded in the off season (Ramon Hernandez). Publicly rebuking a player lowers his trade value and shows up your gm who obtained him in the first place.
Buck's value will be that he has enough clout to go to Andy and say Garrett Atkins can't play ; get me somebody else. Trembley couldn't do this.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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