Some thoughts on O's before Showalter era begins
If former interim manager Juan Samuel tells Andy MacPhail today that he’s decided to leave the organization rather than go back to coaching third -- and that’s the way he was leaning yesterday -- don’t expect Samuel to have a hard time finding a job next year. Samuel is both beloved and widely respected in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He’s very close friends with Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta. He still has a ton of admirers in the Detroit Tigers organization. And his name figures to come up in the Toronto Blue Jays' search for a replacement for the retiring Cito Gaston, who has expressed hope that Samuel (his former player) gets an opportunity somewhere. Gaston certainly has enough influence in the Toronto organization to get Samuel consideration. I’d be surprised if Samuel gets a manager’s job so soon, but I can guarantee you that there will be a long line of managers trying to get him on their respective staffs.
Speaking of coaching staffs, it’s probably a little premature to start speculating on the Orioles’ 2010 staff when Buck Showalter hasn’t even managed a game yet. However, several people I’ve spoken to said that they’d be extremely surprised if Brian Butterfield, the Blue Jays’ third base and infield coach, is not part of Showalter’s staff. Butterfield, who coached with Showalter in Arizona and New York, is a very well-respected teacher whom everybody seems to love. Two other names I’ve heard mentioned as possibilities are former Yankees pitching coaches Nardi Contreras and Billy Connors. Both remain in the Yankees organization in different capacities. Current Triple-A Norfolk manager Bobby Dickerson, who has also worked under Showalter, figures to get some consideration, along with some former Orioles like B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick and Bill Ripken.
It was pretty obvious watching Josh Bell the past two games that the young third baseman is really pressing in an effort to make a good impression. He was tentative defensively and too anxious offensively, and he’s clearly putting a lot of pressure on himself. After Sunday’s game, in which he hit into a double play with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth, Bell sat in front of his locker with his head down. Bell has made a really good impression in the clubhouse because he listens and observes, keeps largely to himself and goes about his business. The veterans have noticed. Now, hopefully they can get him to relax and not play every night like it’s a tryout and he needs to prove his status as the everyday third baseman.
The more post-trade-deadline talk I hear, the more I conclude that many reports, including a couple from yours truly, exaggerated the level of interest in Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton. The Texas Rangers were extremely interested, but they also liked Jorge Cantu, whom they eventually got. But aside from Texas, Wigginton’s suitors consisted of a few teams willing to take on his salary if the Orioles wanted to dump him and get nothing of any significance in return. The Yankees were in that group. The Phillies were more interested in Miguel Tejada than Wigginton. Now, with all that being said, Wigginton is the type of player Showalter respects. He’s starting to swing the bat well again, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a guy Showalter would like to keep around for a few years.
This probably won’t be a popular opinion, but I think one of Showalter’s first orders of business should be reinstalling Michael Gonzalez as the team’s closer. I say that not because I’m down on Alfredo Simon, who has exceeded everyone’s expectations this year in converting 15 of 18 save chances. Simon can be a serviceable reliever but is probably better suited for the seventh or eighth inning. However, I think you have to see whether the guy you paid $12 million for to close games can do just that now that he appears to be healthy. In 6 1/3 innings since coming off the disabled list, Gonzalez has allowed one run on three hits and two walks. His velocity is back between 93 and 95 mph, and his slider is slowly coming back. Am I sold? Absolutely not, and I won’t be until he keeps consistently getting outs for several more weeks. But with the amount of money invested in Gonzalez, you really need to see whether he can close games. If he can’t, you probably need to go out this season and sign or trade for somebody who can.