A marketing degree should be a prerequisite to working for the Orioles, since spin-doctoring is such an essential part of the franchise’s mission these days. Anything to distract attention from the abysmal performance on the field.
Even Manager Buck Showalter (B.S. in education from Mississippi State, 1978), as passionate an advocate for the franchise as there is, understands this. Sitting at his desk at Ed Smith Stadium before a recent spring training game, scribbling out four days’ worth of lineup cards, he suddenly looks up and makes his pitch — the marketing kind.
“Hey, we’re trying to go to the World Series, okay?” he says. “I can dream: All these pitchers are going to jump to the level that we think [they] should be. [Injured second baseman] Brian Roberts is going to come back. This guy or that guy is going to [emerge]. I think about the best-case scenarios.”
But even Showalter can’t sustain the imagery any longer than that. After a pause he concedes, “I know the reality of those things happening are slim and none.”
March being no time for pessimism, the Orioles are embracing hope — more a long-term concept than a palpable emotion — wherever they can find it: In the glimpses of talent provided this spring by top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado; in the improvements of young pitchers Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and (before a recent bout of shoulder soreness) Zach Britton; in the acceleration of Roberts’s rehabilitation from a concussion that cost him the entire 2011 season.
“I just want to feel like we’re on our way,” Showalter said. “We had a better record last year [69-93] than the year before. The year before, we had a better record [66-96] than the year before that. We want to have a better record this year for the third year in a row. Now, the increments have not been [as big as] we’d like for them to be. But it is getting better every year.
“You don’t get to where we’re at overnight. There are some things we need to get right, but you can’t give in to the lure of the quick fix.”
Indeed, the Orioles mostly sat out this winter’s free agent market, signing a handful of aging veterans (Wilson Betemit and former Washington Nationals Nick Johnson and Luis Ayala) to low-risk deals; diving into the Asian talent market to sign left-handed pitchers Wei-Yen Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada; and somewhat curiously, trading away their most accomplished starting pitcher (Jeremy Guthrie) for one lesser starter (Jason Hammel) and one reliever (Matt Lindstrom).