For most people the year begins in January, but for me there's nothing like the sense of renewal that baseball's Opening Day brings. The combination of the early signs of spring—flowers blooming, birds chirping—and the return of baseball fills me with optimism and the expectation of better days to come. For me, as for Thomas Boswell and baseball devotees everywhere, time begins on Opening Day.
However, in the last few years my optimism began to fade as I realized that the Orioles were not getting better. Names and faces changed, but the team had become the epitome of baseball mediocrity, and I saw no signs of marked improvement on the horizon. My interest in the O's began to erode, and baseball fell behind in the competition for my attention. Damaging matters further were the revelations about steroid and human growth hormone use that disproportionately implicated current and former Orioles.
This year, however, is different. True, on the field will be another losing team. Most rational observers think that the Orioles are going to be worse than last year, or even the last seven, with the betting market placing the over/under on the Orioles' 2008 win count at 65.5, the lowest of any MLB team.
What's changed is that there's actually some reason for optimism with the new regime led by Andy MacPhail. Having hit rock bottom after a decade of losing, the Orioles have given up trying to field even a mediocre squad this year at the big-league level. With MacPhail in charge, they have aggressively begun to prune the roster to a core of talented youngsters from which to build an eventual contender.
MacPhail has finally committed the club to all-out rebuilding, something his predecessor, Mike Flanagan, could not do in the last two years because doing so would have essentially confirmed that his work (with and without Jim Beattie) since 2003 had fallen short of the mark.
MacPhail's first offseason was telling. Instead of signing mediocre free agents to plug gaps, MacPhail traded two of the team's best players, Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, receiving bundles of legitimate prospects and youngish spare parts in return. He also took steps toward improving the club's international scouting efforts, long an organizational weakness. Brian Roberts, arguably the team's best and most popular remaining player, reportedly is next in line to be shipped from the Warehouse if a suitable package of prospects comes along.
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