|Bricks from the Warehouse|
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On October 6, 1999, Ray Miller was fired. That was expected and eagerly awaited by most fans, including (especially) us. The same day, Frank Wren was fired. That was not expected. Like everyone else, we at The Warehouse were shocked and outraged to hear about Wren losing his job.
But upon further reflection, what's the big deal? Frank Wren being fired... surprising, yes. But outrageous? In fact, people really shouldn't be upset at all. Sure, it's just another sign of instability in the organization, another sign that Peter Angelos is a power-mad dictator, yada yada yada. And yes, Wren did seem to be fired for the "wrong reasons." Apparently it had less to do with his performance and more to do with his attitude. (Then again, who among us is immune from being fired for that? Why should Wren's attitude be excused?)
But lost in all the hullaballoo over that fact is a bigger question -- what about his performance? How good a job did Frank Wren do, really? In other words, let's not worry about the front office shenanigans, and let's talk about what Frank Wren deserved.
The starting point must always be the bottom line: the record. Wren took over a team that had gone 79-83. He made some major changes... and they finished 78-84. That alone is a serious indictment; it's one thing to defend a guy whose team didn't improve because he didn't do very much -- after all, you might argue he's just getting his feet wet and will be more active in the future. But when a guy makes wholesale changes to the roster, including 4 new members of the starting lineup, and the team doesn't get any better, you have to wonder whether he knew what he was doing, or whether he was just trying to look busy.
But that's superficial; let's review what Wren actually did. In the offseason he brought in Will Clark, Delino DeShields, Doug Linton, Jason Johnson, Albert Belle, Ricky Bones, Heathcliff Slocumb, Charles Johnson, Mike Timlin, Mike Fetters, Xavier Hernandez, Rich Amaral, and Jeff Conine. He also brought back BJ Surhoff, who was a free agent. Wow. That's even more roster moves than we had first thought. (A complete review of his transactions can be found in our archives.)
Departing for one reason or another were, among others, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Armando Benitez, Danny Clyburn, Chris Fussell, Alan Mills, Chris Hoiles, Eric Davis, Rich Becker, and Willie Greene.
Were those good moves? We could sit there and analyze them one-by-one, but this column would go on for days, and we would basically be rehashing what we said a year ago. (Which was, for you new readers, something along the lines of "ARGH!") In hindsight, they didn't work, of course.
The primary defense for Wren is that these weren't his choices, that Peter Angelos meddles. Angelos is the one who let Palmeiro and Alomar get away. Angelos is the one that negotiates big contracts like Albert Belle's. Etc. Assuming that's true, is that really an argument in Wren's favor? "It's not that he was stupid; it's that he was irrelevant," is what that argument boils down to. Pardon us for being less than impressed by that line of reasoning. In any case, this defense generally arises when critics say "The Orioles should have rebuilt with youth, and Wren didn't do it." People argue that Angelos forced him to build a contending team instead of giving shots to youngsters like Cal Pickering and Jerry Hairston. But Wren didn't build a contending team. He built a bad team! That surely wasn't what Angelos intended.
Moreover, while we're willing to accept that Angelos was involved in the big decisions like Clark or Belle, we somehow doubt he had a whole lot to do with the lesser decisions, the Amarals and Slocumbs, the Hernandezes and Fetterseses, the Conines and Bones. (He does have ambulances to chase, after all.) And it was those decisions where Wren's mistakes really shone through. Angelos was reportedly upset at Wren for signing Xavier Hernandez before having him pass a physical; we're upset at Wren for signing Xavier Hernandez at all. Nobody in his right mind should have thought that a bullpen of Timlin and Bones and Slocumb and Hernandez and Fetters (as well as holdovers Orosco and Rhodes) was a championship caliber bullpen. Nobody should have thought that Rich Amaral was going to help a contending team. And Jeff Conine? Come on. What was the point?
So what happened during the season, a season in which it quickly became apparent that the Orioles weren't going anywhere? The Orioles traded Harold Baines and Juan Guzman for pitching prospects. They also... well, okay, they didn't do anything else. They did release Slocumb and Bones and Webster. They did dump 25-year old Rocky Coppinger for 28-year old less promising Al Reyes merely because Ray Miller couldn't get along with him. Willis Otanez, out the door, but they did pick up 37 year old Jim Corsi. They added Mike Figga and Derrick May. It's hard to argue with the Guzman/Baines trades. But Figga? Corsi? 33-year old Doug Linton, added to the roster? These just don't sound like bad moves. They sound like flailing moves. Like Wren needed to pretend he was doing something.
Again, let's look at the bottom line: the Orioles organization made the decision to compete rather than rebuild in 1999. For better or worse, Wren went along with that. He then went out and made the team, if anything, worse. Older, too. When Angelos let him try rebuilding in midseason, he made some timid moves. The Orioles ended the season as badly as they began it, and with a future that looked little brighter. This is the work of a budding genius? You know, a year ago, the Orioles passed over hotshot young GM candidate Kevin Malone, replacing him with Frank Wren. The media mocked Peter Angelos for letting such a brilliant up-and-coming baseball person walk. Now a year later, with Malone having gotten his shot -- but in Los Angeles rather than Baltimore -- it's Malone who's a laughingstock. Frank Wren is Frank Wren, not Kevin Malone, but let's not be so quick to assume that hype is the same as good GMing.
Please don't interpret this column as a defense of The Peter and his autocratic style or his meddling. We just want to provide a counterpoint to the "Woe is us" articles that appeared so many places, and to note that Angelos may have indeed done the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.
Comments? Are we crazy? Did we say something ridiculous? Did
we forget an important fact? Or did we hit the nail on the head? We want to
know what you think. And if you
can do better, show us! Good submissions are always welcome.