In his second-last pre-game meeting with the media this season, O’s manager Buck Showalter- when asked about changes for next season- said he is “confident we will be relentless in improving our chances.” He also added a plan to hold “mini-camps” in Sarasota for all players, not just pitchers (allowing that rules within the players’ union protects them from mandatory attendance). At another point in his Q & A session, Showalter said “there may be 12 different players on our roster next season.” In other words: changes are needed and changes will be made.
What we don’t know is who makes those roster decisions. Team president Andy MacPhail is expected to move on when his contract expires at the end of October (and MacPhail’s departure could be made official as early as this Thursday). It’s assumed Showalter will have a greater hand in re-making the roster- he’s a big picture guy who meets regularly with owner Peter Angelos. Whether as manager or some form of general manager- Showalter will be pushing the buttons.
And what is he most likely to do? His record indicates that his priority will be to overhaul the pitching staff. In his previous three managerial stints (Yankees, Arizona and Texas), Showalter’s first full season was his worst season and his second season was his best. And the biggest change in between? The addition of veteran starting pitching.
With the Yankees in 1992, with a hodgepodge of starters that included Melido Perez as the “ace”- Buck’s Yankees went 76-86. For the next season he added veteran lefty starters Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott and the Yankees improved by 12 games.
With expansion Arizona in 1998, Andy Benes, Omar Daal and Brian Anderson anchored a starting staff that pitched to a 4.63 team ERA and lost 97 games. The next season the D-Backs added veteran lefty Randy Johnson with a mega-contract and in one of the great turnarounds in history, Arizona earned a playoff spot with 100 wins.
Then, in Showalter’s first season in Texas in 2003- his “ace” was John Thompson and with a league-worst 5.67 team ERA the Rangers went 71-91. The following season, it was the addition of veteran lefty Kenny Rodgers that helped lower the staff ERA by more than a full run, and Texas improved 18 games.
What’s the theme? The addition of a “veteran lefty”. And who’s the top pitcher on the free agent market this coming off-season? Veteran lefty C.J. Wilson who was a rookie under Showalter in Texas in 2005. Since then Wilson has emerged as a top-flight starter who’s thrown to a sub-four ERA in Texas this season, making 34 starts and pitching 223 innings.
I asked Showalter recently about the difficulty of getting top-level pitchers to sign to play in Baltimore. It’s something that Andy MacPhail has said is a hurdle for the Orioles. Buck says simply: if you pay ’em, they’ll come. Obviously, it’ll take more than the addition of C.J. Wilson to turn around another last-place finish for Baltimore. But if Showalter’s history is an indicator, Wilson will atop the wish list. And if the manager is to follow his track record- 2012 will be his best in Baltimore. But even that isn’t saying a whole lot given how much there is to improve upon.