After starting 3-15 this season with a minus-46 run differential and 5.42 team ERA, the Cincinnati Reds decided to fire manager Bryan Price and pitching coach Mack Jenkins on Thursday morning.
I bring this to your attention because the Orioles, after an embarrassing 13-8 loss in Detroit on Thursday, head back to Camden Yards with a 5-14 record, a minus-43 run differential and a 5.05 team ERA.
Those are the kinds of numbers that cause baseball heads to roll. They did in Cincinnati.
And they probably should in Baltimore – at least to show that someone higher-up is exceptionally disgruntled with the lackluster play that produced an 0-6 road trip in which the Orioles were outscored 43-22 and were swept by the hot Boston Red Sox and a mediocre-at-best Tigers club.
The dilemma, though, is who gets the axe?
Plenty of candidates.
Can’t see the firing of any, however, making this team significantly better in 2018. There are a lot of players up and down this club that need to – and should — play better. Period.
The old adage, of course, is that you can’t fire the players.
Frankly, in Baltimore, you can’t fire the manager, either.
Buck Showalter is in the final year of his contract. But no one around the club believes this is Showalter’s last year, assuming he wants to be back, which he publicly says he does. The feeling is Showalter, who helped bring some pride back to this once-proud franchise, has the wink and the nod from ownership that 2019 and beyond is a mere formality.
The sense is that executive vice president Dan Duquette doesn’t enjoy the same tacit job security, that the Orioles better be really good in 2018 or Duquette will not be back in the same capacity, or maybe any capacity, in 2019.
The third member of the Orioles’ three-headed executive monster, vice president Brady Anderson, probably has the most job security of all. He’s an especially close confidant of the Angelos’ family, particularly sons John and Lou, who are becoming increasingly more active in the business that has been run by their dad, Peter, since 1993.
Anderson took a major role in acquiring talent for this season, and he was at the forefront of negotiations this winter that successfully added pitchers Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman and Alex Cobb (who, incidentally was torched Thursday for seven runs, five earned, in 3 1/3 innings and now has a 15.43 ERA in his two starts as an Oriole. Better days surely are ahead for him).
Add in that Peter Angelos has historically preferred to let contracts run out than fire his executives, I’d be surprised if the three-headed monster gets lopped to two heads any time soon.
So, who do you make a scapegoat for this nightmare?
Again, this is muddied. It’s Baltimore.
Showalter is exceptionally loyal to his staff – he basically walked away from the New York Yankees right before their World Series run in the 1990s because he wouldn’t fire his hitting coach.
He hasn’t had to deal with a similar ultimatum here, but he has had to defend both hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and pitching coach Roger McDowell in the last year to dissatisfied ownership and management.
You would think that one of those two – it’s never both – is on the hottest of seats.
But which one is more to blame?
You could easily make the argument that the offense is so moribund that Coolbaugh should be the fall guy, but the Orioles scored 13 runs in their past two games and lost both because the opposition scored 19.
So, you could easily point the finger at McDowell, who supervised the worst starting rotation in franchise history last year and the staff ERA, as a whole, is still above 5.00.
But it’s not like McDowell is pitching for Cobb, Mike Wright, Chris Tillman and Nestor Cortes. Or Coolbaugh is hitting for Chris Davis, Caleb Joseph and Tim Beckham.
Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of firing a positional coach because a particular unit isn’t doing well. Not in baseball, anyway. These guys aren’t calling plays; they tweak and counsel, but little more.
Yes, a fresh voice can be helpful on occasion. But if the problem is inherent to the personnel, I don’t see how that is a coach’s fault.
Take for instance infield instructor Bobby Dickerson. He’s been lauded for his work with Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy.
Now that Hardy’s not on the team, Schoop is hurt, Machado has switched from third base to shortstop and Beckham has gone from shortstop to third base, the infield defense has looked porous for much of this early season.
Of course not.
So, fire Coolbaugh or McDowell?
But, yes, I suppose, if a statement has to be made.
So, which one?
I’m not sure it matters, because I don’t think either’s removal will make this team better.
The bottom line for me is that the real problem here is abysmal roster construction. And that would put Duquette on the firing line.
Yet not all of these moves are Duquette’s handiwork. Some are Anderson’s. Some are Showalter’s. Heck, the one that looks to be the worst at this juncture, $161 million over seven years for Davis, was nearly exclusively ownership’s.
I know, you want to fire Angelos. That can’t happen. So, deal with it.
My take is this: If you want a stooge for this mess, take your pick and punt someone.
The Orioles are, after all, 5-14, have lost six straight and eight of nine and are laughable in just about every aspect of the game.
But if the purpose of an administrative personnel change is to make this team better right now, I don’t believe firing anyone at this point achieves that goal.
This club was built the way it was built: With a good chunk of money, several architects and no concrete plan.
It’s either going to bounce back because the roster is still pretty damn talented or it’ll continue to implode ingloriously because it is pretty damn flawed.
I’m fairly certain a firing here or there won’t change those prospects in 2018.