The Orioles aren't hopeless. But it's difficult to imagine how they're going to restore the luster to this once-great franchise until Peter G. Angelos takes the first step off baseball's skid row.
Cal Ripken Jr. is ready any time the Orioles' owner is willing to swallow his apparently inexhaustible supply of pride and make his best effort to give Baltimore a winning baseball team again.
Buck Showalter is a good baseball man, but like new general manager Dan Duquette he's not a miracle worker. Even if they corner the market on Asian pitchers, the Orioles aren't going to be competitive against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays with the way they have operated during Angelos' heavy-headed, 19-season reign in the owners' suite. You can't get from here to there.
You could give it your best shot though.
Even after 14 consecutive losing seasons, Angelos won't do that. He's still the same guy who couldn't relinquish control of the baseball operation to Pat Gillick, and his ego won't allow him to enter into a de facto partnership with Ripken, the franchise icon who played 2,632 of his 3,001 games in a streak that had more to do with helping baseball recover from the 1994-95 strike than the McGwire-Sosa homerfest.
Ripken, who has been active in youth baseball since retiring, is confident that he could have the same positive influence on a franchise that Nolan Ryan has had on the Rangers. He's anxious to have a role with a big-league team, providing it comes with authority.
Ripken has been mentioned as wanting ownership interest in a team, but someone close to him says the key is for him to have "control of the baseball side of the operation … big picture stuff.'' Ripken is saying he could go elsewhere to try to help a team win, but what makes more sense — the Orioles or The Other 29?
Thanks at least as much to self-inflicted wounds as to the Montreal Expos' move to Washington, D.C., the sea of empty seats at Camden Yards grows annually. Baltimore's annual attendance has dropped from 2.74 million to 1.76 million in the eight seasons that the Washington Nationals became neighbors. The Orioles need Ripken to be involved, but instead it's all about Showalter.
Highly respected for his contributions to the Yankees' dynasty and then a ground-up construction project in Arizona, Showalter faces his biggest challenge. Baltimore fans dreamed of a turnaround when the 2010 team finished 34-23 after Showalter had taken over, but reality returned with a 93-loss 2011. It was the Orioles' sixth straight season in which they lost at least 92 games.
They've made no major moves to acquire outside talent for the 2012 season, unless you count Tuesday's signing of infielder Wilson Betemit and the dubious signing of Asian pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. New GM Duquette, hired to replace Andy MacPhail, used his background in international scouting to add inventory to a rotation that has been hurt by the stalled development of lefty Brian Matusz and right-hander Chris Tillman.
The lineup returns largely unchanged, with the health of second baseman Brian Roberts once again the big question going to spring training. These guys need a hero, someone like Ryan, but Angelos can't bring himself to ask Ripken for help.
•Angelos and Ripken did talk about a possible role for Cal two years ago but there was no follow-up by Angelos.
•Catcher Matt Wieters, selected fifth overall in the 2007 draft — two picks after the Cubs took eager-to-sign high school third baseman Josh Vitters — is going to be a perennial All-Star.
•Third baseman Mark Reynolds is coming off a 37-homer, 31-error, 196-strikeout season. The Orioles experimented with moving him to first and playing Chris Davis at third but remain uncertain how they'll line up when the season begins. The answer may lie in whether third basemen Josh Bell and Ryan Flaherty (a Rule 5 pickup from the Cubs) can beat out Davis, who seems more comfortable at first.
•Reynolds has struck out 834 times the last four seasons, leading his league each year.
•The Orioles have high-end prospects on the way in right-hander Dylan Bundy and power-hitting shortstop Manny Machado but no kids expected to step in this season.