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October 2, 2008: Put Montanez On First And Roll The Dice

Now that the 2008 Orioles year has come to a dismal end, it's time for a few observations on a season that started with promise and ended with the Birds living alone in the American League East cellar.

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With the season Lou Montanez put up in the minor leagues, and the ability that he has showed at the major league level, he deserves a shot to make the 2009 club out of spring training. But at what position?

At best, he is below average in the outfield. He was drafted as a shortstop -- but while the Orioles desperately need a solid player at the No. 6 position, Montanez is not the answer. However, his infield skills should be transferable to first base.

While no one would question Kevin Millar's influence on the club as a clubhouse cut-up and emotional leader, can anyone doubt that the Orioles could use a more productive first baseman? If the team is looking to the future, it certainly has a better chance with Montanez. 

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Whatever skills the organization believed Daniel Cabrera possessed to be a top-of-the-rotation starter clearly have not been realized. In fact, he has outlasted any value to the franchise. His two most useful assets were that he ate innings for the club and consistently gave the New York Yankees a very hard time. As the majority of his season proved, neither can continue to be counted on. 

With arbitration eligibility destined to drive Cabrera's price through the roof, it is time to move on. If the Orioles are destined to finish in last place in the AL East for the next few years, the team should be more inclined to give that rotation spot to an unproven talent who needs a chance to shine. 

The Orioles need to find a veteran starter above the quality of Steve Trachsel to fill the role that Cabrera played -- a starter who can be counted on to keep the Birds in the game and give the team a chance to win. It is highly unlikely that the Orioles would get anything in moving Cabrera via trade. It may be best to chalk it up to a lesson learned and let him go. 

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Many said that pitching coach Ray Miller had lost his touch. Then they said that Leo Mazzone could only work with stars, was inflexible, had little patience, and didn't know how to talk to young pitchers trying to make their way. Fans were then told that new pitching coach Rick Kranitz was a master communicator who would get the most out of this young pitching staff. And again this season, pitching was a major problem.

The coaches can no longer be the scapegoats. The organization has a much bigger problem -- either there is an extreme lack of solid coaching at the minor league level, or there is a profound lack of talent at the upper levels of the farm system. 

It is only in recent drafts that the Orioles have taken the best talent that the draft has to offer. While there is no question they were attempting to help the organization previously, financial slotting and signability did seem to play as factors.

With the drafting and signing of Matt Wieters, the Orioles finally showed any interest in dealing with Scott Boras. Boras, while a difficult agent to deal with, controls a significant portion of the game's best players, veteran major leaguers and those jumping from the amateur ranks alike. 

As a struggling organization trying to climb out of the cellar, the Orioles must spend money on one end or the other. Many players the team had been drafting in recent years were a notch below the best. Signable yes, but not sure locks to make it to the bigs. 

The meteoric leap the Tampa Bay Rays made this season proves the importance of drafting and developing the best young talent. With the signing of Wieters, Jake Arietta and Brian Matusz, coupled with the trades of Andy MacPhail, the Orioles are finally dealing with an upper crust of young talent. The hope lies there. 

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The Orioles are going into the offseason with the stated goals of trying to sign Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis to long-term deals. If they cannot come to terms with Roberts, the All-Star second baseman could again be on the trading block. If that happens, Colorado, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Los Angeles should be first on MacPhail's to-call list.

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Finally, Aubrey Huff had a magical season for the Orioles. He anchored a surprising offense and gave protection to players who would have had none without him. For that reason -- even though he is primarily a designated hitter who doesn't contribute in the field -- he deserved the Orioles MVP honor. 
 
Allen V. McCallum Jr. is a baseball analyst for 1570 AM, WNST.   

Issue 3.40: October 2, 2008