And now, the end is near ...

It seems like only yesterday that I was standing in the home clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium, scribbling down every move made by future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero on his first day in camp. What he wore, where he sat, what he ate, how many words of English he spoke, how many teammates stared in awe.

I was touring the refurbished Sarasota facility, staking out Justin Duchscherer’s locker for updates on his hip, misspelling “wart” on Twitter - I blame Brian Matusz - counting pitches in bullpen sessions and swerving to avoid Felix Pie in hotel parking lots.

I firmly believed that the Orioles could finish .500 or slightly better, but only if everything fell into place. And I mean everything.

No injuries to key players, especially Brian Roberts, and no retreat from the cavalry. Derrek Lee would need a bounce-back season, which I predicted would happen in a big way. And the teams ahead of the Orioles would have to slide down the standings and fall into their laps the way Guerrero did over the winter.

Roberts played in 39 games this season. The young starters disappointed for the most part, though Zach Britton won 11 games, and the farm system wasn’t equipped to cover for them. Lee had some health issues and batted .246 with 12 homers in 85 games before being traded to the Pirates. The Orioles were reduced to playing spoiler again this month while owning the third-worst record in the American League.

So much for .500 or better.

I barely got to know pitching coach Mark Connor before he resigned. It felt at times as though the Orioles were choosing bullpen coaches by drawing names out of a hat. Third base coach John Russell and bench coach Willie Randolph swapped roles.

Russell had a sore knee. Manager Buck Showalter turned his ankle.

I’m ready to turn the page.

The Most Valuable Oriole will be announced today. J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have received first-place votes from members of the media covering the team. Mark Reynolds placed third on some ballots and was excluded from others. It’s a wide-open race.

Guerrero will be honored in a pregame ceremony for breaking Julio Franco’s record for most hits by a Dominican-born player. Guerrero’s former manager and mentor. Felipe Alou, has flown into Baltimore for the occasion.

Then it gets interesting.

The Orioles are expected to issue a press release tomorrow announcing that Andy MacPhail will no longer serve as president of baseball operations. We should find out whether MacPhail remains in a consultant’s role to assist in the hiring of his replacement or rides off into the sunset.

Further down the road, we’ll find out whether the Orioles are searching for another president of baseball ops or a manager.

Showalter is at least intrigued with the idea of moving upstairs. I’ve had lengthy conversations with him about his role in building the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks and how the approach differed from the one taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He speaks about those days with great passion.

Showalter wants a voice in how the Orioles are constructed next season, and I don’t mean a whisper. He also has strong opinions about the 40-man roster.

One school of thought is Showalter will replace MacPhail and choose his manager. Another theory is he’ll remain as manager but want the same authority as MacPhail’s replacement. If the latter situation is going to occur, I can’t imagine a veteran executive with a track record taking the job.

Two names that already are being rumored here are Marlins assistant GM Dan Jennings and Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava. Look for others to join them.

For what it’s worth, and a few readers here have suggested it, I don’t believe Randolph would replace Showalter as manager. I’m not even certain that Randolph will return in 2012. The coaching staff could undergo more changes beyond settling on one guy to answer the bullpen phone.

I believe 500 or better handled that chore this season. Maybe that’s what I meant all along.

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