As soon as news broke of yesterday’s trade between the Orioles and Cubs, my thoughts immediately shifted to Andy MacPhail. And that made even more sense when you consider that I spent about 30 minutes with him on the phone earlier in the morning.
Of course. What else would it be? I don’t have the power to jinx or influence trades. But any deal involving the Cubs reminds me of MacPhail’s days as an Orioles executive.
If I need another reminder, I can just look at the current roster.
The three Orioles who currently would start in the 84th All-Star Game at Citi Field were acquired by MacPhail. Adam Jones came from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade. Chris Davis came from the Rangers in the Koji Uehara trade. J.J. Hardy came from the Twins in the - I need to pause here because it’s just so absurd and borderline criminal - Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson trade.
Chris Tillman has won 10 games this season. He, too, arrived in the Bedard trade. Tommy Hunter has emerged as a dominant late-inning reliever. He, too, arrived in the Uehara trade. Troy Patton is a valued left-hander in the bullpen, and a possible trade chip down the road. He arrived in the Miguel Tejada trade with the Astros.
MacPhail took George Sherrill, part of the Bedard haul, and sent him to the Dodgers for Steve Johnson. He obtained reliever Pedro Strop, who was money during the first half of last season and helped executive vice president Dan Duquette to acquire starter Scott Feldman and minor league catcher Steve Clevenger from the Cubs.
MacPhail also traded for Mark Reynolds, who developed into a valuable contributor for the Orioles last season once he shifted to first base. He was in charge when the Orioles signed Matt Wieters and when they drafted Manny Machado. His fingerprints are all over this team.
“I get the chance to see them,” said MacPhail, who still resides in Owings Mills and had lunch last week with Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “I’ll see more day games than night games for some reason. They’re a fun team to watch, exciting. Oh, my gosh, the offense, you never feel like they’re out of it. Even when the bullpen struggled a little more than it did a year ago, if I was an opposing GM, I’d never really get a sense that a lead is safe.”
MacPhail was reluctant to talk publicly about the Orioles last season, fearing that it would give the impression that he was trolling for credit. Fans were highly critical of him late in his tenure, but the tide seems to be shifting as the Orioles make a run at their second straight playoff berth.
“The funny thing was, the criticism I would get, and it came from feedback I’d get from you and (The Sun’s) Jeff Zrebiec and Peter Schmuck and whomever was talking to me, because I really don’t delve into the comment world, is that I was perceived as being conservative. Too conservative,” MacPhail said. “But I really never understood that. I am conservative, but that doesn’t mean I don’t make a lot of changes. You can be conservative and still make a lot of moves. I didn’t do anything rash without understanding the pros and cons, but if you look at the club in 2008 and then when I left, they’re very different teams. The change is sort of gradual, but it’s significant.”
MacPhail understands why fans here were impatient, since it was “X-number of years since they were over .500,” he said. “But people don’t want to hear that the first thing you’re going to do is trade Tejada. It’s not like this thing was going to change overnight. But if you have a plan and stick to it - and you’re seeing it in Pittsburgh this year and Tampa Bay in the past and in Baltimore now - if you have a plan and stick to it, you’re going to be rewarded eventually.
“My wife was talking about the garden she planted here, but it applies to baseball, too. You plant the seeds, and the first year or two, it sleeps. Then it starts to creep. Then one year it leaps. You’ve just got to stay with the program.”
I challenged MacPhail to name the trade he’s most proud of, and pointed out how one acquisition has gone from being referred to as “Hunter-Davis” to “Davis-Hunter.” But MacPhail went in another direction and picked the change in spring training homes.
“The one that gets the least amount of attention is moving from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota,” he said. “You cannot underestimate the importance, how it changed the whole mindset. And I give Peter (Angelos) all the credit for that. My role was to complain. That’s the only contribution I made. But that was essential. And hiring Buck was essential.
“Of the trades, I think to do what we did under the circumstances and how dominant Bedard was in our division, so tough, that’s hard to do. I’m grateful to our scouts and front office for making that type of trade that helps build the foundation for the future. I’m pleased about that.
“Hardy is a very key component to that team. You know how badly we suffered at shortstop prior to his arrival. And I’m happy to see Tillman come around. There was a period where we wondered if it was going to be. Over the last calendar year, July to July, I can’t imagine there are too many starters who have won more games.
“It’s been a fun team to watch. It’s great to see them getting national exposure. It’s great to see the fans excited. They play hard, and Dan has done a nice job adding starting pitching. That’s probably the most important thing.”
MacPhail and Rangers GM Jon Daniels discussed whether Hunter or Joe Wieland would be included in the Uehara trade. Wieland eventually was dealt to the Padres, and the Orioles gladly took Hunter.
“I tell everybody this and nobody writes it. The first thing you’ve got to remember is Koji had almost two times as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed. He was an exceptionally valuable piece and obviously more than one team was interested,” MacPhail said.
“We had done a lot of deals with the Rangers because in our league they were the most talented team, and their 26th guy was better than our 24th or 25th. We zeroed in on them for a while and had them scouted.”
Daniels steered the Orioles toward Hunter after dealing Wieland, which was fine with MacPhail. But Daniels thought Hunter was enough and MacPhail disagreed.
“We had to try to cash in the best we could,” MacPhail said. “We wanted Davis, and to his credit, he didn’t want to gives us Davis. We held out for a couple of days. Then, Pittsburgh had interest in Derrek Lee, who had started to heat up for us. Moving Lee created a spot for Davis to play every day and also relieved us of $2 million in salary. We just put the potential Lee savings in the deal. Now, we had Koji and $2 million for Hunter and Davis.”
Daniels was more willing to part with Davis if the Orioles included a minor league pitcher, in addition to Uehara and the cash. MacPhail refused, Daniels relented, and the rest is history.
“Ultimately, that sealed the deal,” MacPhail said. “There were probably 48 hours where he wasn’t going to do it. But he didn’t really have a place for Davis to play. Their roster was so good at that time, you could forecast they would have a problem protecting 40 guys. That’s what made Strop available.”
I vividly recalled the Hardy trade, which unfolded during the winter meetings in Orlando. MacPhail was close to acquiring shortstop Jason Bartlett from the Rays for outfielder Nolan Reimold. Angelos trusted MacPhail to make any deal, but he didn’t want to part with Reimold. He eventually would have consented to it, but Hardy suddenly became available, the talks shifted to the Twins, and the Orioles handed over Hoey and Jacobson - strong arms who were deemed expendable.
“No skin off our noses,” as one executive put it.
By the time that the Rays got back to the Orioles with a different proposal that didn’t include Reimold, the talks with Minnesota had advanced to the point where there was no turning back. The Orioles also had to take utility infielder Brendan Harris’ contract to make it happen.
MacPhail never retired following the 2011 season. His contract expired and he turned down an offer to stay, choosing instead to spend more time with his father, Lee, who passed away on Nov. 9, 2012. He’s been traveling all over the world - Turkey, Greece, Italy, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Jamaica, Quebec - all the things he couldn’t do while working for a baseball team.
“You just can’t be away that long,” he said.
MacPhail has been away long enough. He’s ready to get back in the game in some capacity.
“It’s time,” he said. “After a year and a half, it’s probably important that I get out of the house, because I’m finding my wife to be less receptive to some of my domestic suggestions.
“I’ll just have to wait and see what the opportunities are. I could see a variety of roles.”