The interview with ESPN.com’s Keith Law and some of his quotes published here last week certainly got some fans stirred up. I had mentioned that this week I would publish the entire interview here and now is the time.
Since it takes a lot of words to read through a 17-minute interview, I will publish it in two posts. The second one will follow this by a few hours.
Some of these quotes you read before, some you have not seen. This time I am just publishing the entire interview, questions and answers, in order. I called Law with the purpose of interviewing him about the club’s minor league system, but as you will see, the questions sort of got diverted into a discussion of the Orioles offseason moves.
If you want to accuse of me of milking this for all it’s worth, including more hits, well, I won’t take a lie detector test on it. But I’ll add that it is interesting reading.
Steve Melewski: You have said you were surprised when it came out in your rankings that the Orioles rated 24th in their minors. What was surprising to you?
Keith Law: “One is that the last couple of years, I’ve been talking up the job I think they’ve done in bringing some respect back to the organization. I think Andy MacPhail has done a good job. There is more reason for promise and there’s some premium talent there.
“But then I looked in the farm system and actually the second reason is they’ve had a lot of high draft picks. But I looked at the farm system and there’s not that much there. Zach Britton, I am a huge fan of and Manny Machado, their most recent high draft pick.
“But everyone else, if they haven’t gotten to the big leagues by now, they are kind of floundering in the low minors. There is not a lot of hope in that farm system and that has not been true the last couple of years.”
SM: Is one reason for that, that they have graduated guys to the majors like (Brian) Matusz, (Jake) Arrieta and (Matt) Wieters. Is that understandable or is it not, because, hey, you have to keep pumping out those prospects?
KL: “Well, you hit both things. Yes, they have brought a lot of good young players to the big leagues, they absolutely have. I thought Brian Matusz should have been at least a Rookie of the Year contender. Matt Wieters still has a good chance to be a star, if not a superstar. There is a lot of young talent on that big league roster.
“They are both building up the perpetual player development machine. If the Orioles want to stay competitive in the best division in baseball, they can’t have the 24th best system in the minors at any point. Because they are not going to compete financially with the Yankees or Red Sox, they are going to have to compete developmentally. In that vein, the Rays, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays are all near the top of the class.”
SM: In addition to being good on the field, some of those AL East teams have some of the better farm systems in the game, it seems. Clearly, Tampa, Boston, Toronto and New York don’t do too badly. It’s just tough in that respect for the Orioles right now.
KL: “I’ve got the Rays ranked second, and not by much behind first. I think I had the Blue Jays ranked fourth. Both of those organizations have a lot of young talent and a year from now, their systems might look even better. Plus, the Rays have 11 picks in the first two rounds I think and the Blue Jays have seven. That’s a ton and they’re going to inject even more talent.
“Then you look at where the Orioles are and they are not a club right now that is adding young talent, they have added veteran players to the big league roster. I don’t get it, they are not winning 85 games this year and even if they did, what is that going to buy them? A couple extra fans in the seats? It won’t put them in the playoffs.”
SM: So you disagree with some of the moves, Guerrero and so forth?
KL: “Vlad Guerreo, if he’s not toast, he’s in the toaster. It doesn’t make sense to acquire players like that. I understand (Nolan) Reimold had a bad year last year and I understand Felix Pie is a flawed player. But, they cost you nothing and they have some talent. It’s possible that one of those guys will actually develop into a solid average or better big leaguer. You will never find that out if you send them back to Triple-A.”
SM: Isn’t there a school of thought that, by adding a (Derrek) Lee, (Mark) Reynolds and Guerrero, they can help younger hitters like (Adam) Jones and Wieters develop? They have other guys to rely on and you are not asking 24- and 25-year-olds to carry the load.
KL: “I have heard that and I think it is complete nonsense. Having worked in a front office and seen some of that dynamic, I think it is ridiculous and outdated.
“Nobody in the front office should be thinking that way. The second thing is, Mark Reynolds strikes out 200 times a year and is a brutal defensive player. Is that really the guy you want teaching Matt Wieters? He shouldn’t be leading anybody by example.
“If they had brought in Albert Pujols or Carl Crawford, I’m not going to argue with that. But we’re not talking about that class of player. Mark Reynolds is not a very good baseball player. Vlad Guerrero was, four years ago.”
SM: Is your point then that money could have been better invested in development and young guys and so forth?
KL: “Yes, that would certainly be a better use of funds. Spend it in Latin America, where the Orioles have not been major players. Look at their top 10 I have for their (farm) system, I think there is just one international player there, from Curacao.
“Make sure you have $5 million available for your first pick in this draft and another $3 million for the second pick. Because this draft is loaded and there might be somebody there you can overpay for.”
SM: And, so, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you seem to totally disagree with their offseason moves?
KL: “I feel like this is an offseason that may be coming from ownership or from marketing, saying, ‘We can’t lose 100 games again. We are not bringing in enough revenue.’ In that situation, the baseball operations department should say, ‘Do you want to win in the long term? Or do you want to just stink less in the short term?’
“That’s really what the tradeoff is. Adding Guerrero, Reynolds and other veterans they have brought in and may bring in might add five or six wins, but it’s not going to get them to 90 wins or an inch closer to the playoffs. Your goal as a front office is to build a playoff team.”
SM: So you don’t even think it’s an 85 win or maybe .500 club yet?
KL: “No, in that division, no way. The only way that happens is if Matusz, Arrieta, (Chris) Tilllman, Wieters, Jones and (Nick) Markakis, four of those guys take big steps forward. And it could happen, they are talented kids and I believe in all of them. But this is the best division in baseball with three clubs that would probably win 95 if you transplanted them any place else. And the Blue Jays are going to have a pretty serious rotation and some very talented hitters in the lineup. They’re a good club too. They could be an 85-win club in another division.
“The Orioles are clearly the worst team in a five-team division. The worst team in a five-team division is not going to win 85 games. It’s never happened since baseball went to a three-division format.”
SM: So what is the move for the O’s? Just go all in and throw nothing but kids out there?
KL: “I think you have to. Because you’ve got to make sure your goal is and we are not talking about Wieters, he will catch on, no one is worried about him. But is Nolan Reimold an average regular, that, by the way doesn’t make a lot of money and that’s a good thing as it frees up money to do other things. You are not going to know if he doesn’t get 400 or 500 at-bats. You’re not going to know that about Felix Pie.
“Whatever young players you have available you have to make sure their path is clear to play every day in the big leagues when that is what they need to continue to develop. If you run them out there for a full year and say Reimold has two bad years in a row, maybe he’s less than you thought he was and you move on. Say if Matt Wieters is a little hurt and he can’t catch, but he can still hit, he can’t DH because you have Guerrero. It’s an obstacle and you don’t want to create an obstacle for your young players.”
SM: Is your read on this that maybe Andy MacPhail is going against what his instincts are telling him?
KL: “Well, it’s not the way he has run the club since he took over. It’s a different direction and it took me a little bit by surprise.”
SM: Could any of that be the fact that this is his last year on his contract in Baltimore?
KL: “That is possible. I would just be speculating, but it is possible.”
Coming in part two of this interview: Law talks about the O’s young pitching, some of their top minor league players and provides an opinion on O’s scouting director Joe Jordan.
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