Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Dipoto the favorite?

Is Jerry Dipoto the most likely candidate to replace Andy MacPhail? Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun seems to think so:
No matter who else comes in -- if anyone -- I think it will likely come down to Dipoto and [Tony] LaCava[, the Toronto Blue Jays’ assistant general manager and director of player personnel]. Both are well-respected and highly coveted options – ranked Dipoto as No. 1 and LaCava as No. 6 in its perspective GMs list – and both have interviewed for other GM jobs in the past.

The Orioles couldn’t go wrong with either. Both are originally East Coast guys: Dipoto is from New Jersey and LaCava is from, and still lives in, Pittsburgh. Both have backgrounds in scouting and development, which the Orioles could desperately use.

And both seemingly want this job, with its warts and all. There are only 30 such positions in baseball and both of these guys have waited their turns and desire an opportunity to implement their own policies and strategies in hopes of turning around a once-proud franchise.
The scouting and development experience is key, because the Orioles haven't done the best job getting all the production they can out of their prospects.

So far, Dipoto and LaCava are the only candidates the O's have interviewed, but they've apparently been impressed with both. And it certainly doesn't hurt Dipoto that he has some general manager experience.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fans want John Beck

When it comes down to Rex Grossman vs. John Beck, Redskins fans are convincingly on Beck's side. Just take look at this poll on The Washington Post's Insider blog:

Out of more than 6,000 total votes, 86 percent want the Redskins to give Beck a chance. After watching Grossman play last week, it's hard to disagree.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's not about Grossman vs. Beck

It happens a lot. Whenever the Redskins don't look completely terrible to start the season, fans get excited. They start talking themselves into better performances, more wins, and maybe a playoff berth. Most people tempered their expectations because the Redskins weren't able to fill all of their holes in the offseason. But the same thing still happened, when Rex Grossman looked decent, the Redskins seemingly possessed a new and improved running game, and the defense started putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Redskins got off to a surprising 3-1 start, and some of those things continued. The defense is better than last season and has showcased the ability to generate sacks and turnovers. The offensive line is also better, and the Redskins have run the ball effectively at times. Quarterback, though, is still an issue. And, for some reason, after Grossman's four-interception game against the Eagles, fans are again expressing their disgust with the team's quarterback situation, even though there wasn't much of a chance the Redskins were going to rectify that problem during the season.

Let's step back for a moment. Whenever something embarrassing happens involving the Redskins -- this week's embarrassing performance being Grossman's awful game -- fans express their outrage. That's fine, I guess, and there will always be the crazy fans who come up with bizarre solutions or want the team to go in a completely different direction and start firing coaches left and right. But what exactly changed after the Eagles game? Obviously the injuries on the offensive line are huge concerns, but I'm talking about the quarterback issues. Did fans really need to witness Grossman's four interceptions to know that he was an average to below-average quarterback? He throws the ball well occasionally, but he's a turnover-committing machine. Wasn't that a given going into the season?

Before the season started and people started getting a little too wrapped up in how well the Redskins played at times in the preseason, I wrote a few quick notes for things to remember about this season. Here they are:

1. Nothing wrong with being excited about the team's young talent.
2. Don't up on some of those young players if they start slow.
3. Beck/Grossman doesn't mean a whole lot.
4. Going to draft a QB to develop; Beck/Grossman stepping up would help make that transition easier.
5. Getting a few wins shouldn't mean a change of direction.
6. Revamped defense and offensive weapons to eventually be aided by better quarterback and offensive line play = long-term goal.

So let's break these thoughts down:

1. The Redskins committed to the draft, and they've been rewarded for doing so. No, they didn't draft a quarterback and will have to do that next year, but they did add some much-needed, young talent to the roster. Ryan Kerrigan has been outstanding, and Roy Helu has been solid. Other rookies, such as Niles Paul, Chris Neild, Markus White, DeJon Gomes, and Leonard Hankerson, have either brought something to the table that the team lacked or have given the Redskins depth at a few positions. And that's not even counting Jarvis Jenkins, who had the best preseason of all the rookies before being lost for the season. Hopefully the Redskins embrace this strategy again in next year's draft.

2. This may really only apply to Hankerson, who has yet to play in a game yet. But it's not like the Redskins have a plethora of explosive weapons at wide receiver, so Hankerson should get his chance soon.

3. Rex Grossman is not the answer at quarterback. Neither is John Beck, regardless of what the Shanahans have said. This has not changed.

4. It's possible that the Shanahans really believed one of the quarterbacks would play adequately this season. There's still time for that to happen. But since they didn't select a quarterback in last year's draft, taking one next year is on the team's to-do list. There should be several quarterbacks to choose from then, and then the Redskins hopefully have their quarterback of the future. Still, Grossman or Beck playing better would be important to eventually bridge that gap until that young quarterback is ready, but then again, that's what happens when a team relies on quarterbacks like Grossman and Beck.

5. This is almost impossible for fans to avoid. The Redskins started 3-1, and some fans inevitably thought the team was on pace for something special. Eventually, they may be. But unless the defense transforms quickly into a shutdown, turnover-forcing unit that scores points or routinely sets the offense up with scoring chances and great field position, the Redskins will struggle to put points on the board. That's what happens when quarterbacks don't play well, receiving options aren't as skilled as they need to be, and when the offensive line doesn't block all that well or a few talented linemen get hurt. Over a full season, these things happen. That's why improving roster depth through the draft EVERY season is so important. Just ask the Packers.

6. As stated before, the Redskins still have holes. Considering how flawed the roster has been for several seasons, how could they not? But all of those problems can't be fixed with a single draft, even if every single drafted player exceeds expectations. The goal is to build a consistent winner.

It's important not to overreact to a few wins or losses here or there. Yes, the Redskins are a better team than last year. But no, Grossman or Beck probably are not good enough to lead them to the playoffs. Not much has changed besides the Redskins pulling out an unexpected win or two. It's not time to change course or overreact and make a hasty trade (like what the Raiders probably did by acquiring Carson Palmer).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Updating the O's GM candidates list

According to The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck, the Orioles have updated the names on their general manager wish list. That list includes:
. . . Arizona Diamondbacks senior vice president for scouting and player development Jerry DiPoto, Texas Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine, Toronto Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, Florida Marlins assistant GM Dan Jennings, Los Angeles Dodgers assistant GM De Jon Watson, Detroit Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, Los Angeles Angels executive and former GM Tony Reagins and Dodgers assistant GM Logan White.
MASN's Roch Kubatko added two other notes: that "Josh Byrnes (Padres) no longer is being considered at this time"; and that "Orioles are interested in Gerry Hunsicker (Rays), but they're convinced that he'll stay in Tampa Bay."

Other noteworthy Orioles items:

- Scouting director Joe Jordan has left the organization to be the Philadelphia Phillies' director of player development.

- John Stockstill, the O's director of player development, will return next season (via Kubatko's link).

- And, according to Buck Showalter (via Schmuck), there won't be many changes to his coaching staff

Sunday, October 9, 2011

MacPhail steps down, so what now?

The Orioles have announced that Andy MacPhail is leaving the organization and that he will not return as president of baseball operations. It was speculated for months that MacPhail would not return, and now it's official. Another popular rumor was that Buck Showalter would leave his managerial position to take over for MacPhail either as general manager or in another front office role, but Showalter will still be the team's manager next season.

According to Roch Kubatko, here are some candidates to replace MacPhail:
It's impossible to know every name that's been discussed and debated. I've floated a few, such as Marlins assistant general manager Dan Jennings and Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava.

The Sun's Dan Connolly recently expanded the list to include Jerry Dipoto (Diamondbacks senior VP), Gerry Hunsicker (Rays senior VP), former Orioles executives Wayne Krivsky and Scott Proefrock (Phillies assistant GM), Damon Oppenheimer (Yankees scouting director), A.J. Preller (Rangers senior director of player personnel), former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi (Mets special assistant) and Scott Servais (Rangers senior director of player development.)

. . . Also, director of baseball operations Matt Klentak is regarded as an executive who will be a valuable asset to MacPhail's replacement. He's not currently seen as a candidate for the position, but his time is approaching.
MacPhail had his moments, but in the end he couldn't do enough to turn the organization around. The next GM (or president of baseball operations) will need to identify what the organization has done wrong when drafting, developing, and coaching minor league talent. The O's are in an extremely difficult position in the AL East and have to play tough competition year in and year out, but they also don't do themselves any favors by not developing a better group of young players, both through the draft and international scouting. Hopefully the next GM has some ideas on how to rectify those problems.

It's also worth wondering how much power the team's next GM will have. With Showalter still around, will he be the guy wielding the most power? Peter Schmuck thinks so:
There are all sorts of possibilities, but since both Angelos and Showalter are old-school personalities, it's fair to assume they won't be writing the script for the "Moneyball" sequel. If Showalter does not change his mind and unexpectedly jump upstairs, the next GM — or president of baseball operations — will likely be someone with whom he shares some history and someone who will fit into the Angelos comfort zone.

In other words, it will likely be an established fellow with some front office political skills and player-development experience rather than some twentysomething Ivy Leaguer carrying a spreadsheet and a cup of Starbucks into every meeting.
Again, that's all Schmuck's speculation, but it's possible considering how well Angelos and Showalter seem to get along. With Showalter likely to stick around next season and beyond, the O's aren't going to bring in someone that he won't be able to work with. Still, I'd like for the O's to be flexible and hire the best person for the position, not the guy most willing to agree with all of Showalter's opinions.

I like Showalter -- maybe not as much as when he first joined the O's -- but I'm not quite sure I want him to be the guy calling most of the shots for the organization. Still, Showalter does seem interested in the organization's young talent, and if he's committed to figuring out why most of the team's top prospects seem to fail when they join the major league club, then I guess it's fine if he needs to co-sign on whoever replaces MacPhail.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Facing important decisions, O's moving slowly

I've had a couple of people ask me what I think the Orioles will do this offseason, and I honestly have no idea. They could go big and sign a few free agents, they could add a couple of pitchers and a hitter or two, or maybe they will target a few low-priced, underappreciated players and hope they outperform expectations. But, really, the first step to the O's making any of those decisions is figuring out who the guy calling the shots is going to be, and there still seems to be some confusion over whether Andy MacPhail is going to return or if Buck Showalter will leave the dugout to take a front office position.

Like the rest of us, Peter Schmuck continues to wait:
Until there is a detemination on both fronts, it's hard to do more than speculate about the eventual composition and hierarchy in the Warehouse. MacPhail had given every indication that he would not remain after his contract expires at the end of this month, but the fact that he and the club have not made a quick announcement clearly indicates that Angelos wants him to stay connected to the club in some capacity. If he does, then it seems more likely that Showalter will remain in the dugout.
I like MacPhail and Showalter, but I'm not quite sure if I want either of them as the team's general manager (or president of baseball operations, or whatever). In MacPhail's case, I think he's done a decent job in his O's tenure, but I don't think he's taken enough chances. He's made a few solid trades, but there have also been some signings (Michael Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, and Vladimir Guerrero to name a few) that didn't make much sense and didn't have much of a chance of working out.

This decision is extremely important, mostly because the O's are faced with the difficult task of finding out exactly why so many of their top minor league players keep failing at the major league level. Matt Wieters and Zach Britton may have turned the corner, but what about Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Josh Bell, and Nolan Reimold? And those are just some names from the last few years; there have been dozens of talented players to come through the O's farm system who haven't gotten the job done. Is it a scouting thing? A coaching thing? It's probably a combination of both, but whatever the issue is, the O's need to eventually sort it out.

If the O's are ever going to be competitive again in the AL East, they'll need lots of contributions from their farm system, particularly their top prospects. Someone from outside the organization may view the team's problems differently than MacPhail or Showalter, but he'd also have to deal with Peter Angelos. And that's certainly no easy task.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Redskins face their first must-win against Rams

Heading into the season, most people figured the Redskins (2-1) would be an average to below-average team. I can recall only one analyst (NFL Network's Michael Lombardi) picking them to make the playoffs, and, predictably, he faced lots of criticism for doing so. Then the season started and the Redskins won their first two games.

Were they overly impressive wins? That's hard to tell, considering it's so difficult to accurately judge teams so early in the season. They beat an injury-depleted Giants team 28-14 in Week 1 and looked decent, though they needed an interception return by rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to seize the lead in the third quarter and take control of the game for good. In Week 2 against the Cardinals, the Redskins again looked decent, racking up 455 yards of total offense and rushing for 172 yards. But they were also down 21-13 late in the fourth quarter and needed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on a fourth down play and a crucial 34-yard Graham Gano field goal to pull out the 22-21 victory.

Last week's 18-16 loss to the Cowboys on Monday, which the Redskins could have won if they had taken advantage of several opportunities throughout the game, was more of a typical Redskins game. But fans are well accustomed to those kinds of ugly, underwhelming performances, particularly on Sunday or Monday night games.

The Cowboys and Giants are both 2-1, and the Cardinals are 1-2. But no one has a handle on exactly how good those teams are just yet -- just like the Redskins.

So how bad are the 0-3 Rams? They've lost by double digits in all three of their games, but they've also faced some strong competition in the Eagles, Giants, and Ravens. But if the Redskins are truly a decent team, they'll go to St. Louis and beat a winless team, which would put them at 3-1 going into their bye week.

To prove the critics wrong and actually have a chance at a 9-7 or a 10-6 season, the Redskins must throw everything they have at the Rams and win this game. Essentially, it's a "kitchen sink" game for them. Not only would it be awful to lose going into a bye week, but if they do lose, there will be two weeks of negative talk about the team, focusing on all the things this team hasn't done and trying to come up with answers even if there aren't any. If Rex Grossman has a bad game against the Rams, I also expect a ton of talk about benching him in favor of John Beck. Whether or not that actually happens is another thing, but no one would be surprised to see Beck get a chance if the Redskins struggle in yet another important game. No one thought that Mike Shanahan would bench a healthy Donovan McNabb in favor of Grossman last season, so going from Grossman to Beck wouldn't that surprising of a move.

With a loss, all of the positives surrounding the 2-0 start will disappear. That means, basically, it would be another long, Redskins-like season. The Redskins have shown flashes, particularly on defense, of being an improved team. And after a disappointing loss to the Cowboys, they need to score early and often against a bad, wounded team. Anything less would be, well, expected.