In 1997, Davey Johnson led the Orioles to a first-place finish in the American League East. The team won 98 games and featured a pitching staff with four starters in double-digit wins, a closer who saved 45 games and two future Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar.
Today, the Orioles have no players of such caliber and need only look 40 miles south to find Johnson once again in the Mid-Atlantic area managing the rival Washington Nationals, this time with eyes trained on a National League East title.
It’s been 15 years since the Baltimore Orioles mattered. And unless the team is willing to take some drastic measures, it might be 15 more. And they need to start the process now, as it will take anywhere from 6-10 years to rectify their current problems.
Consider it took the Oakland A’s six sub-.500 years, from 1993-1998, to rebuild their team into the contender that dominated the early 2000s with “The Big Three” of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. It took Tampa Bay 10 years of sub-.500 ball, from 1998-2007, to get it right. They’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years and are arguably the favorites to win the division this year. Certainly the Orioles had better get started soon. Here's a five-point plan for getting the O's back into contention.
1. Commit to the draft
The Orioles have done a good job with their top draft picks the past two years with shortstop Manny Machado (No. 3 overall) in 2010 and right-hander Dylan Bundy (No. 4 overall) in 2011. However, the key will be to draft effectively in the later rounds, just as the Tampa Bay Rays have done. For example, James Shields was a 16th-round pick in 2000 and Matt Moore was an eighth-round pick in 2007.