Monday, April 30, 2007

What Happens When You Die?

Despite what your Holy Book of choice tells you, we really don't have any empirical evidence filling us in on what happens when we come unstuck from time (RIP). If it's anything like the decline of a pro-sports team, we ought to consider ourselves lucky that we're kept in the dark.

The Death of a Franchise can come in several forms. Depending on which course is chosen, recovery and resurrection can either come very quickly, or, seemingly, not at all. And there's always suicide (we're looking at you Wayne Huizenga). A sports franchise which doesn't plan ahead for the inevitable, and it is inevitable, sports are cyclical, how quickly you rotate is up to you, is doomed to sport purgatory, endless mediocrity, no championships, cynical fans, all bad for business. The modern day sports franchise has to be ready to pull itself out of the hole once it gets buried.

The Baltimore Sandinistas are coming to the proverbial fork in the road. Many of the clubs star veterans are over 30. The starting pitching staff boasts two starters under 30, but barely, and questions surround the future of Al Maxwell in Baltimore, after one and a half disappointing seasons following his acquisition from Buffalo after looking like a world beater during Buffalo's run to the World Series in season one, when he went 4-0 in the playoffs. Baltimore management had him pegged as the perfect fifth starter and clutch playoff performer, a rise to the occasion type of guy with that extra gear for the frosty months. It didn't work out.

Santiago Concepcion, an Ace if the word has any meaning, went 22-3 this past season, but slowed down in the playoffs. Many are comparing his playoff appearances to Sonny Liston when, in his fights against a young Cassius Clay, he seemed to age before the eyes of the fighting audience. Luckily, help is on the way. Baltimore's farm system, in addition to having super-stud Stephen O'Connor, boasts four other major league projected starting pitchers.

The lineup is in better shape. Several stars are 30+ or approaching 30 fast, and heavy-weight salaries may not be tenable for all. However, of more concern is the fact that help isn't on the way. Aside from young 2B Dustin Burns, a hotshot prospect with an inflated ego and confidence to spare (he demanded mucho dinero upon being drafted, far above what he was slotted for) and workman-like hitting machine 1B Bret Jensen, the farm system might as well be experiencing a famine, plague, and termite infestation all while floating in the middle of the ocean on the last plank of a capsized ship.

Baltimore management find themselves in an odd position. The end is in sight, but it's still a season or two away. There's a clear choice here, make that last push, selling the future for one last roll of the dice or start hedging bets. Don't splurge on player salary, ship a veteran, get a prospect, diminish World Series hopes...but fight another day.

We have to remember that we're talking about Baltimore though. This franchise probably has the sharpest brain trust in the big leagues steering the rig. Knowing them, they probably plan on cheating death a few more times before the curtain drops.

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