The news is hardly unexpected but still brings a state of flux to an organization in the midst of 14 consecutive losing seasons. There have been rumors that manager Buck Showalter, who was hired last August, would be the candidate to replace MacPhail and move upstairs. However, he has declined comment on the matter, and there remains growing speculation that Angelos will hire another seasoned general manager/president with a baseball pedigree similar to MacPhail's.
Whatever does happen, Showalter will have some input, as he has a strong working relationship with Angelos and has a strong understanding of the critical juncture the organization finds itself in as its Minor League and player development system has recently come under some scrutiny.
Introduced on June 20, 2007, as the Orioles' president of baseball operations, MacPhail became familiar with Angelos when the two worked together on labor negotiations in 2002 and '06, and the consensus around the hire was that Angelos would step back and hand over the reins to MacPhail. Bullish on the necessity to have homegrown starters and rebuild a farm system in dire straits, MacPhail orchestrated a pair of trades in his first offseason that continues to pay dividends, sending Miguel Tejada to Houston for Luke Scott, Mike Costanzo and pitchers Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate and Matt Albers. He also shipped Erik Bedard to Seattle for five prospects: outfielder Adam Jones and pitchers George Sherrill, Chris Tillman, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio.
Known to be patient and incredibly close to the vest, MacPhail fared much better on the trade market (J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds) than in free agency (Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero). MacPhail's midseason deal to acquire a pair of 25-year-olds -- pitcher Tommy Hunter and first baseman Chris Davis -- in exchange for Koji Uehara was more indicative of his trade history, although Uehara -- who was the organization's first Japanese-born signing -- provided a valuable late-inning arm and was one of the best signings under MacPhail's tenure.
The mantra of "grow the arms, buy the bats" placed an emphasis on building and therefore on the Draft and Minor League system. Although the Orioles selected and signed the likes of lefty Brian Matusz and catcher Matt Wieters, who was not selected under MacPhail but was signed by him, they are still behind the rest of the division in terms of depth and quality in the upper levels.
That hasn't always been the case, as the 2009 and '10 seasons saw the graduation of pitchers David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Matusz and Tillman lending credence that MacPhail's reliance on the young arms would start to pay dividends at the Major League level. But that group has struggled mightily, with Berken and Bergesen moving to the bullpen, Tillman still floundering at Triple-A and Matusz turning in the highest ERA this season of any Major League starter in modern baseball history. Rookie Zach Britton, the last of the young "cavalry" of arms, has had an erratic first season, but remains a candidate for next year's rotation, while Hernandez was dealt to Arizona for Reynolds and Arrieta had season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur on his pitching elbow.
The starting rotation's struggles, by and large, sunk the Orioles' 2011 season, and MacPhail dealt Uehara and Lee at the Trade Deadline, as well as swapping closer Michael Gonzalez for Rangers reliever Pedro Strop. Gonzalez proved to be a prime example of the Orioles' struggles in free agency as Baltimore doled out a two-year, $12 million guaranteed deal to Gonzalez, who never lived up to expectations with injury and underperformance, prompting this past winter's multiyear deal to Kevin Gregg, who also struggled in his first season as Baltimore's closer.
Still, for all of MacPhail's shortcomings in the free-agency market, he will leave the Orioles organization far better than he found it, as he pushed for the team to streamline spring operations in Sarasota, Fla. -- moving from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- and played a huge part in the newly removed Ed Smith Stadium complex. He also signed Hardy to a three-year extension to shore up that position and acquired Reynolds to help supplement an abysmal 2010 offense. Since '05, the Orioles have spent more money than any other team in their division on the Draft, and -- while their lack of international scouting remains a concern -- there is some top-tier talent in the lower levels of the O's system.
MacPhail dismissed manager Dave Trembley last season and had a much better working relationship with Showalter than many pundits could have predicted, given their opposite natures. Showalter has long professed his allegiance to MacPhail, and both men have attested that they are far more similar than outside perceptions would suggest.
It's unclear what the next professional move will be for MacPhail, who by all indications seriously weighed the offer to return to Baltimore and continue his efforts to bring the organization back to prominence. He is expected to spend some time away from baseball and with his family in the immediate future.