Trembley uses Rays as model for O's
Manager thinks Baltimore players will perform better in 2009
LAS VEGAS -- Orioles manager Dave Trembley, former teacher and holder of an advanced degree, isn't above an object lesson. And when people ask him about the Rays and their stunning season, he doesn't see it as his division getting tougher as much as a sign of hope for downtrodden teams around the league.
"I think what it does is it gives everybody an incentive, and it gives everybody a sense of encouragement that there is no one that's above doing things right," said Trembley, who sat down for his media session at the Winter Meetings moments after Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon vacated the seat. "I think the proof in the pudding is what [the Rays] did -- they developed their own players [and] they were patient with them. ... He gave them opportunity, and I think they all grew together as a team. They all got very confident together, and once they tasted what it was like to win, there was no turning back. And I think that's just the way it is with every club. I think it's neat for the game, and I think it's very good for us, because we're starting in a situation where we've got nowhere to go but up."
Trembley didn't mince his words regarding his club's situation, and with good reason. The Orioles have had a losing record for 11 consecutive seasons and reside in the American League East, a collective that includes the reigning league champion as well as perennial powers like the Red Sox and Yankees.
Baltimore operated under a rebuilding philosophy during Trembley's first full season as manager, but this offseason has brought change in the form of ambition to sign A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, two of the hottest properties on the free-agent market. Still, in Trembley's mind, his team's mission won't really change.
"Obviously, I think it's pretty clear what our needs are," he said. "Now we're here, and I think we're getting closer to doing what we have to do to improve the club. It starts with the philosophy that we've tried to establish since Day 1: Pitching and defense. We need to improve our starting pitching and we need to identify who's going to be our everyday shortstop, and I'm confident that either it happens this week or sometime soon after that."
And even if the Orioles aren't able to sign either Burnett or Teixeira, Trembley thinks they'll be better. He's seen his youngsters go through the meat grinder, and he thinks they've either been tenderized or primed for success. He thinks that especially of pitchers Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson, who have experienced their share of struggles.
"I worried about them just as much as I worry about myself, because it's tough to deal with sometimes," Trembley said of his young players and their reaction to adversity. "It's hard. You don't want to see people lose their psyche, and that's why I think makeup is real important. You have to find out about a guy's makeup and whether he can handle it, just like you've got to find out if a guy can handle success. I think it's kind of an equal give-and-take."
Some things haven't changed in his mind. Trembley still wants Liz and Olson to force the team's hand and earn a promotion as opposed to being handed a slot due to a lack of options. And he wants them to state their case in Spring Training and beyond, proving that they've learned from their initial experience at the big league level.
Trembley also addressed his bullpen, which appears to be shaping up as a significant strength. The veteran manager said that he expects to keep Jim Johnson as a late reliever and allow both Chris Ray and George Sherrill to close games at times. But if he had to choose just one relief ace right now, he'd likely go with Sherrill.
"I don't think there will be competition," he said. "I think I'm going to be afforded the luxury of having two guys that have done it. ... Sherrill is the guy who's probably got a leg up on that role, simply because he did it all last year and Chris missed the year. With George doing it for the first time last year and then for a month there missing some time because he got a little tired, I don't think it's inconceivable that we could somehow share that role."
Trembley, a self-admitted baseball junkie, is counting down the days until Spring Training and mentally making lineups in his head. And he's excited to see his team's potential changes, if only as an academic.
"I think what the team is doing is restructuring and placing as much emphasis on quality people as quality Major League players," Trembley said of the immediate future. "I think Baltimore is a unique place with great people. They're blue collar. They love the Orioles. They want to see an honest effort. They want to see a consistent approach. And they want you to tell them the truth, and they want that kind of player representing their team and their city."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.