Perlozzo excited for 2007
Skipper hopes bolstered bullpen can help Orioles improve
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Sam Perlozzo isn't making any promises. Yes, Baltimore's manager knows his team has a long way to go and knows it plays in a tough division. Still, Perlozzo chose to accentuate the positives on Tuesday, when he met the assembled media for a subdued briefing at baseball's Winter Meetings.
Perlozzo had the good fortune to have his interview scheduled at the same time as Tony La Russa -- the manager of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals -- which meant he knew virtually everyone at his table. Unburdened by random questions about the state of the league, Perlozzo got to talk almost exclusively about his team.
"Just like anybody -- any of us -- you learn a little bit," he said of his first full season as manager. "I'm probably a little more sure of what I want to do and how I want to go about some things. I think we'll just try to get done the things that need to be done and not fool around with it [by] trying to make everybody happy.
"The only thing that's going to make us more happy is more wins, and that's what we'll try to do."
The Orioles haven't had a winning record since 1997, and Perlozzo has racked up a 93-124 record as field boss. Part of that record is due to the competition in the top-heavy American League East, but Perlozzo doesn't want to make excuses. The record is what it is, and in his mind, it was a fair representation of his team's talent level.
"I thought we had a lot of things go against us," he said. "We had a lot of injuries and we were short on some talent levels. We didn't have as much depth. We started the season without a true lefty, per se. I think we did a lot of looking at a lot of our talent sooner than we should've, and I think that showed up in the win-loss column."
Perlozzo has two years remaining on his contract, and he's slowly ratcheting up the intensity level. He said the Orioles shouldn't be expected to win the pennant, but they shouldn't be counted out either. Perlozzo wants his team to aim for steady improvement, and a break-even record would probably count as a major sign of progress.
There's no sense of urgency or desperation -- just a much-needed dose of optimism provided by the team's early offseason moves. Baltimore has spent more than $40 million on its bullpen and plans on adding a power bat by the end of the winter. Perlozzo sees those moves as just the beginning in the team's charge back to respectability.
"Up to this point, we've made some moves to get better than we were last year. [And] I think we needed to get better than we were last year," he said. "The bullpen is a start, and the offense is a little bit more. Do I think we need to win the division or anything like that? I don't think so, but I think we need to play better baseball."
Now he'll finally have a hand-picked coaching staff, though, which may ease his transition back to a winning record. Perlozzo coaxed pitching coach Leo Mazzone to join him last year at this time, and this offseason, he added Sammy Mejias and Juan Samuel to his coaching staff. Both Mejias and Samuel speak Spanish as their native language.
And that's a big deal in Baltimore, because several of the team's prominent players are from Latin American countries. The Orioles didn't have any Spanish-speaking coaches last year, but they will from now on.
"It will be a little different, without a doubt," Perlozzo said. "I knew Sammy Mejias for years out in Seattle, and he's a very good outfield coach. He's got a good demeanor with the players [and] a great personality, but he's not afraid to put people in line. ... We have quite a bit of Latin players on the team that I thought needed a presence on our staff.
"And not just a presence, because they're good coaches. We did research on Juan Samuel, and from the people in Detroit, I couldn't find anyone to say anything bad about the guy."
Still, when you get down to it, the major issue is talent. The Orioles will go as far as their young pitchers take them, and Perlozzo's inclined to believe they can take the next step. Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera all showed signs of progress last season -- and if they show some more, the O's may just bounce back to contention.
"As much as I thought we were going to be a little bit better last year in our starters, I feel even more so this year," he said. "If you have good pitching, anything in the game can happen, and I think we're on the verge of that. In that respect, I think we've made tremendous strides. As long as keep doing that, I don't have a problem."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.