Adam Jones and Buck Showalter share a unique player-manager relationship on a Baltimore Orioles team that has used 47 players this season. / Joy R. Absalon, USA TODAY Sports
BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles spent their holiday weekend making two trades.
That finished off a week in which the team with the biggest division lead in baseball recalled four players from the minors, sent three down and dropped two more from their 40-man roster â?? all while two members of their starting rotation were technically in the minor leagues.
Oh, and they won two more series in a season that's putting to rest any notion an unlikely run to the playoffs two years ago was some kind of fluke.
This is what the Orioles do, and how they've re-emerged as a force on the field.
"We get up in the morning and say, 'Who can help us win and how can they fit into the team concept?'" says manager Buck Showalter.
Don't believe Buck. The machinations for what the Orioles are going to do today were underway last night, maybe sooner. And it usually involves who's on the roster as much as what they do on the field.
This week's moves pushed the Orioles past 120 transactions since opening day.
Yet, while the revolving door and roster churn keeps things fresh and creates a meritocracy at the organization's highest level, the Orioles would not be 79-57 and holding an 8 1/2 game lead in the American League East without some constants.
One is All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, their only position player signed beyond 2015.
The other is Showalter, who upon arriving in July 2010 challenged Jones to help shift the mind-set in Baltimore - then surrounded him with like-minded talent to make it happen.
"The mentality of the roster has changed," says Jones, 29. "The accountability, the way we play the game. We play it hard. We play it fearless. We play it with a passion. (Showalter) is just looking for guys who want to win, who are selfless."
But those types of players must come in all roles for the Orioles to succeed.
For every Jones, there's a Steve Pearce, a well-traveled utility player whose .885 on-base-plus-slugging percentage leads the team.
For every Manny Machado, there's a Caleb Joseph, a 28-year-old rookie who became the primary catcher after All-Star Matt Wieters had season-ending elbow surgery.
And for a mid-market organization that prefers limiting long-term contract liabilities, Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette must use every opening.
At some point this season, four of the team's primary six starting pitchers - Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman â?? were sent to the minor leagues to fill short-term roster needs.
Chen and Gausman were in the minors last week because the Orioles used a loophole â?? likely to be closed by Major League Baseball next season â?? that dodges the usual 10 days an optioned player must spend in the minors if the minor league team's season ends before the 10 days are up.
Players in the organization have become accustomed to the process, so much so that first baseman Pearce took the team's word on a complex series of moves this season that left his $850,000 salary -- the 31-year-old's career-best payday - in limbo for 48 hours.
"They stay true to their word," says Pearce, who rejected a waiver claim from the Toronto Blue Jays during those two days between being released and re-signed, no small leap of faith for a player who had never received more than 188 plate appearances in parts of seven major league seasons.
The arrangement turned out splendidly for both parties: Pearce has filled in ably at four positions and received a career-best 314 plate appearances.
"That's why I love it here," Pearce says. "They're not afraid to call people up, to give people opportunities. As a player, that's all you can hope for."
Last weekend's additions of outfielder Alejandro de Aza from the Chicago White Sox and infielder Kelly Johnson from the Boston Red Sox â?? just in time for them to be eligible for the postseason roster â?? pushed the number of players used by this year's Orioles to 47.
In their breakthrough 2012 season, the Orioles used 52 players and made a head-spinning 178 roster moves.
This year's team is on pace to top the 93 victories of that team, and there's another element - be it baseball karma or merely belief - that's back.
Seeing is believing
The Orioles' 27 one-run victories this year are the most in the AL and two short of their 2012 total, when they were 29-9. They're 12-5 in extra innings, not approaching their off-the-charts 16-2 in 2012 but still best in the majors again.
The 2012 numbers were a mirage that couldn't be maintained, said the critics. And the naysayers had their "a-ha" moment last year when Baltimore was 20-31 in one-run games and 8-7 in extra innings yet still won 85 games.
The Orioles just kept on churning â?? a description that applies to the effort as well as the roster â?? and Jones thinks 2013 was a crucial part of the process.
"I really started believing it last year," he said. "You know, we can play with all these teams."
Showalter saw it in 2012, when the club "didn't excuse losing," as he recalls.
This year, with Wieters and third baseman Machado out for the season with injuries, with first baseman Chris Davis more than 300 points of OPS down from his 53-homer 2013, the Orioles have the second-best record in baseball.
"No one is surprised by us now," Jones says. "People know when we're coming to town."
Jones was envisioned as centerpiece of a rebuilding effort and has delivered, earning four All-Star berths and winning three Gold Gloves. He noticed expectations rise when Showalter arrived in 2010, taking over a team completing its 13th consecutive losing season.
"He's always watching," Jones said then. "It's like he's got 10 eyes. He keeps you on your toes."
As Showalter sat in his new office a few days after being hired, a longtime member of the Orioles family stuck his head in the door and wondered aloud how the new manager would get along with his animated, often-brash young center fielder.
Showalter seized an important opportunity. He sat Jones down and said: "Adam, here's my problem. You're one of my best players. I need your words to carry weight in the clubhouse. But if you don't play like your words, it's going to be, 'Do as I say, not as I do.' You don't play right, I might as well just go back to ESPN."
The Orioles have other key veterans, including shortstop J.J. Hardy and right fielder Nick Markakis, but Showalter saw his vocal, emerging young star as crucial to a culture change.
"It's humbling," Jones says of the message he heard. "You think of baseball, it's all fun and games. Then the seriousness kicks in and I took it by the horns because that's all everyone wants to do, be a leader. I've loved that ever since that day."
It has become a mutual admiration society between a manager who has gotten exactly what he wants and a player who has missed just two games since the beginning of 2012.
"Since that day, there is nobody in this game on all 30 teams who has played the game as hard as he plays it every day win, lose or draw," Showalter says.
"He gets a lot of cache because of the way he plays. There's a trust involved there. Adam's an open book. He says some things, you think about what he said, he was exactly right. He's sincere. He'll listen to me rant about something and he'll start chuckling. I have to cover my face a lot during the game because he makes me pee my pants."
While the Orioles haven't had to get by without Jones, this year has shown no loss is too big. Machado's season started late and ended early thanks to surgeries on each knee.
Wieters, long a part of the team's core, needed Tommy John surgery and gave way to Joseph, who spent seven seasons in the minors - including four at Class AA - while watching others bypass him.
"All they said was, 'You control the staff, take care of the game and do your best defensively to impact the game,' " Joseph says.
Opportunity is just what Showalter and Duquette are selling.
"People remember there's a loyalty," Showalter says, "but it's not a blind loyalty."
Showalter enthusiastically stalks around his office pointing to the big board on the wall with the name and age of every player in the organization. He rattles off facts and opinions on just about every minor leaguer, points to color-coded dots that indicate his personal feelings about a player's chances of eventually helping the major league club.
He knew all about Joseph because of former Orioles player and current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson.
"I can't tell you how many times he told me, "Buck, this Caleb Joseph guy, be careful. One common denominator is that every pitcher I talk to loves throwing to him.' " Showalter says. "Which means he cares."
There's Showalter's common denominator.
Ask about Joseph or Pearce or utility man Ryan Flaherty and the manager's response is simple:
"That's a guy."
Translation: Will he fit in the selfless culture Jones describes and, with his teammates, demands?
"If a guy doesn't care what his teammates think, that's not strike one or two, that's three," Showalter says. "If they don't care about pleasing their teammates, they sure as hell don't care about pleasing me."
That's how Baltimore ends up with Pearce, who played with three teams â?? including two separate stretches each with the Orioles and New York Yankees â?? in 2012; or how utilityman Jimmy Paredes gets a surprise call-up last week after changing organizations four times in the past 10 months.
"I don't really care how everybody else evaluates them," Showalter says. "Can you bring what our need is? Can we count on it?"
The requirements are relatively simple.
"It's not trying to re-invent the wheel," Showalter says. "Cal (Ripken) used to talk about it all the time. It's about being brilliant in the basics."
Management and players continue to fine-tune the process and the results.
And that part has carried over to fans embracing one of Showalter's first stated goals after taking over, of returning the Orioles to relevance in their own town.
He already has spent more time there than in any of his three other managing jobs. Here, it's the players who change â?? as often as necessary and sometimes at a dizzying pace. Only Jones, Markakis, Wieters and pitcher Brian Matusz remain from Showalter's first day on the job.
Yet, Showalter says, "There's an identity. I get Baltimore. Baltimore gets me. It's a blue collar, it's a passion. It's sincere.
"God bless the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, the Dodgers, whoever's spending all the money. This is more fun."â??
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Read the original story: Churn and burn: Orioles buck convention to dominate AL