There they stood, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and manager Buck Showalter, conversing on the carefully manicured grass, the bright sunshine reflecting off the pair, and for a moment evoking an image commonplace this spring.
The usually reserved MacPhail was a constant fixture on the backfields of the newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium complex, jovially watching Showalter -- the shiny new manager who staged a turnaround in the final two months of the 2010 season -- reside over an exuberant Orioles squad buoyed by several offseason acquisitions and banking on its young arms.
But this is not Spring Training, it's an afternoon on the heels of another loss, and the Orioles' sunny disposition -- which saw the club ride out to a 6-1 start to the season -- has long faded away and morphed into a 14th consecutive losing season.
MacPhail's contract expires at the end of the season, and he has remained tight-lipped about his future in Baltimore, choosing not to address the widespread speculation of what his role will be after this season. Even when principal owner Peter Angelos told the Baltimore Sun this spring that MacPhail "isn't going anywhere," MacPhail did not echo a similar endorsement and remains quiet on the subject as the season winds down.
"We will have to see how events unfold," MacPhail said from the visitors' dugout in Anaheim on Saturday when asked about his future. "Eventually I know I'm going to have to talk about it. Just not now."
But with the Orioles' continued backslide -- in a season the club was hoping to see marked improvement -- it's becoming tough to avoid the subject. Both MacPhail and scouting director Joe Jordan's contracts are set to expire, and there have been whispers that Showalter could move upstairs to a front-office role ... a change that would have a ripple effect elsewhere.
"Andy's my boss and he's a good one," said Showalter, who maintains his focus remains on managing, a role he is signed on for through 2013. "[Being a general manager] is a very demanding job. Look at the hours and time Andy puts in. They are all tougher jobs than you may think they are on the surface, until you walk a mile in a man's shoes. So, I have a lot of respect for everybody's job, whether it be a scouting director, GM or farm director.
"Look, Mr. Angelos owns our team. It's what he decides, and he's been very supportive and receptive of any ideas. But I haven't really presented a lot of concrete ones, yet."
While Showalter's hiring last August carried with it questions of his reputation for being controlling, his relationship with MacPhail has, by all accounts, been a solid one in the wake of a revolving roster patched together to help cover for a rash of injuries and a startling lack of depth.
"I don't think there are any issues in that regard," MacPhail, who was hired by Angelos on June 20, 2007, said of working with Showalter.
"I'm not sure we are the odd tandem that people make us out to be. We have different personalities, but we really don't see what transpires on the field very differently at all. Honestly, I can't think of a single occasion, there might be one or two, where I would do things dramatically different or he would do things dramatically different from me. By and large, that's really not an issue."
Neither is the reported burgeoning relationship between Angelos and Showalter, one that the Orioles manager attests is blown out of proportion and MacPhail says he has zero issue with.
"Show me the general manager that prohibits his owner from talking to someone in this organization," MacPhail said. "Why would you do that? Every manager talks to the owner. I think it's an important thing. It would be like Buck telling me that I can't talk to [Minor League infield coordinator] Bobby Dickerson about infielders or talk to [hitting coach Jim] Presley about our hitters. ... It's goofy."
"There's nothing more unattractive to me than someone who has an ear and abuses it," said Showalter, who estimates he touches base with Angelos about once a month and will sit down with the Orioles owner again at the end of the season. "I'm not going to do that. We've got some good people here, and I listen.
"I'm the manager of the baseball team. That's what they hired me to come in and do. I'm going to manage as hard as I can. We've had some good things happen and some challenging things happen. Some of it has been self-inflicted. And when the year is over, we will see how everything sorts out."
How it plays out, right now, is anyone's guess. Beyond the front office, there are also questions surrounding the team's coaching staff, which is without a permanent bullpen coach after Mark Connor's resignation promoted Rick Adair to pitching coach, and saw the role of originally scheduled third-base coach John Russell and bench coach Willie Randolph flip midway through the season. That all depends on the fate of Showalter and MacPhail.
"It's disappointing in two respects," MacPhail said of the disheartening season. "The first is the amount of players we've had hurt and for the duration.
"But the second thing, which is more unique to us, is our guys have a hard time sustaining a level of performance. Some of our guys, I should say. They show you something for two months, and then they will fall way off that. And you will see a flash again. It's hard to evaluate, really, what's real and what isn't."
"There's a lot of stuff that I've been exposed to that I wasn't aware of," said Showalter, who estimates his knowledge of the organization has increased two-fold since his hiring last year. "I guarantee you there's some people here that no one's talking about that are going to be players. But there's a lot more to it than that. The bottom line in just about all these jobs is evaluating people and players and talent in about that order.
"A lot of things have to fall right, I don't care what your payroll is. But we're not going to be able to do this without everybody pulling, whether it be the farm system, scouting. We got to have it all in place."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.