An Opening Day Greeting From Andy MacPhail: Competition is “Insurmountable”

April 09, 2010 | Glenn Clark

I was working on Crabs & Beer this morning; celebrating a big Orioles win, preparing for Opening Day, and salivating over the Harborque that is on the way in to the studios at 1550 Hart Rd. when everything came to a screeching halt.

As I was preparing this morning’s “Apologist of the Morning” segment for Drew Forrester, I came across a story written in today’s USA Today by Bob Nightengale. The story is headlined “Parity? Yankees, Red Sox loom large for smaller market teams.”

Like most things Bob Nightengale scribes, it is a pretty good read. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, “pretty good” isn’t the only way I’d describe it. I’d also describe it as particularly “troubling.”

“Troubling” because of a quote in the story from Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail.

“There’s no baseball executive that thinks things should all be even,”

I’m with him there…

“but when payrolls are three times yours, it can become insurmountable.

As some callers this morning attempted to point out…maybe Andy MacPhail wasn’t necessarily talking about the Orioles, but in greater baseball context. Maybe he meant that the Pirates couldn’t necessarily compete with the Cardinals, or the Royals couldn’t compete with the White Sox.

However, in looking at 2009 MLB payrolls (via ESPN.com), I think I know exactly who Andy MacPhail was talking about…

New York Yankees $201,449,289
Baltimore Orioles $67,101,667

Hmm…one of these numbers appears to be almost EXACTLY 1/3 of the other. While there are other teams that are also competing with 1/3 of the payroll of a division competitor (including the Washington Nationals in comparison to the New York Mets); the O’s ARE one of those teams. Andy MacPhail WAS talking about the Orioles.

“Insurmountable.”

On a day that embodies the most hope baseball fans have felt in Baltimore in 10 or more years, the team has let you know that getting competitive is “insurmountable.”

Not “difficult.”

Not “tough.”

Not “something that we will have to diligently work through in a trying offseason.”

“Insurmountable.”

To make sure I fully understood what “insurmountable” means, I visited Dictionary.com to get a full definition. Here’s what I found…

“incapable of being surmounted, passed over, or overcome”

Incapable or being overcome.

Impossible.

On Opening Day 2010-the day that fans in Baltimore WANT to celebrate a new direction, with arguably the best roster the organization has fielded in some 10 years, the team is saying they can’t compete.

On the day fans in Baltimore are donning Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts jerseys and high-fiving friends with the knowledge that baseball relevance is advancing rapidly, the team has said that it is impossible.

Happy Opening Day, Baltimore!

The team has said publicly that the 2010 team will be judged by “wins and losses.” For years, those near the organization have pointed towards 2011 as the year that the team will again be competitive.

In order to do so, most baseball fans believe that the team will need to acquire both one more power bat and one more front of line pitcher.

Players who will or could become free agents this offseason amongst the power bat corner infield crew include Victor Martinez (if he moves to 1B), Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena. Amongst the pitching crew; Javier Vasquez, Cliff Lee, Jorge De La Rosa and Brandon Webb will be available.

Should those players all have solid 2010 seasons, the hitters can be expected to make somewhere in the range of $15 million per season; while the pitchers can be expected to make somewhere in the range of $20 million per season.

Certainly not ALL of those players are going to cash in at that level. But given recent free agent history (which included a 7 year, $120 million deal for Matt Holliday last offseason to STAY with a franchise like the Cards), it will take an average of roughly $35 million for the Orioles to obtain a power hitting corner infielder and a front of the line starting pitcher.

That alone doesn’t guarantee that the team will win the AL East and run to the 2011 World Series; but I don’t think the team will be able to get there without it. For the Orioles to continue to compete beyond that, they would need to be able to retain their own talent; meaning that on top of the money already spent on Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts; they will need to invest future money in Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, etc.

Before I get to far ahead of myself, I have to stop and ask…do you believe that a comment like the one Andy MacPhail made today leads you to believe that the team is willing to spend AT LEAST the $35 million average per season THIS offseason to make the team a REAL contender again?

Or do you believe that a comment like this one sets the team up for a future statement that “we believe we made the team greatly better in 2011, but the lack of balance in baseball has prevented us from actually being able to be competitive?”

I think you know how I feel.

The problem ISN’T that the Orioles have decided that they don’t want to overpay for players. In fact, it’s practically admirable. For every person who walks down the street and says “why do baseball players make so much money while teachers and police officers make so little?”, I AGREE.

Baseball players DO make too much money. Baseball (and all other sports) have become a ridiculous business to a level that is borderline shameful.

I’m personally thankful that they have, as the ridiculous business of sports has allowed a young man from Perry Hall High School like me to make a living doing nothing more than TALKING about sports. But I digress.

The problem facing the Orioles is that if they wish to do the ADMIRABLE thing-and try to limit their spending and encourage others in baseball to do the same thing is that they probably WON’T be able to compete.

The CBA isn’t changing for baseball this offseason. A salary cap isn’t likely to implemented now-or likely anytime in the future; as owners like George Steinbrenner aren’t likely to capitulate to their counterparts, and the MLBPA doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in making the change either.

While limiting salary remains admirable and probably a sounder financial model; it does NOT promote the ability to be competitive with teams who WILL be willing to spend money-like the teams the O’s will need to overtake in the AL East.

If they’re going to choose to do what we believe to be admirable and just NOT compete, they just need to tell us that (as Andy MacPhail has started to do this morning.)

Instead of allowing their bloggers to go on MASNSports.com and talk about how the team is building for 2011, have them go on there and say “it’s a shame we’re never going to be able to compete-but I hope you’ll support the team anyway.”

In fact, hang a banner at Oriole Park at Camden Yards today as fans enter the stadium that says “we know we can’t compete now or in the future.”

Just be honest and upfront about it. There are still fans in Kansas City despite the fact that the Royals have all but admitted that they’re not trying to win; and there would still be fans here in Charm City if the Orioles organization did the same thing.

But the issue is for the family of 4 who has to decide how to spend their money. Should they spend $100 to come out and watch David Hernandez face Dana Eveland tomorrow night at OPACY-thinking that they have a chance to see the players who ultimately made up the team that returned the organization to glory? Or should they take their $100 and head over to 1st Mariner Arena to see the circus, buy a couple t-shirts, and pick up some popcorn?

If that family knew in advance that the organization DIDN’T believe they could compete in the future, wouldn’t it be easier to make the decision to head over to the circus?

No one thinks the Orioles should just blindly throw money at ANY player who becomes available, but it ISN’T unfair to see that the team will NEED to be willing to spend money in order to compete.

It ISN’T “insurmountable.”

But apparently the team thinks so.

I just hope you know that before you decide how to spend your own money.

-G

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