I’m guessing that Peter Angelos and Andy MacPhail are probably two of the biggest Ravens fans in town these days. Although it’s been speculated that the two clubs have enjoyed a somewhat frosty relationship in the past, the O’s have been doing more to reach out to their next-door neighbors in the past few seasons. But moreover, as it pertains to this particular football season, and coincidentally baseball free agency season too, the more attention that the Ravens can draw away from the O’s in the headlines and the local consciousness, the better for the Orioles.
Although their 2008 season went off much as expected, there were enough bright spots on the Orioles this season to make the fans hopeful for the future. The budding fruits of the Eric Bedard deal, the growing legend that is Matt Wieters, and the resurgent offense of this year’s club have done enough to excite the fans about the future, and to make this feel like a critical off season in Baltimore. Even before all of the above came to light, Orioles fans had already been looking to this off-season as a big one. The inevitable off-season when the O’s would have their chance to make a run at bringing homegrown superstar Mark Teixeira into the employment of the team that he cheered for as a kid.
So with free agency in it’s early stages and Teixeira clearly positioned as the prize of the free agent market, the O’s are absolutely at a public relations crossroads. Installing new scoreboards, restoring Baltimore to the road jerseys and broadcasting more games in HD are all steps in the right direction, but all are low risk options. They certainly improve the product of Oriole baseball, but they do nothing for the on field product.
Now it’s time to navigate the dangerous and costly waters of free agency and hot stove baseball. Here the stakes are substantially higher, and the opportunities for failure, even potential disaster are much greater when big money contracts are on the line.
On the surface, Teixeira looks like a “can’t miss” proposition. But you certainly don’t need me to list the big time, “can’t miss” free agents that haven’t lived up to expectations. A list that might be tougher to make however would be a list of the big money free agents who went on to lead their teams to championships. If you consider that in recent years, free agents have been mostly “pilers on”, it makes the prospect of signing them that much scarier. When you consider all of the big time free agents who have jumped on to playoff caliber teams just recently, yet never got those teams to a world championship, it’s a wonder teams continue to try to build this way.
Although recent history shows that you can, and probably should look to contend by building through the draft and developing your own young talent, the prospect of signing a player the caliber of Mark Teixeira is often too much to resist. Especially when despite all of the small market success stories, and low budget contenders in MLB, the free spending Yankees and Red Sox have run roughshod over the AL East for a decade until Tampa found some magic this season. And although those two clubs have come up short more often than not overall in the last decade, they’ve certainly been a major roadblock to the playoffs for the rest of the division.
The other big difference between the Yankees, Red Sox and a select few others, and the vast majority of Major League Baseball is that a few bad contracts, even really big ones, won’t hamstring their payroll for years to come like it would for most clubs. Trying to spend freely like the big boys has thrown many franchises into spirals that have taken years to recover from.
Signing Teixeira could be great for PR, but little else in my opinion. The O’s were not lacking in offense last season, and although Teixeira would certainly be an upgrade to the lineup, I doubt that he’d have as much impact on the win column as a solid defensive shortstop and a few legitimate starting pitchers. The O’s it seems, have a number of pressing needs, and while first base is one of them, throwing $20 million + to Teixeira despite all of the other obvious needs of this team would be a huge oversight on the part of the front office.
If the O’s want to look at Teixeira, they should look at the difference between what the Braves gave up to get him, with a season and a half remaining on his contract, and what they got in return for him with just a half season remaining before free agency. Every day that Brian Roberts remains on this team, without a long-term deal, or even the prospect of one it would seem, the less valuable Roberts becomes to the O’s, or in a potential trade. If the front office wants to make a big signing this week, it ought to be Brian Roberts, to a long-term deal.
If Roberts needs to see more from this team before he feels comfortable signing, then it’s time to ship him out. If he hasn’t gotten that good vibe by now, it’s unlikely he’ll feel it before his own free agency is here. While they’re at it, they should be shopping Aubrey Huff too, his value will likely never be higher than it is right now. With all of the closers on the free agent market, there probably won’t be much offered for Sherrill, so I’d hold on to him for now.
Unless they get some pitching, 9 Teixeira’s won’t be enough to get this team over the hump, and if Teixeira sees it that way too, he’s likely to spurn the O’s offer anyway. As I said, big time free agents tend to be “pilers on”. That’s another slippery slope that the O’s will have to climb. If they put their best foot forward and Teixeira tells them “thanks but no thanks”, it’s be a crushing blow to the team and their fans. After all, if they couldn’t convince him to come here, why would anyone else want to?
Actually, that’s probably the million-dollar question. Why would you want to come to Baltimore now? The upstart Rays are poised for an extended run of contention, the Red Sox are seemingly as strong as ever, with a good young core and money to spend too, and we all know how the Yanks are poised to break the bank. The O’s were looking at contending 2 to 3 years from now, and should probably stay that course. If for no other reason, the division looks to be power packed for the immediate future.
This is probably not the time to change directions and start bagging free agents, and I suspect the front office feels the same. As long as the Ravens keep winning, they’ll keep the fans reasonably distracted until MacPhail can do something with Roberts. Even if the Ravens went into freefall at this point, the O’s interests would be served, as we’d still be distracted by the meltdown. Or should I say distracted from the meltdown? The O’s have been one for quite some time now.
If the O’s do anything this off-season in free agency, I hope it’s to drive up the prices for other teams on big time contracts. They might as well bid it up, no one wants to come here anyway, and so no one will likely call their bluff. Plus, as we all know they’re spending confederate money.