The Baltimore Orioles spent a little over nine million dollars yesterday, not only wisely, but symbolically. The cash spent on the most expensive draft class in Orioles history not only represents the potential growth of the farm system, but the most prudent way to compete on an annual basis with the Yankees and Red Sox. Although sports radio callers and bloggers enjoy harpooning the team for not spending enough money through free agency, it really doesn’t make a lick of sense to try to compete that way in the AL East. Could a few splashy moves over the past 13 seasons made the Orioles a .500 club? Sure. Could it have gotten them into the Wild Card race once or twice? Maybe. Would it have put them on even footing with the Yankees and Red Sox on a consistent basis? No way.
For the Orioles to have a shot at competing with Boston and New York, they must model themselves after Tampa Bay and Minnesota, and I believe spending big money on the draft this year is a positive step in that direction. Brian Matusz and Matt Wieters are great building blocks for the future. The 2010 draft class will have their chance to join them in this process sooner rather than later. We must stop thinking of the Orioles as a “big market” team with a rich owner. Every team has a rich owner. But “big market” teams are built from the ground up…not from free agents down.
Why are Tampa Bay and Minnesota excellent playoff caliber baseball teams? Scouting and drafting-which includes signing the draft picks. Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Denard Span, and Joe Mauer are just a few of the high draft picks that those teams have drafted, signed, and developed over the years to make themselves into the power they are today. The results? 1. Winning 2. In Minnesota’s case, revenue. Joe Mauer was able to receive a contract close to $200 million because his team makes the playoffs and packs the stands every year. They went through some lean years and their ownership was lambasted for not spending money on free agents. Now look at them and try not to be envious of what they have in place.
Odds are that this organization won’t spend over nine million per year on any free agent this off season. The odds are even greater than fans will complain and not want to be bothered hearing about draft picks that may or may not contribute in 3-4 years. It is hard to remain patient as a fan of a team that hasn’t won in seemingly forever, but the reward is there. Just ask the fans in Minnesota who sit in brand new Target Field, watching their first place team, with a payroll now over $100 million, and one of the games best players locked up for the next ten years.
The plan for the Buck Showalter Orioles is a long term one, regardless of how well they play over the remainder of this season. Free agents can be brought in to supplement and add to a young talented roster over the next few years. Our responsibility as fans is not to be envious of the Yankees and Red Sox for having money and great players, but rather focus on the guys in the system who can become the Baltimore version of those stars. Free agency is for the back pages of newspapers and the lead story on ESPN. Championships are won and lost in the draft room. Big checkbooks can help, never more so than on deadline day to sign those very picks.
When the Orioles either don’t enter the Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford sweepstakes, or more appropriately, come up short, remember the nine million spent this August. Buck Showalter’s Yankees came up short going after Greg Maddux in 1993, but were able to point to the millions they spent the previous August in signing their draft picks. The first round selection from that draft? Some guy named Derek Jeter.
It may not be sexy and it may be the farthest thing from instant gratification, but sometimes less truly is more.