Why The Orioles Control Payroll Costs ???

February 24, 2010 |

Throughout my brief radio career, I’ve made a few distinct observations about Baltimore’s sports fans. Some of these impressions are suited for WNST.net and others are more appropriate for a private conversation, over a couple of cold beers.

Among the most obvious of my observations is that Baltimoreans have been very blunt and sometimes, displayed critical views of the Orioles.

We know the overriding reason for such opinionated outlooks. Everybody knows.

Some people might suggest the Orioles fan base is on it’s last legs. I don’t believe that. We’ve endured an era of losing. In fact, the Baltimore Orioles have played nearly TWO THOUSAND GAMES since concluding their last winning season.

But, people in this city have weathered a legitimate DEPRESSION – yet, they still LOVE baseball.

More than 10,000 people attended a poorly publicized mid-winter event …..
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The initial days of Spring Training are dominating local sports newscasts …..
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Phone lines were CLOGGED with callers as we dissected the team for a couple hours, yesterday …..

Indeed, it’s obvious Baltimore’s sports fans are hungering for baseball season and they’re sharing thoughts, feelings and views. Yeah, that “renewed optimism” I mentioned in yesterday’s blog (The REAL Nick Markakis ….) is alive and well. I dig such interest and hope.

But, expectations are not unrealistic.

For the most part, I’ve found that callers are most interested in seeing the team progress to the next level. And, for the Orioles, such a realization would be something similar to a .500 season. Coupled with a staff of young talent that improves throughout the course of 162 games, I would be very happy with such a feat.

That said, I still have a bad taste in my mouth as I relive a long, long, losing culture. It’s going to take some gratifying success to really remove such horrible memories …..
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I think most fans share my feelings. And, they’ve been very vocal about their discontent. I remember the disgruntled and scorned callers from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Complaints and criticism have been abundant. The rightful digs covered an array of proposed reasons for the Orioles failures, from both on-field and off-field sources.

However, the overriding culprit OR area of fan concern regarded MONEY. Specifically, fans have openly complained about the amount of money devoted to bolstering the roster, via free agency.

While the pleas for a Christmas season shopping frenzy for free agents have been distinct, it’s not something totally independent to the Baltimore market.

Every November, baseball fans author desirous WISH LISTS of available free agents for their respective hometown teams. This widespread phenomenon is not necessarily a Yankee fan thing – Cardinal fan thing – Mariner fan thing …. or Oriole fan thing.

It’s a BASEBALL FAN THING.

We’re all guilty of it.

Yet, for Orioles fans, I think we’re more deliberate and subsequently obsessive, as we salivate over the list of prospective players. That’s what happens when the cupboard is bare, right?

Prior to 2007, I kinda maintained such a mindset. But, the Orioles finally made a move I trusted …..
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I still trust it.

After years of plugging holes with overpriced, but declining free agents, Andy MacPhail has officially changed the philosophy and mission of the Baltimore Orioles.

Part of his methodology regards building the Orioles from the foundation. This process details the development of a core minor-league system, aplenty of prospects and bonafide potential. I agreed with the recipe when MacPhail took over ….. and I agree with it now.

I’ve hoped the Orioles would tread water while replenishing the organization’s prospect pool. In truth, I haven’t really cared if they finish in 3rd or 5th place – so long as the foundation fortifies. I want the organization to strengthen, from within – and add outside components when the time is right.

Without hesitation, I haven’t wavered on my beliefs. And, it took just one conversation, during Monday’s edition of the “Rex & Ray Show,” to reinforce any and every belief that Andy MacPhail and the Orioles have a PLAN for long-term contention in the AL-East.

While discussing the 2010 version of the Tampa Bay Rays, with Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, it dawned on me …..

Perhaps, the Orioles are trying to ensure they don’t become the NEXT Tampa Bay Rays.

After all, if you think Baltimore’s baseball climate is less than tranquil, it could be much frostier, in Tampa, next spring. In fact, the Rays are likely on the verge of an inevitable setback.

While they’re not in danger of pulling a near-foreclosure, like the Marlins’ famous fire sale, the Rays are set to simply allow their two best offensive forces to walk away, following the 2010 season …..
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Perhaps, Andrew Friedman’s hands are tied. The people of Tampa aren’t exactly flocking to Rays games. They rank 11th of 14 American League teams, in home attendance. And, their TV revenue is incidental compared to many franchises.

Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena will most likely play in different uniforms, in 2011. It’s not as if the Rays were ill-prepared or negligent with their finances. Their respective budget is limited, and they made long-term commitments to Evan Longoria and James Shields, before their free agency windows opened.

They can’t pay everyone – when attendance lags and a new ballpark is nowhere in sight.

The Orioles certainly have greater fiscal means than Tampa. They have higher attendance – with a BAD TEAM. They have a superior ballpark. And, they have something the Rays can only dream of …..
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But, having luxuries such as the appeal of Camden Yards and the marketing arm of MASN does not discount fiscal responsibility. I have no doubt the Orioles budgetary outlook forecasts substantial payroll increases between 2010 and 2015, so long as the team continues to develop, as planned.

I don’t foresee Andy MacPhail telling us how much money the team will spend on payroll, beyond President Obama’s first term. Why should he? Things change and the figures are not wriiten in stone. But, they have a plan. And, in all fairness, I don’t see Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Omar Minaya and Ken Williams making such guarantees, either.

If the people of Tampa were more supportive of the Rays organization, the team would probably retain it’s potential free agents. Ironically, the Rays came into existence in the VERY SAME YEAR this Orioles nightmare commenced. Look at both teams, today. The Rays have built an entire organization, from the ground up – in the same period of time the Orioles have taken to nearly hit rock bottom. As much as I support the Orioles of TODAY, this is a fair assessment.

I’ll say something rarely muttered around pro sports …..

THE TAMPA BAY RAYS DESERVE BETTER FROM THEIR FANS. It took a decade to construct a solid, respected AL-East franchise – from nothing more than a blueprint. Mission accomplished. Yet, they’ll now take a step backwards, because of lackluster support. Shame on Tampa – and St. Petersburg.

Carl Crawford will likely have a new address, in 2011 …..
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Carlos Pena will probably be playing elsewhere, too. He’s got an awesome stroke and can anchor a lineup. The Orioles, among other teams, could use his services. Who knows ….. if 2010 brings expected promise, the Orioles could land their legitimate cleanup hitter.

The spirit of this blog really regards fiscal restraint – especially when spending money will make little difference when October rolls around. The Orioles organization is being built with an emphasis on becoming a stable, annual contender. People like asking, “when does the REBUILDING end?” The answer is, “it doesn’t.” The sobering, cold reality of pro sports is seniority is not rewarded with anything more than a pink slip. Franchises always aspire to get younger …..

The Orioles could’ve overpaid for Torii Hunter, following the 2007 season. Many fans were clamoring for it – I remember the calls. He signed a 5 year/$90 million deal with the Angels. It would’ve taken more to bring him here – say, at least, $100 million.

The Orioles could’ve overpaid for Derek Lowe, following the 2008 season. Again, many fans beckoned for it – I took those calls, too. He agreed to a 4 year/$60 million deal with the Braves. Of course, it would’ve taken more to bring him here – probably, $65-$70 million. By the way, the Braves shopped Lowe this off-season. Take notice where he’s still pitching …..

And, the Orioles could’ve overpaid for John Lackey, following the 2009 season. As with the previous examples, many fans wanted this to happen. He ended up with a 5 year/$82.5 million deal with the Red Sox. The Orioles would’ve been required to pay in the neighborhood of $90 million, right?

Yep, the Orioles could be committed to Torii Hunter, Derek Lowe and John Lackey, thru 2012. The team payroll would be $120 million and they wouldn’t win against the Yankees and Red Sox; both rivals would still be stronger. As for Hunter ….. had he joined the Orioles, I guess the Adam Jones deal never materializes. And, how would the likes of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergeson and David Hernandez earn their innings with pricey veterans clogging the staff?

The prospective names were abundant. Torii Hunter, JD Drew, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez (LOL), Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, Derek Lowe, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Johnny Damon and others were available. But, would such signings really help a team that has committed to building from the foundation?

The Orioles and Andy MacPhail are not blameless. They have made mistakes over the last few off-seasons. The Erik Bedard/Adam Jones deal was a blockbuster win, and Miguel Tejada was traded for maximum value. However, the Orioles also missed out on prime talent that ended up being traded for affordable wares …..
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The truth is the Orioles committed to a long term development plan and an expert stewardship, when Andy MacPhail seized daily control of the organization. I’m convinced he knew what he was doing – and that he KNOWS what he is doing. If the team harbors contracts that amount up to totals exceeding $100 million, what will they do when their homegrown talent requires long term deals?

It’s not a reckless gamble to suggest Adam Jones and Brian Matusz will eventually require REAL MONEY for their services. A couple others will, too.

And, lets not kid ourselves, Matt Wieters and Scott Boras are going to bleed the Orioles, in just a few years. Take a quick look at the current events, in Minnesota, with Joe Mauer ….. and he’s represented by the ethical modesty of Ron Shapiro.

The Orioles are not the Yankees ….

The Orioles are not the Red Sox ….

The Orioles are the Tampa Bay Rays – with money.

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