The downside of high expectations is the potential for disappointment. It’s a lesson that Baltimore sports fans know all too well. Maybe as Orioles fans we should learn to appreciate that by obliterating our expectations, the team has spared us the possibility of disappointment. After all 2012 was a magical baseball season in Baltimore, mostly because it came out of nowhere; mostly because it came at a point where our expectations as fans had reached their all-time low. Clearly if we had believed going in that the Orioles were a playoff caliber team, if they had given us any reason at all to expect success, then a disappointing flame out in the ALDS would have been nice…but far from magical.
On Monday, the Orioles traded the arguable MVP of the 2012 season for a nondescript middle infielder and a likely disappointment to be named later. The Orioles traded away 101 saves in the last 2 seasons for 1 big save, somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million in 2014.
Now before we get too carried away with the tales of Jim Johnson, departing hero, let’s also remember that Johnson’s 9 blown saves and 8 losses in 2013 on the heels of his playing the goat in the 2012 ALDS had more than worn out his welcome with the fans of the Orioles. The truth of the matter is that the Orioles had to trade Jim Johnson. The unfortunate part of that truth is that they had to trade him 1 year ago, or 7 months from now, not on Monday. The familiar truth of the matter is that other than his $10 million projected salary for 2014, there were no good reasons to trade Jim Johnson when they did, with his value at an all-time low.
Perhaps the rumors were true, and the Orioles will have to live with not parlaying Johnson to the Tigers last year for Rick Porcello, or some other real baseball player. Perhaps Johnson’s overuse by the team was the culprit for his failures at the end of 2012 and throughout 2013, and if the Orioles had paced him better in 2014 there would have been a chance to trade him in June or July for something of value. Perhaps the A’s (notorious for trading closers) are looking to do just that. Undoubtedly, there has never been a worse time to trade Johnson than the time at which the Orioles actually decided to do it, and thus the move serves as little more than a salary dump.
Last off-season was a tough one for Orioles fans to take, as they sat on their hands after giving fans their first taste of contention in a decade and a half. Still it may have been prudent for the Orioles, having seen so many improbable returns on players we weren’t altogether sure about, to give it another season to see if their talent was real. And while 2013 ended short of the playoffs, we did indeed see that the talent on hand was for real (for the most part). Yet here we sit, with plenty of off-season left no doubt, but seemingly on the way to another winter of disappointment.
Jim Johnson, a one time valuable Major League commodity, was traded away for nothing, Matt Wieters another player with substantially diminished value appears to be next, and the likelihood of getting another Adam Jones caliber “home town discount” on an incumbent player in a long-term deal is for now, hopeful at best.
In going “all in” by adding talent during the 2013 season, there was reason to hope that the Orioles had learned a lesson. The Orioles made 3 “major” pitching acquisitions to sure up an undermanned staff in their push for last year’s playoffs. Two of those 3 players could have been signed in the off-season just for the cost of their contracts, without forfeiture of a draft pick and without the need to trade away prospects. After sitting on their hands through the winter of 2012-13 the Orioles paid for their inactivity in prospects.
Boston meanwhile, after a 2012 fire sale filled out their roster with 8 players that anyone could have had in free agency. None of those players got a commitment beyond 3-years, and none cost a draft pick. The Red Sox added those players to a nucleus not much better (if at all) than the one that the Orioles had and walked away with a World Series title (and an extra draft pick if Stephen Drew signs somewhere else) for their efforts.
Maybe the Orioles will put the $10 million they saved in Jim Johnson’s contract to good use and prove my cynicism unfounded. Maybe they’ll hold onto Matt Wieters for long enough to see some of his value return before trading him away. Maybe they’ll lock up a few of their current stars to long-term deals and assure a competitive nucleus while we await the development of “The Cavalry Part II”. But there’s no reason to expect it. Therein lies the strength of the organization.
Those of us who remain loyal to the orange and black do so despite their best efforts to discourage us at every turn. It makes us much happier and more appreciative when they actually do right by us, because we’ve been conditioned not to expect it.
Let’s face it, the Orioles were just bailed out of a contract by the notoriously thrifty Oakland A’s. Talk about an all-time low…