Up until this year, there had been a trend with the Orioles in the offseason and preseason to have the front office and whatever media was willing to echo their comments talking about how a few key moves would bring winning baseball back to Baltimore.
“We just need to solidify the bullpen,” they might say, and then Mike Gonzalez was signed, or Kevin Gregg. “This team needs proven veteran performers,” they might also say, and then Derrek Lee was signed, or Vladimir Guerrero. Gonzalez had the two key blown saves that led to the 2010 season’s opening up with that 2-16 disaster – though there was much else wrong, to be sure. Gregg… must think positive thoughts.
As for Lee and Guerrero, they largely performed at the plate like any minor league call-up. Guerrero’s continued occupation of the DH and cleanup spot made the team actively worse by forcing Luke Scott into the field and Nolan Reimold to the bench.
The Orioles signed those two veterans to a combined near-$15 million in salary. That was money flushed down the toilet in some futile quest to get to 82 wins, and, as it turned out, seasons that started out with the goal of buying parts to get to 82 wins ended up instead oriented around the goal of avoiding 100 losses.
Whether it was intentional or not, this year’s team did not have that, “Maybe THIS is the year to break the consecutive losing season streak” buzz around them. In fact, not long before the season got underway, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was asked point blank by Eddie Encina of The Baltimore Sun whether he thought this was a .500 or better team, and he said no.
Coming into the organization from so long out of baseball, one thing you might say for Duquette is that he had fresh eyes. He took a look at the roster, and it’s clear that he decided that there is no way the Orioles were one or two pieces away from contention. He swept away some of the dead weight – Matt Angle, Kyle Hudson, we hardly knew ye – and set about tinkering around the margins for small but cost-effective upgrades over recent-vintage Orioles teams.
Some of the offseason moves that really characterize this for Duquette include the trade of a couple of minor leaguers for Dana Eveland, a separate trade for a couple of minor leaguers for Taylor Teagarden, and signings of players like Matt Antonelli, Endy Chavez, Luis Ayala and Wilson Betemit. None of these are moves you look at and think, “That’s it! This is the piece the Orioles need to win.”
Looking at moves only through the lens of whether or not it is the last move to get the Orioles into contention is a mistake. It’s true that in baseball in the present, you need stars and superstars to win, and the Orioles only have Adam Jones and maybe Matt Wieters at that level.
But, you also need guys to play well enough to hold their own for the major league minimum or near it – or at least, that’s what you need if you’re the Orioles. There is probably room to add to the payroll, if it makes sense to do it, but the team can’t buy the best player at every position. They probably can’t buy the Albert Pujols- or Prince Fielder-caliber players at all. Sometimes they are going to have to settle for the best player in a certain cost range and hope they fit into the plan. They need to eventually get their scouting and farm system turned into a well-oiled machine that continually churns out solid players with years of team control.