Orioles fans are up in arms in yet another episode of the Baltimore Orioles offseason. I’m still not sure what everyone expected. They’ve shown this same episode every year for quite a while now. Do these people watch re-runs of TV shows and then get upset that the ending doesn’t change? If they didn’t spend money coming off a playoff birth in 2012, why would they do it now coming off of a 2013 season in which the team regressed to it’s actual talent level?
I get it, people are upset because Peter Angelos still owns the team and Peter Angelos won’t spend a lot of money on it. That shouldn’t stop the Orioles from being a competitive team. The Athletics and Rays do it pretty well, and that’s with a much lower payroll budget than the Orioles have to work with. The real problem isn’t the major league payroll. The real problem is the Orioles don’t make a commitment to developing their own talent the way other mid-small market teams do. They don’t develop talent well, they don’t draft particularly well, they never played the compensation draft picks game, and they don’t spend much money on international free agents either. That is the real problem in the Orioles organization. Most casual fans don’t see that however, and all they see is the team getting on a fluky roll in 2012 and a then following it up with another year where they won more games than they lost. To the casual fan who cares nothing about budgets, service time, and payroll constraints that means it’s time to buy some free agents and go for it. Unfortunately, the Orioles can’t do that.
The current roster is already pushing the budget limits with arbitration raises so there isn’t much room for Dan Duquette to work with. Coupled with a clear players market, any significant upgrades to the team are being priced out of his budget immediately. That leaves him begging at the table for scraps as usual. Why did this happen? Well, simply put, the Orioles do not cost control their MLB roster very well. The organization seems very reluctant to move players that succeed in any capacity until it is too late to get great value in return. They held onto Jim Johnson until he could only bring back Jemile Weeks. They appear set to hold onto Chris Davis and Matt Wieters until they have one year or 0 years remaining until free agency. They’re unwilling to trade Hardy who will be a free agent at the end of this year. They balked at trading pretty much all of their “cavalry” of pitching prospects, including a report that they turned down sending Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz to San Diego for Chase Headley before the 2012 season. Publicly, they seem to believe that Orioles fans cannot deal with seeing players of any value traded away and are not smart enough to see the appeal of doing so. The way they do handle it seems contradictory however. Would fans have been more upset about trading Jim Johnson last offseason for a decent package of prospects or were they more upset about him being moved for the equivalent of a bag of baseballs in an obvious salary dump? I think they would have coped better with the former.
The only real example of the Orioles moving a good player at the appropriate time was Erik Bedard. I’m not going to count it however because the team was terrible and it was such an obvious move to make after his career season that even Jim Bowden would have done it. By the way, that trade worked out pretty well I would say. Since the Orioles refuse to do this, they allow all of their internal players to achieve maximum salaries in arbitration, therefore not getting a ton of surplus value from the roster, and allow themselves very little wiggle room in their payroll. On top of this, the Orioles seem just as reluctant to let players of any value leave the organization before they show that they are completely finished. They have no problem signing their own players to questionable extensions that stick them with the player after they wither away to nothing (see Roberts, Brian; Mora, Melvin; Gibbons, Jay; Markakis, Nick). All of this causes them to rely exclusively on the draft to bring talent into the organization, which puts them at a huge disadvantage compared to other clubs. So what happens? You’re left with a middle payroll mediocre major league team and a bad farm system. This spells long years ahead to me, unless they are willing to change some behaviors fast. If they don’t? Everyone expecting a difference is batshit…