The Orioles have an issue.
It’s not an issue as obvious or as glaring as the 14-year losing streak the team endured throughout the 2000s, but it’s one that may take as much or even more effort to fix.
The team is starting to see its fan base grow restless once again. It’s happening quickly and there are very few ways to stop it. After giving the people what they want – a winning product for two straight years – the franchise has reached a crucial point in its development.
It’s first important to remember that it HAS been two straight years of winning. That gets lost with a lot of people because the O’s weren’t in the postseason in 2013. If you ask many people, including myself, the ’13 squad was actually more talented and performed better than the 2012 group that DID make the playoffs.
Either way, as gears shift towards the 2014 campaign, the franchise is at a time where it can continue the turnaround after a decade and a half of dismal summers. The other option is to prove many doubters correct and start slipping back into the abyss of baseball losers.
Many new fans have been gained over the past two seasons. Call them fair-weather fans, call them bandwagon-jumpers or just call them new to the party. Whatever you refer to them as, the Orioles refer to them as moneymakers. The Orioles see them as dollar signs. The Orioles see them as ways to make a profit. That is, after all, the way it goes with any business, right?
The past week has been unlike anything we’ve ever seen in baseball. The quantity of free-agent signings and trades that have occurred this early into the offseason, a week before the start of the Winter Meetings, is unprecedented. Baseball experts across the country are astonished by it, and even more glaring is the dollar amounts that are being thrown in the direction of players. The market is ballooning right now. Players are signing enormous, lengthy contracts and there’s absolutely nothing stopping teams from offering them. This is the baseball world we live in.
Fans will argue about salary caps and low budget teams not having a fair shot, but truthfully that’s just an uneducated way to look at things.
Being completely uncapped has allowed baseball to be the most parity-filled major sport in America. The NFL, NBA and NHL can’t claim the parity that Major League Baseball has had in the past 20 years. Changing the rules in baseball would cloud the game and make it much less interesting. The way things are set up now is perfect. If you can run a business properly, and keep your books in order, you can run the financial aspect of a baseball team. Surround yourself with the right baseball people and sprinkle in a little luck, and you just might have yourself a winner.
This brings us back to the way things have gone so far this offseason…
Anyone will tell you that Scott Feldman isn’t a pitcher that is worth $30-million over the next three years. But that is the exact contract he signed with the lowly Houston Astros this week. Scott Feldman left the Orioles to go pitch for the Astros because he was offered $10-million a year over the next three seasons. It’s a good gig if you can get it. That’s the type of contract a pitcher like Scott Feldman will see in this market. I’m not saying I agree with it, and I’m not saying you have to, but this is the baseball world we live in.
It’s the same world where the Seattle Mariners can go and spend $240-million on a player like Robinson Cano, likely one of the top-five stars in the game today. The M’s swooped in and paid that much for a player who had spent his whole career with the New York Yankees, the supposed biggest spenders of them all. They can do it because they make money off of fans, just like the ones the Orioles have and just like the ones the Yankees have. The fans that spend their almighty dollar at the park and online to buy hats and merchandise all year. Any team can afford to spend over $200 million on one player. This is the baseball world we live in.
Every team in baseball could’ve gone out and signed either of those players, who are obviously on two totally different spectrums of the free agent market. There is no argument against it, aside from each team’s individual philosophy and style. Every team brings in revenue from a number of different places. The biggest place most people point to is television revenue.
Each MLB team has its own television contract with a local network that brings in millions of dollars to the franchise. While these numbers vary depending on the team, the amounts are so high that they more than cover a great amount of the expenses to operate a franchise. Every team also brings in millions of additional dollars from the national television money that has poured in, and is split evenly among all 30 clubs. What some don’t know is that going into the 2014 season, teams are making around $26 million MORE because of the new national TV deal cut by the league. That’s $26 million EXTRA dollars for every team.
All of this television money is really pointless to talk about when you figure that it’s only a piece of the revenue pie for a MLB club. A recent study by AwfulAnnouncing.com brought up the fact that gate revenue alone could cover the entire payroll for the Red Sox, Cubs, Twins and Yankees. That same report indicated that 2013 gate revenue would cover the payroll of every MLB team when its television cut is added.
There is a lot being said this week about how the Orioles franchise is run as a business. Questions are being raised as to why the team’s finances aren’t on full display. Without a salary cap in baseball, that type of thing can stay hidden and locked away. You may never know how much a team has to spend or is actually willing to spend for on-the-field product.
The biggest excuse used by Orioles brass over the years is the size of the Baltimore market. For some reason, the O’s can’t spend as much on free agents as Boston, New York, Texas, Philadelphia and Detroit. For some reason, the Baltimore market isn’t conducive to spending like the teams in those cities.
Isn’t it time to start wondering why Baltimore is being labeled as a lesser market?
Is it a lesser market than Houston, which just paid $30 million to a very mediocre pitcher? Is it a lesser market than Seattle, which just coughed up $240 million for one of the best players in the game?
I find all of this hard to believe.
There have been two big questions for Orioles fans over the past week. The first one is “why aren’t the Orioles going out and spending money on any of these free agents?” The answer to me is really quite simple – they don’t have to. Why spend money when you don’t have to?
The second question is “who are all of these guys the team IS signing and why have I never heard of them before?” The answer to that one is pretty simply as well. You haven’t heard of players like Edgmer Escalona, Cord Phelps, Johnny Monell, Jemile Weeks, Ryan Webb and Francisco Peguero because none of them are very good. One or two of those names may have just caught you off guard because you hadn’t even heard that the O’s acquired them this offseason. None of these players cost much money on the open market. None of them have the appeal of Robinson Cano. None of them even have the appeal of Scott Feldman, which says a lot.
Fans can be upset that the team traded Jim Johnson or elected not to pay players like Scott Feldman and Nate McLouth, but that’s really not going to get them anywhere. What fans should really question is why the team decides not to spend in free agency. The fans should question what the motives of the franchise are and what direction is it heading.
Let’s be honest, sometimes spending lots of money in free agency doesn’t work. Look at last year’s Toronto Blue Jays or Los Angeles Angels as a clear example. Remember too that the team that seems to spend the most of any, the Yankees, have one World Series title in the last ten years. They don’t win it every year. That point about parity in baseball still holds true.
Questioning the team for being mostly absent during the past week, when it seemed like every other team was doing something to improve their club, is fair. To make it really fair though, patience must be exercised at least through next week’s Winter Meetings. That’s when things tend to happen most of the time, not in the unprecedented week we’ve just witnessed.
The Orioles’ issue is a restless fan base. There’s really only one way to calm the fears of the uneasy. The answer doesn’t have to be to go out and spend boatloads of money. But if that’s the road the team decides to travel down, a boatload of wins have to be waiting at the end of the path.
That would be the best, and really the only way to reward the fans that follow down the journey that 2014 brings.