Some Orioles Thoughts as the Winter Meetings Begin

The Baseball Winter Meetings officially begin tomorrow at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL.  You can follow all of the news and rumors at the BSL Message Board here.

Some Orioles thoughts as the Meetings begin:

1) MASN’s Steve Melewski wrote an article yesterday, speaking to the growing impatience of the O’s fan-base.

“So what is Duquette thinking right now? He appears calm and confident that moves are coming, moves that will be met with fan approval. He has promised to reinvest Jim Johnson’s 2014 salary and we all should hold him to that. I think it would be great PR for the club right now for someone to come out and say the O’s are willing to spend $110 or 120 million on players for next year. Increasing the payroll to that level seems reasonable to me.”

I’m in full agreement with Melewski here. The O’s should be held to reinvesting Johnson’s 2014 salary into the O’s 2014 payroll. I don’t think there is much question that they will. We’ve argued previously that the O’s 2014 payroll should be at the $115M level. Without even discussing the revenue of MASN, the O’s (and every other MLB team) will be enjoying the benefits of the new 2014 National TV Contracts.

At some point, hopefully we will see the Orioles asked on the record about that additional National TV revenue, and why it does not appear that revenue will be directly rolled into the 2014 payroll.

2) Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette had interviews this week with MASN’s Melewski (which you can read here), and Roch Kubatko (which you can read here).

Duquette’s commented,“I don’t think, frankly, it’s productive to talk about payroll. I don’t think the fans want to hear about it. I really don’t. We have enough resources here to field a competitive team. We’ve done that the last couple years and we plan on doing it again next year.”

Duquette has made similar statements numerous times, and I continue to disagree. It is just not accurate. Fans will no longer be interested in discussing payroll, when salary issues no longer impact the construction of the roster. I don’t see that ever changing, so fans will continue to be interested.

Beyond that, I found Duquette to pretty forthcoming in his comments to MASN. To me, it seems pretty apparent that the O’s have a $100M budget for 2014.

Is Duquette under orders to reduce the payroll?

“We’re not reducing our payroll,” he said. “The payroll was $82 million at the end of 2012 season, and last year it was over $95 million, so our payroll will be upwards of that this year. If somebody believes that the team is reducing the payroll, the team isn’t reducing the payroll. The team is reallocating resources. If you have 100 marbles and you have to give 10 to your closer, then you have 90 for the rest of your team, right?”

If they are not going to end upwards of $95M, there is no real reason for Duquette to say that. It also isn’t exactly some tough-to-decipher code about having 100 marbles. Of course, I guess one could argue that ’100 marbles’ is just a round number, and could mean $95M+ in short-hand.  Regardless, +/- a few million, it gives you a real sense of the O’s intentions. If the payroll is going to be roughly $100M, that means the O’s have +/- $15M available to them after the signing of Ryan Webb.

If $100M is the Orioles internal cap, it is hard to envision how they address adding the Starting Pitcher, Closer, LF, and/or DH they have made known they would like to add; without the removal of other pieces off the existing roster.

Or maybe the O’s vision of a ‘shopping spree’ will be John Axford, Paul Maholm, and Raul Ibanez, and they will make that fit.

3) If Baltimore’s 2014 payroll was $115M, what could the Orioles do with that additional spending? They could pursue Choo and Garza. Or instead of pursuing Choo in Free Agency, they could go after Matt Kemp as a trade target. While Garza would be the preferred Starting Pitching target (especially with no draft compensation tied to signing him), the O’s could also look at Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, and AJ Burnett.

The point being that what becomes clear is that if the O’s were willing to go $115M, there would be numerous options still available to them. Enough viable options to  where they should arrive in Spring Training, and everyone would be able to legitimately look at them as a 90 win team. If the O’s fail to capitalize on these available options, that is a failure of the organization.

The O’s were an 85 win team last year. They’ve lost the contributions of Jim Johnson (fWAR 0.9), Nate McLouth (fWAR 2.5), and Scott Feldman (fWAR 1.0 with the O’s). Even if their replacements equal their production, the O’s still have to find a way to improve the roster. A team built to win 85 games could easily win 90 games if things go right (or fall back to 75 wins if things go wrong). The goal should be building a team which should win 90+ games, without everything having to go right.

4) I mentioned Matt Kemp above, but the LA Dodger OF they continue to be tied to is Andre Either. I’m not opposed to Either. He has his limitations, but at this point he would be a nice upgrade in expected performance vs. the current available options in LF for the O’s.

5) Duquette was interviewed on MLB Network Radio today, and stated the following about Masahiro Tanaka: “The Orioles don’t agree with the posting system. We don’t agree with paying money to another ballclub like that.” I find that position to be rather infuriating. Numerous teams are going to take advantage of the new MLB / NPB Posting Agreement . Numerous teams will submit the $20M fee, and then negotiate with Tanaka as if he was a Free Agent. It doesn’t really benefit you as an organization to take a stand against the posting system, when your peers will take advantage of it. Some MLB team is going to sign the best available Starting Pitcher this Winter, while the Orioles have made it clear that they are out of that game before it starts.

6) Last Friday, ESPN’s Dan Szymborski made his weekly BSL Radio appearance on The Lance Rinker Show. There were a lot of good thoughts from Dan, with two quotes which really stood out.

A) Szymborski referenced The Simpsons to provide an analogy to the O’s. In the episode with Hank Scorpio, Bart is in class with the slow kids…  Bart is quoted as saying, “Let me get this straight: we’re behind the rest of our class and we’re going to catch up to them by going slower than they are? Coo Coo!”

Dan using that as a general illustration of the what the O’s approach seems like.

B) The second thought that stood out from Dan was, “I  can support the O’s trying and not succeeding, I can not support the O’s not trying.”

The Orioles need to improve the existing roster. Let’s see if some progress can be made in that regard during the Winter Meetings.

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About the author


Chris Stoner   

Operations Manager

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, ESPN 1300, FOX 1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.


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3 Responses to Some Orioles Thoughts as the Winter Meetings Begin

  1. Tom says:

    I keep telling myself that it is only December 9th and there is a long way to go before spring. But, I see the competition improving their teams and I see the Orioles accomplishing very little. I don’t expect any major moves at the winter meetings, or really before January.

  2. WDW says:

    You’re falling into the same trap as everyone else. Maxing out the payroll this year, especially by giving multi-year deals to guys like Choo and/or Garza (who isn’t even that good — he’s just the best on the market, which makes him look more attractive than he actually is), creates problems for next year and thereafter. Success in MLB is all about managing the 40-man roster and keeping costs down for all but about five of the guys on it. Watching Duquette rebuild an organization after ten-plus years of neglect has been fun for people who actually understand how MLB works; I have absolutely zero doubt that the Orioles will spend the Johnson money on other players as DD has stated, and I absolutely expect the payroll to be in the ~$100 million range this season (although some of that might be added mid-season, as it was last year). Calling for them to spend an additional $15+ million this year on multi-year deals for mediocre players (thereby restricting what the team can do next year and thereafter) shows some degree of ignorance. Choo is better than mediocre (Garza is not), but he also is not worth what Ellsbury and Werth got. That kind of expenditure would cripple the Orioles for years to come.

    I also understand that we’re free of Markakis’s awful contract (which looked okay at the time it was signed) at the end of the year, and that will free up ~$15 million for spending next year. But still, there’s Davis and all of the arbitration raises players to worry about, and we’ll have to add a right fielder (if Urrutia is not a full-time option there). Duquette currently is attempting to get the organization out of the arbitration hell that he inherited; trading Johnson was a big step in that because no mid-market team should be paying $11 for a relief pitcher unless they have literally every other spot on the 25-man roster locked in and a budget surplus thereafter.

    • Chris Stoner says:

      Hi WDW,

      Thanks for the comments. Hope to see you on the board sometime, and we can have an extended dialogue.

      Some thoughts on what you’ve said:

      Garza: He’s the most attractive arm on the market because there is no draft compensation attached to him. Is he truly elite? No, but he would immediately be right with Tillman at the front of the O’s rotation. Regardless, the O’s have made clear they won’t be involved at the price Garza will take. The pitcher I’d most like the O’s to add is Tanaka. I’d love to see the O’s pay the $20M posting fee, get the ability to negotiate a deal – and offer the likely $80M+ it would take to land him. Of course, at this point it is still TBD if Tanaka will be posted, and the O’s have indicated they would not pay the posting fee to negotiate.

      Choo: Is Choo’s contract likely to be inflated? Sure… he’s a FA, in a market flush with cash. The O’s had a prolific slugging offense last year, with mediocre on-base skills. Choo would address that, and provide good defense as well. 6 yrs $110M would not cripple the O’s, that’s a ridiculous assertion. It does seem likely he might get closer to $150M though, and I agree that would be too much.

      If you knew you weren’t going to be involved with Choo, where were the O’s with Chris Young, Murphy, or McLouth. I remain a fan of Reimold, but you can’t rely on him. Urrutia is likely better than he showed with the O’s, but he needs more time at AAA. Obvious issues with anything off-speed. Going with either one of them as the projected starter in LF can not happen, if the goal is contention. You need more predictable production.

      Overall this discussion gets back to a larger point. The O’s have a talented core, that is not good enough to win with, without being augmented externally.

      Let’s look at the rotation. As of today the rotation is Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris, and Gausman. Ideally, ever member of that staff would be slotted down 1 spot. I’d like to begin the year with Gausman at AAA, and either Gonzalez or Norris (likely Norris) in the pen. That requires two starters.

      If you are not going to be involved with Garza (and again he makes the most sense there is no draft compensation), you don’t figure to be involved with Jimenez, or Santana either.

      So you go to the next level of starter. Colon? I’ve said previously I’m interested. The issues/questions you would have about Colon (his age), are the same reasons he would be attractive to the O’s. They can get him on a 1-2 year (hopefully 1 yr) deal. I wanted to pair him and Kazmir. With Kazmir gone, I’d consider Maholm, or Burnett. Hoping to also get either one of them on a 1 year deal as well. I’m also not opposed to bringing back Hammel for a year.

      If you don’t want to make any of those additions, and you want to go solely with what you have; I can not agree with that. The O’s were an 85 win team last year. They’ve stepped back so far this off-season. They are not good enough as is to be looked at as Playoff contender, even for the 2nd Wild Card. Right now, the O’s look like a .500 team, that needs to improve by 8-9 games to be a Playoff contender.

      If you don’t want to make the moves necessary to improve the chances at winning with this existing core (which exists solely as comprised for the ’14, and ’15 seasons), then make the moves necessary to get younger. Get cheaper team controlled players through trade, reducing the payroll, and build back that way.

      That’s the bottom-line, you have to pick one direction or the other. You either try and win with this group (giving them some help), or you trade from this group because they are not good enough; and you aren’t willing to make the moves necessary for this group to win.

      The O’s payroll in ’13 was somewhere between $92-$95M. Explain to me, how with an additional $27M in National TV revenue alone, they are not capable of sustaining a $115M payroll in ’14? (Without even discussing their increasing MASN revenue, the additional tickets the sold, the increased advertising they sold in ’13 over ’12, etc. etc.)

      Duquette has some things which I have applauded. I liked the transformation of Baseball Operations, after his hire. I liked him bringing in or promoting the likes of Brady Anderson (now VP of Baseball OPS), Lee Thomas (Special Asst to EVP), Fred Ferreira (Executive Director, International Recruiting), Roy Poitevint (Executive Director, International Scouting), Gary Rajsich (Scouting Director), Brian Graham (Player Development Director), Sarah Gelles (Baseball Analytics), Rick Peterson (Pitching Development Director), Steve Walter (Economic Advisor).

      Unlike many people last Winter, I didn’t have a problem with the O’s general lack of activity. At that point, I understood the rationale. The O’s during April – July 2012 had won with smoke and mirrors. In August and Sept. 2012 the O’s were a legitimately good team. Duquette brought back that same team to begin ’13, and gave them a chance to prove who they were. It became evident during the year that they needed help, and he was aggressive as anyone looking to improve his team in-season.

      It’s a year later though, and things have changed. This group needs help to win. Losing Johnson’s salary, and using that $ to sign Webb, and Balfour or Axford is not a great reallocation of resources. Avoid signing Balfour, Axford, or Perez and use the savings on a Closer elsewhere. This team needs additional talent.

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