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The Year the Orioles Outspent the Yankees

The Hot Stove season is likely to be a fairly tepid affair for the Orioles this year. Rather than comb the current class of free-agents and potential trade targets I revisited the team's moves headed into the 1998 season, when the the O's became the first team in baseball to post a $70 million payroll.

Take a minute and let that sink in: the O's were baseball's biggest spenders just a little more than a decade ago. In fact, Baltimore holds the distinction of being the last team to outspend the New York Yankees, who have had baseball's highest payroll every year since 1999.

Unfortunately, the end result for the Birds in '98 was a 79-83 record, the first of an active 12-season losing streak.

Mo' money, mo' problems? Try mo' money, mo' intrigue.

Big bats, frontline pitchers, aging veterans - the O's chased them all back then.

[To be fair, much of the team's '98 payroll went to players who led the team to back-to-back ALCS appearances in 1996 and 1997, including Robert Alomar ($6.3 million), Brady Anderson ($6.2 million), Mike Mussina ($6.5 million), Rafael Palmeiro ($6.5 million), and Cal ($6.3 million).]

Here's a rundown on some of the Birds' 1997/1998 Hot Stove maneuverings:

-Fresh off a league-leading 45 saves in 1997, closer Randy Myers spurned the Orioles' two year, $11 million offer in November to sign with Toronto for three years, $18 million.

-Myers recorded 28 saves in 41 games for the Blue Jays, who let him go in August when the Padres claimed Myers off waivers and inherited the remainder of his contract. Myers did not pitch again after the 1998 season.

-The Orioles chased future first-ballot Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who ultimately signed with the Twins for $4.25 million in early December.

O's fans bummed about losing out on Molitor received good news days later when Brady Anderson signed a five-year, $31 million extension with the team

Here's what the Washington Post had to say on Dec. 8, 1997:

"The Orioles will be one of baseball's highest-spending teams next year. In the past eight months, though, Angelos has gotten the club's three cornerstone players -- third baseman Cal Ripken, pitcher Mike Mussina and Anderson -- to sign contracts below their free agent market values. Anderson, 33, agreed to receive $ 1.5 million of his $ 6.25 million  salary in each of the first four years of his new deal as deferred compensation without interest."

"I thought the whole thing was cool," Anderson said. "I was surprised how concerned the fans were. They seemed to care a lot more than I thought they would. That's one of the reasons I got out of Baltimore. I thought I was getting ready to sign for whatever the Orioles were offering."

-On Dec. 12, the Orioles signed free-agent pitcher Doug Drabek to a $1.8 million, one-year contract that included $600,000 in performance incentives.

Drabek won 12 games for the White Sox in 1997. He went 6-11 with a 7.29 ERA in Baltimore.

-On Dec. 13, the team inked free-agent outfielder Joe Carter to a $3.3 million one-year deal. According to the New York Times the move "added another sizable bat to their lineup."

Carter hit 11 home runs in 85 games before being traded to San Francisco for Darrin Blood.

-Ozzie Guillen and Norm Charlton signed minor-league deals with the Birds in January.

Said Guillen: "I picked the Baltimore Orioles because I think they have the best chance to win." Both players finished the '98 season in Atlanta.

-In January, the Orioles also re-signed pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, who went 10-6 with a 4.01 ERA in '97, for two years, $6.2 million. Kamieniecki won four games in those two years.

-The intrigue continued into the spring when the O's retained the services of free-agent-to-be Scott Erickson by signing him to a five-year, $32 million extension in May.

When it was all said and done, the Orioles produced a payroll that was larger then ($70.4 million in 1998) than it is now ($67.1 million in 2009). The record-setting '98 figure would rank in the lower two-thirds among teams today. It's essentially what the Royals ($70.5 million) are spending these days.