I like to assume that my favorite baseball team doesn't have mission, vision and values statements, because that takes something that I romanticize and makes it automatically awful. (If the Orioles had a values statement, I hope it would be "Be grittier than the Yankees and cleaner than the Red Sox, while beating them both.") But if the Orioles (or any other baseball team) had a mission statement, it would be to win a championship. That's what professional sports teams exist to attempt to do, of course. But in reality, any given team in any given baseball season has different definitions of success thrust upon them by their front office, their coaches, the media and of course the players themselves. That's why the "World Series or bust!" Nationals were such a failure, while the surprise 2012 Orioles who lost in the ALDS were a huge success.
The 2015 Orioles are coming off of three consecutive above-.500 seasons after the franchise spent years in the wilderness. Two of those three seasons saw the team make the playoffs, once as a surprise Wild Card entrant (2012) and once as a division champ who advanced to the ALCS (2014). All along the way, the team has defied projections that have insisted that their true talent level is that of a below-.500 squad, merely avoiding an inevitable fall to earth.
Between last year's dominant 96-win AL East win and the kickoff of the 2015 season, the team lost Nelson Cruz (ouch), Nick Markakis (less ouch), and rental reliever Andrew Miller. They made no huge additions, tinkering around the edges with some relief signings and trading for outfielder Travis Snider to complement the in-house replacements for Markakis. Instead, the team is hoping to keep production from its core performers, and regain lost offense with healthy, productive seasons from Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, each of whom struggled and/or got hurt for extended periods last year. They'd also love to see a big comeback season from Ubaldo Jimenez, just as I would love to see a bank error in my favor result in early retirement, but some things we just can't expect.
In spite of the fact that the club is relying on some things to break its way, they obviously view themselves as being in win-now mode. The core of last year's club is intact, with lots of big free agents looming in the next offseason (Chris Davis and Matt Wieters headlining). Dan Duquette has shown a willingness to trade upper-level prospects (barring a few top-tier guys) to address the needs of a winning team, once those needs are clear.
So what is success for the 2015 Orioles?
Finishing above .500 - This is a necessary, but not sufficient, criterion for success. If the team finishes below .500, it will be a disaster. But if they finish with 83-86 wins and miss the playoffs (as in 2013), fans will not look back on 2015 as a successful season.
Making the playoffs - We're getting somewhere now. An 87-89 win team that makes the Wild Card game would probably be a successful one in many fans' eyes (though certainly not all). And of course, such a team could go on to win a championship. But baseball's playoff format now rewards division winners with a much higher chance of advancing deeper -- and a one-game wild card loss on the road (or even at home), after a six-month grind, is something that would come up short to many fans.
Repeating as AL East champions - This is about where I'd find myself defining success. It doesn't have to be last year's 96 wins -- in a more evenly stacked division, 92-94 would probably do it -- but winning the division again would almost certainly prove that this run of Orioles success is legitimate, and winning the division is about all that any fanbase can demand. Once you get that ticket punched, the logic goes, anything can happen.
An AL pennant - The 2012 Orioles hit a wall in the ALDS. The 2014 squad ran into an incredibly lucky batch of bloop hits in the ALCS. To some fans, taking at least one more step in the postseason is what they need to see this year. Though again, I'm more inclined to believe that there are a lot of things beyond the team's control once they hit the playoffs at all.
A World Series win - And then you have this. Of course, if the 2015 Orioles pull this off, there will be no disputing that the team was successful. But I have to assume that there are very few fans who think that there is no definition of success for this year's club short of this ultimate accomplishment.