As the off season winds down and pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota in a couple of days, Winston Churchill has worked his way into my pretentious brain. The now semi-famous quote of his about the buildup to World War II has dominated my thoughts the past few days in regards to the Orioles.
"They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now"
I realize the absurdity of using something as serious the preamble to World War II to frame a thought about the Orioles, but this quote is overused by many so I'll join the ranks. The Orioles off season has come and gone and what is left is basically the same roster as before minus their best starter. The ever winnowing farm system has produced little in the way of replacements or hope for any replacements.
The Orioles have spent millions of dollars this off season to essentially assure this state. Some late free agent additions may be on the way, but they'll cost more dollars and more draft picks. The Orioles got themselves here through half measures.
The Orioles have struggled to draft meaningful talent for years. The last couple of drafts have produced some interesting players, but few have gone on to play well or for that matter even play for the Orioles. The draft is the lifeblood of a modern baseball team. Quality young players are the key to success.
The Orioles have not only performed poorly drafting players, but they've also hampered themselves. The Competitive Balance Lottery that is for draft picks that go to teams with smaller markets was added during the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The Orioles have the advantage in this scenario of being one of those teams and have received an extra draft pick multiple times.
Yet, instead of using that free asset to add to their organization, they have sold them away. The first time for Bud Norris, which at least was a deal for a useful player. The second time occurred last season. The Orioles in no uncertain terms sold their draft pick for $2.5 million to the Dodgers. They received little and gave up Ryan Webb and a draft pick for the right to not pay Webb. A chance thrown away.
The common argument to not worry about that trade or the other deals that take draft picks away from the Orioles is that those picks have commonly not been very good players. That they really did not miss an opportunity to add a great player, because one would not have been available at that spot. This is accurate, but reductive.
In the current system total dollars available is almost as important as where you are picking. The slot money allocated to each draft pick goes away when the team discards the picks. Therefore, the team has less money to spend on adding talent in a draft system that guarantees great deals on adding talent to the organization. The Orioles have put themselves in a position to not succeed at the draft.
The Orioles are annually among the very lowest spenders in the amateur international free agent market, even before the changes in the most recent CBA. This market is rife with uncertainty, but still provides an avenue to add talent at low cost to an organization and farm system that is begging for it. No reporting that I have seen has been done on why the Orioles spend so little internationally.
The assumption by most is that the owner is cheap and does not want to spend the money required to play in the market, even if it does not amount to much. Maybe this is true, but a cryptic note in an online chat held by current Braves front office member and former Orioles front office member Kiley McDaniel lends some doubt to that common trope.
Comment From AceWhy don’t the Orioles take more of an interest in international free agents? Is it simply because they’re cheap?
: There’s a reason and that’s not it
My guess is McDaniel did not expand because giving out too much information about a former employer would hamper one's chances for future employment, which he received when he signed on with the Braves not long ago. The only reason that this issue would persist is the owner. Multiple General Managers have had the reins and the Orioles spending has never gone much above pennies. For whatever reason Peter Angelos does not believe his money is best spent on international amateurs, which only serves to hurt the Orioles talent acquisition even more.
Contracts and Extensions
In recent years more and more young players are being given long contract extensions to ensure their contract value during their would be arbitration years and in return the teams get a few more years of control by buying out the players' would be free agent years. The Orioles have really not engaged in this process, Adam Jones being the lone exception.
Chris Davis apparently had an offer on the table after 2013, but declined it. Manny Machado was also reportedly interested in an extension a few years back and the sides never came to an agreement. Even talks with Chris Tillman fizzled out before Spring Training last year. The Orioles have failed to seize the opportunity to invest in talent before they hit free agency and now are seeing the fruits of their labors by paying free agent prices for their own players.
The off season revealed even more about the contract process in the warehouse. If a team wants to pay to keep its own players, that makes some sense. It shows the current roster that the team is serious and willing to pay, and gives the fans a sense of loyalty. On the other hand, not giving out $100 million contracts to free agents is probably a good idea as well. Those deals can sink teams especially those with the Orioles market size.
But, saying that you are willing to pay your own players over $100 million, but are not willing to pay free agents that money hamstrings a team during negotiations. Example number one, being Chris Davis this off season who the Orioles pretty much negotiated against themselves before signing. Unwilling to negotiate on reasonable terms with the top line free agents, they were pretty much left to signing Davis or signing nobody.
On top of all that Dan Duquette has announced publicly on multiple occasions this off season that opt out clauses--which are becoming increasingly popular--are not on the table during negotiations with the Orioles. This further hampers their own ability to effectively negotiate with free agents or their own players.
Really all this boils down to the Orioles making decisions that only hurt themselves. They have set themselves up for failure. They have not drafted well and have traded opportunities to do better. They do not spend money on international amateur free agents for what appears to be an unknown reason.
Worse still, the O's have little history of signing the good young players they manage to acquire to long term deals. They also work under parameters that limit their own negotiating position. It's like going to gun fight with a knife after someone gave you a gun.
I do believe that the Orioles and Dan Duquette do some things well. As we should all be reminded, the last four years have been the best four years during the past 18 years. They are very good with the back end of the roster and manipulating the roster rules to give many players opportunities to prove themselves while giving Buck Showalter the best 25 man roster possible each and every day.
The Orioles have also shown that they are willing to go outside traditional avenues to acquire talent, even if that talent is of a low impact. This includes signing older international free agents, trading international pool money for low level prospects, and giving chances to minor league free agents.
Yet, these are half measures. These are moves best made for a team a player or two away from contention. The Orioles increasingly look like a team that will need a different direction as this core ages, gets more expensive, and has little in the way of everyday players ready to go in the minors. The period of consequences will soon be upon the Orioles.