What a weird time to be an Orioles fan. Just as the on-field product starts to look kind of nice, the ownership declares war on itself, then refuses a five-year extension with the state of Maryland. (And now you’re telling me Adley Rutschman is contractually barred from signing objects at the Birdland Caravan?)
This stuff just doesn’t happen to Mets fans. Does it?
Last night, after the Orioles announced they would not be signing a five-year deal with the Maryland Stadium Authority to extend their Camden Yards lease, The Athletic’s Dan Connolly wrote to calm fans’ worst “sky is falling” notions. First, Connolly noted, last night after the non-extension announcement, the Orioles put out a joint statement with Governor Wes Moore committing to “creating a long-term, multi-decade, public-private partnership” to develop and revitalize Camden Yards as a destination for sports tourism.
“Word salad,” wrote Connolly, and not, ultimately, a guarantee of anything. But still, better than nothing.
Much more important, however, is the $600 million the Orioles would lose out on if they suddenly up and left town. Last spring, the Maryland legislature voted to allocate up to $1.2 billion for improvements between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Baltimore Ravens’ home M&T Bank Stadium, money contingent on the teams signing long-term leases. Last month, the offer proved enticing enough for the Ravens, with the team signing a lease extending through 2037.
Connolly is confident that the Orioles will follow suit:
The franchise, no matter who owns it, isn’t walking away from the chance to use $600 million to its benefit. No shot.
Therefore, the Orioles aren’t moving to Nashville or Portland or anywhere else.
I believe that.
I believe Connolly, too. Giving up that money doesn’t make sense, and besides, no one has been spotted building an MLB-quality stadium in Portland or Nashville, to my knowledge. Despite yesterday’s news, the odds remain good that the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority will work out a multi-year deal at some point before the team’s lease expires in December.
What worries me more these days is contemplating the less-cataclysmic-but-still-very-bad outcome that the Orioles’ legal issues will make it impossible for them to achieve true baseball competence in the foreseeable future.
It’s not crazy to suspect that the difference between the Ravens signing a 20-year lease extension in January and the Orioles failing to do so has everything to do with the uncertainty swirling around the Angelos family as a result of younger brother Louis’ lawsuit. After all, can John Angelos commit to sinking a large amount of money into the franchise without knowing how much of the family fortune, potentially, Louis will be entitled to?
Or whether the Angeloses will be on the hook for $100 million in lost TV revenue allegedly owed to the Washington Nationals? The hideous MASN saga drags on, and now it’s apparently holding up the sale of the Orioles’ DC neighbors. According to the Nationals’ current owners, the Lerners, having to turn over their rightful TV revenues to another organization has limited their ability to spend on players, and it’s making it hard for them to sell the team.
Well, the 2019 World Series winners have my deepest sympathies. While I don’t care much about the Lerner family’s inability to sell off their assets, I do care about the Angelos family’s ability to plan for the future, and its capacity to commit to a long-term deal in Baltimore and invest in a quality on-field product.
As the Post columnist put it, talking about how the Nationals stunk last season and will stink again this year, “[H]ow can anyone — from ownership to the front office to the field staff to the fan base — emotionally invest in a future that’s so uncertain?”
This is what I’m worried about with the Orioles—that all the looming uncertainty around them will spoil an on-field product that’s starting to look nicer than it has in years. Because on the baseball side of things, the team is looking pretty good! Since general manager Mike Elias came aboard in 2018, the Orioles have gone from a bottom-tier farm system to the No. 1 outfit. They’ve totally remade their international presence, investing millions in a 22-acre training complex in the Dominican Republic and breaking their own club record for largest signing bonus handed out to a Latin American amateur player for three straight years. This is what Mike Elias set out to do as GM and, as much as anyone can deliver on the tough assignment of turning around a franchise, he’s done it.
What the Orioles haven’t done, however, is commit serious money to a multi-year deal, and that’s where I fear the legal drama is starting to hurt them. Well before the 2022 season wrapped up, the normally tight-lipped Mike Elias predicted, “We’re going to be signing players this winter. I’m very excited about it.” Why raise expectations like that if he didn’t plan on a splashy signing?
That signing never materialized, and instead, the Orioles’ offseason has felt a lot like treading water. Don’t get me wrong: the team has the chance to compete based on just its flourishing rookie core alone (imagine if Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, Gunnar Henderson, Terrin Vavra, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall all put together solid seasons).
But the Orioles aren’t going to see sustained success as an organization with a floundering ownership incapable of supporting its young draftees by investing in established talents.
For that matter, Mike Elias’s contract with the team may be coming up soon. Great, another extension to think about.
Enough drama, please! I’m looking forward to the days when the Orioles’ fifth starter is the biggest thing we have to worry about.