The sad part is the culture that had been built in Baltimore. When they made the playoffs in 2012, their closer and player rep, Jim Johnson, encouraged the players to give a record number of post-season shares, including full shares to the club’s triple-A manager and pitching coach. Their shortstop, J.J. Hardy, mentored Manny Machado as if he were flesh and blood, and up and down the clubhouse, from Adam Jones to Nick Markakis, Chris Davis to Matt Wieters, these Orioles became a team that made Baltimore proud, for the first time since 1997.
They played hard, they played with a chip on their shoulders knowing they would never have the payroll or the publicity or the Sunday night appearances of the Yankees and Red Sox. Where once a visit from the Yankees or Red Sox nearly filled Camden Yards with visiting fans, the ballpark that changed sports was refilled with the stepchildren of Cal, Cakes, Flanny and Mike Mussina.
But rather than pay Johnson the $10+M he’d get in arbitration, they dumped him to sign Grant Balfour for $3.5M less per season, then announced he flunked the club physical. And now, well, the Balfour “physical” fiasco has brought that culture back to reality. To begin with, reality is that they need to do everything in 2014 and 2015 to try to get back into the playoffs, because at the end of the 2015 season Wieters and Davis are going to be free agents, and as Scott Boras clients, they leave Dan Duquette with two choices: play it out and try to get into the playoffs, or trade them off and try the long, slippery slide of rebuilding. The Cubs, for instance, discussed a Wieters—Jeff Samardzija deal, but decided against it because they have a better chance of signing Samardzija than they would Wieters.
Anyway, say they can get three players for Wieters. How will the Peter Angelos medicals impact the deal? On MLB radio Sunday, Jim Duquette recalled signings and deals that were killed in the past, from Jeromy Burnitz to Xavier Hernandez to Aaron Sele to Mike Lowell (that killed trade for A.J. Burnett and Lowell) and Paul Konerko. Friday, on MLB Network, Frank Wren recalled his days as Oriole GM and contended that when a deal was consummated and Angelos decided he didn’t like it, his way of reversing agreements was to pull out the medical card. Oh, if Pat Gillick would talk…
Maybe they go sign Fernando Rodney; no way Chris Perez passes the physical. Maybe Tommy Hunter closes, although lefthanded batters had an .857 OPS with 11 homers in 177 plate appearances against him last season. They likely can’t sign Joel Hanrahan or Andrew Bailey because of the medicals; they tried to sign Gavin Floyd to a two year deal, knowing he won’t be ready to go into the rotation until mid-season; Floyd signed with the Braves because he wanted a one year deal so he could re-establish his health and head into the market against next November.
When Mike Napoli’s three year deal with the Red Sox was held up by a hip condition he didn’t realize existed, the club issued no information, including the simple admission that he had been signed. Eventually, they agreed to restructure the deal built on incentives on one year, and when he went back on the market this off-season he had at least two three year offers and settled for two with the Red Sox because of his feelings for his teammates and the club.
But that’s not going to happen with the Orioles, even with the character Buck Showalter’s players have built across the clubhouse. They’re not going to spend to get premium free agents. Why would any player sign with them just because of great teammates, a great place to live, a great ballpark…knowing that the club may announce that the player is physically damaged goods?
This off-season, the Orioles have made some good moves. The deal for David Lough was very smart. Signing Ryan Webb gives them a big, lower bullpen arm. Bringing in pitching coach Dave Wallace was a tremendous move, especially since they have to develop their own young pitchers.
“There isn’t a team in the American League East with four core players better than Machado, Jones, Davis and Wieters,” says one GM in the division. A World Series with that foursome? In that park?
The last World Series game played in Baltimore was Oct. 12, 1983, a 4-1 Mike Boddicker complete game victory over Charles Hudson and the Phillies. It was at Memorial Stadium; yes, there has never been a World Series game played at Camden Yards.
Machado, Wieters, Jones, Davis, Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Hardy will all be all right, down the line, but when? And where?
There was a time when busloads of members of the Willie Tasby Fan Club would make the pilgrimage from D.C. to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles and Red Sox. “We have the Washington and Lincoln Monuments, we are here to see the Tasby Monument” was one of the phrases of the club honoring the player who played for the Senators, Red Sox and Orioles. If this group of players never gets the chance to go further than they did in 2012, it will be because ownership made the small decisions to make Baltimore the wrong end of the Beltway.