The Orioles have a long way to go, but they are actually doing a fairly good job of building their team (I don’t call it “rebuilding” because that would imply that there was anything there in the first place). They have some good young position players. There are some young arms on the rise. There is reason to hope in Baltimore.
So why, then, does GM
Lee Andy MacPhail [hey — Lee’s still alive, but at age 92, I don’t think he’s the one I meant] come out and talk about the noise they could maybe possibly make on the free agent market? In the article he talks about the Orioles’ payroll flexibility. Which is fine, because it’s technically true. But then he goes on and on about how they offered Mark Teixeira $140 million last year, implying that they could make big splashes like that in the future and don’t count the O’s out and all of that kind of stuff. Which is either (a) dumb; or (b) disingenuous.
It’s dumb if MacPhail really thinks that the Orioles should be out playing in big-money free agent land. There aren’t any impact free agents out there this year, and certainly not any that will be around long enough to be strong contributors for an Orioles team that likely won’t contend for a while. Matt Holliday and John Lackey and guys who will eat up big money over multiple years and be on the downside of their careers by the time Matt Weiters is leading the Orioles to winning seasons are not what the Orioles need right now.
But MacPhail is a pretty smart guy, and I think he knows that. Which is why I think this is mostly disingenuousness at work. The Orioles aren’t going to play that market, nor should they. They were burned on bad free agent signings for a decade. There was almost zero chance that Mark Teixeira was going to sign with Baltimore for $140 million last year. MacPhail knows this, and smart, hardcore Orioles fans know this as well. In suggesting otherwise, MacPhail is likely trying to play to the casual fans, hoping to drum up ticket sales and excitement during a long cold winter.
The Peter Angelos era has been characterized by the Orioles messing with what once was a solid fanbase. Years of trying to put together Frankenteams of veteran castoffs and milking Ripken’s legacy and a nice park rather than building a strong foundation for the future like the Orioles teams of yore used to do. Now that they’re finally doing that, the Orioles should be straight with their fans. They should tell them “Hey, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. We have a lot of exciting young players. There’s no one out in free agent land that’s truly going to help us, so don’t hold your breath for a signing.”
Such a gesture may not seem like much — and talking up the free agent market may not seem all that harmful — but there has been a lot of broken trust in Baltimore over the past fifteen years. Now would be a great time for the Orioles to fix that, and they can do so by simply shooting straight with their fans and not promising them pie in the sky.
Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.
Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.
As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.
Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.
Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.
“We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”
A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.
Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.
Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.