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Answering the big question

Posted By Ron Burr On Jul 14 2009 @ 3:10 pm In Baltimore Orioles | 1 Comment

Someone asks ME the question that a lot of fans of the Orioles have been asking themselves…

So I got a question from (hopefully) loyal reader bebe on my post the other day, and I started to respond on that page, but it got me to thinking (and those who know me know how dangerous THAT can be), and that led me to a brand new post.  So without further ado, here is bebe's statement and question:

They looked so much better against Toronto this past series.  With TB looking to contend in the division for years with their young lineup and the Boston's and NY's of the world, poor Toronto and Baltimore can only sit by and hope they have a dream season to contend.

When will the Orioles owner ever spend money again like he did in the 90's?

That is a fantastic question, so let's take a look at some numbers.  Here are the payrolls for the Orioles from 1998 (the beginning of the losing streak) through this season (rounded to the thousands):

1998- $70,408,000 (1)
1999 -$70,818,000 (8)
2000 – $83,141,000 (3)
2001 – $74, 279,000 (12)
2002 – $60, 493,000 (16)
2003 – 73,877, 000 (13)
2004 – $51,623,000 (20)
2005 – $73,914,000 (14)
2006 – 72,585,000 (15)
2007 – $93,554,000 (10)
2008 – $67,196,000 (22)
2009 – $67,101,000 (23)

Now you might be wondering what the number in parenthesis is.  That is the ranking (out of 30 teams) of their payroll.  In 1998 (the year after they went wire to wire and lost in the ALCS to the Indians), they had the highest payroll in baseball. But it was right about that time that payrolls started spiraling out of control, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets leading the charge (Baltimre signing Albert Belle didn't help matters much, either).  In 2000 the team spent $83 million plus and only got to 3rd place (the Yankees were #1 with $92,938,000) and in 2007 $93 and a half million only got them to 10th total (Yankees again – $189,639,000). So what does all of this mean? Well, let's look past the numbers a bit and see what we can see…

The real question isn't when is Angelos going to spend the money like he did in the 90's, because he pretty much is.  The issue is that payrolls have jumped to insane levels, and he as stayed (for the most part) in the same general area, money-wise, and when is he going to start spending like they do. My answer is probably never.

The Rays have a talented young team, but unless they start getting some serious revenue in and soon that team is not going to be together for too long.  The young talent is going to follow the money and end up in New York or Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles.  The Blue Jays are at a competetive disadvantage because they are in Canada, which is too far away for a lot of American players, too cold for a lot of Latin American players, and too heavily taxed for any player.  They are going to be an occasional wild card team along the lines of bebe's “hoping for a dream season” line.  The Yankees and Red Sox are going to spend as much as they want.  The Orioles are different, and that difference goes back to when the payroll really went down, which was in 2008.  And what is so special about 2008?  It was the first year that Andy MacPhail had control of the team's spending (he came to the team in mid to late 2007).  The payroll dropped substantially (the trades of Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada hastened that quite a bit, as well as the expired contracts of Jay Payton and Rafael Palmeiro and the like).  And since he took over, MacPhail is the one in charge of spending, much more so than Angelos.  Angelos has handed the reins of the team over to MacPhail, and MacPhail is making the decisions.  And MacPhail has said repeatedly that he wants to “grow the arms” (Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, etc.) and “buy the bats”.  The arms that are really being counted upon are not yet quite ready (Tillman will probably be up before the end of the year, depending on how the trade deadline deals, if any, shake out, but the rest are not coming until next year at the earliest).  Why then would he spend the money now?  MacPhail's plan is solid, and it appears to be working (like our 23 year old All Star center fielder and our two pitchers in the Futures game, both ranked in the top 15 for pitching prospects in all of baseball).

And here is something else to consider.  Who says he isn't spending the money?  The major league payroll might not be reflecting what he is putting out right now, building a state of the art facility in the Dominican Republic in order to attract the best and brightest from that hot bed of talent, and making inroads to Japan and the Far East (did you think that the Koji Uehara signing was about winning this year or next year?  It isn't. It is all about getting our foot in the door so we can hopefully sign the next Ichiro or Dice-K).  What about the signing bonuses for drafted players, like Wieters in 2007 (and the drafting of players in later rounds that have early round talent but are leaning towards staying in school unless they got overwhelmed by the money, like Arrieta in the 5th round in 2007)?  It is more a re-assigning of money with an eye on making the team better in the near future instead of overspending on retreads asnd used-to-bes.  

So the short answer to your question is, if things go as planned/ projected, 2010 or 2011.  The long answer is “you just have to know where to look”.

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