But this is the part I really disagree with:
The Orioles are in the unenviable position of being the cellar-dwelling team in the AL East. If their path to the top wasn’t already hard enough, the strong play of Toronto last season, its strong offseason, plus the ability to function as a big-market team has made it even tougher for Baltimore to compete.
Players notice that. Baltimore has tried for years to lure superstars to its team, but it’s simply not happening. These free-agent veterans the Orioles have been signing? Their options were so limited, they were forced to choose Baltimore. None of them — with the possible exception of Gregg — had many options.
Across the Beltway, Washington has been in a similar pickle and openly admitted to having to overpay Jayson Werth to entice him to the nation’s capital. The Nationals feel they are beginning their window of opportunity after seeing an influx of young players into the team, and that’s why they brought Werth in. Grumble all you want about how wildly overpaid he was — and I’ll grumble along with you — but players have absolutely sat up and taken notice. The Nationals are suddenly a more appealing destination than before.
Grumble about Werth all you want, but I can just as easily argue that the Red Sox overpaid for Carl Crawford if that’s the route we want to go. Heck, I can pretty much argue that just about every free agent with multiple suitors winds up being overpaid, that’s just the nature of the business. The main difference between Werth and Crawford is their isolated value so much as their team’s position in the short term. The Nationals are at least a couple of years away from competing, and by the time they get there Werth will most likely be a declining player who won’t help them that much. The Red Sox, on the other hand, are a team in position to compete now who can benefit from adding ap layer like Crawford in the short run, which makes overpaying him in the out years easier to justify. But the Orioles are much closer to the Nats than they are to the Red Sox, and frankly they’re probably even farther away from legitimate competition than Washington.
And this is where I think Evan’s premise just goes fundamentally wrong:
What these veteran players will do is add wins to the Orioles — and also cause other players to take notice. You can’t help but notice the name Vladimir Guerrero. Or Derrek Lee. And while J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds are lesser-known names, they’re also notable. They will all help Baltimore take the next step forward. What if these veterans raise Baltimore’s profile enough that the O’s are able to sign someone like Prince Fielder next season?
At some point, an aggressive step forward has to be taken, otherwise it’s going to be more of the same no matter how hard you try to build from within. Then the fans will just keep disappearing from the park no matter how much you push how exciting Felix Pie can be. And before you know it, these disappearing fans cause a slash in the budget, which leads to even more dominoes falling. There’s a lot more to the game than just playing time on the field.
I think a lot of people in baseball believe this, and I think it’s spectacularly wrong. There’s very few individual players I’d pay to see play, and I’m a much bigger baseball fan than 99.9% of the populace. Are Orioles fans excited now? Sure. If the Orioles are well below .500 and solidly in last place on July 1st will the fans be buying tickets to see 36 year old Vladimir Guerrero? Not a chance. The secret to getting fans to the park, assuming a “normal” market, is to get the baseball right. Win and they will come, lose and they won’t. It’s really that simple.
And that’s why, ultimately, this comes down to a pure baseball move, and in that sense it’s a horrible one. The bottom line is that Vlad is a very mediocre player right now who probably won’t give the Orioles too many more runs this year, and will cost them a chunk of whatever he does add by forcing Luke Scott to play left field. At best he’s probably a one or two win player, and that still leaves Baltimore in the A.L. East cellar in all likelihood. Is that worth $8 million? I certainly don’t think so. And that’s $8 million that really could go an awfully long way in the draft or Latin America (if the Orioles actually took Latin America seriously anyway). Prospects are the last thing anyone in a city like Baltimore wants to hear about right now, but ultimately that’s how the Orioles are going to have to rebuild their team. Signing players like Vlad is what the Pirates and the Royals tried to do for years, to disastrous results.
And when the team is clearly int he midst of their 15th straight losing season, Baltimore fans won’t be any more eager to go to Camden Yards than they were before they lit $8 million on fire.