Spend Our Way to the World Series
Published: January 1, 2014
With many of baseball’s free agents signed to contracts, and pitchers and catchers due to report to the Orioles’ Sarasota spring training complex in a little over a month, there’s not too much Executive Vice President of Operations Dan Duquette can do to drastically alter the 2014 Baltimore Orioles, unless he decides to pull off a mega-trade just in time to make this resolution moot. Every move Duquette has made to this point has caused plenty of bellyaching in Birdland, which is to say it’s been another offseason of dumpster-diving for spare parts and diamonds in the rough without signing a big-name free agent.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The O’s signed closer Grant Balfour for a short period before backing out of the deal after claiming to find damage in the right hander’s throwing shoulder—something several doctors familiar with Balfour’s medical history say are unfounded, according to Fox Sports and former Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal. Beyond that, the Birds have traded All-Star closer Jim Johnson for a middling second baseman, replaced left fielder Nate McLouth with a 27-year-old who has yet to play a full season, signed a decent middle reliever in Ryan Webb, and picked up other odds and ends along the way.
Duquette has proven capable of finding yesterday’s garbage and turning it into gold (see: McLouth, Miguel Gonzalez), but if this team wants to take a real honest-to-goodness shot at a World Series title, they’re going to have to spend more money, and the next chance comes either by acquiring a star player by trade during the season or breaking the bank in the next offseason. The window to make a title run after that is only likely to shrink, because key pieces Matt Wieters and Chris Davis are due new contracts in two years and J.J. Hardy in one.
And the team should have money to spend, but that money is controlled by penny-pincher Peter Angelos. As in recent years, Angelos has cried poor when excusing his tight wad, offering this rare comment to The Sun on Dec. 5, after Peter Schmuck wrote a column criticizing him: “There are limitations. This is not New York City. We’re not the New York Yankees. We certainly would like to be in that discussion. We’ve got loyal fans and we’re doing our best to put together the best possible team in a limited market.”
Except that the Orioles are the seventh most valuable team in the entire sport, according to data compiled by Bloomberg in October—owing in large part to the value of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, of which the team owns a majority stake of more than 80 percent. In terms of team revenue, the Orioles rank near the middle, at 17th, taking in $210 million.
Angelos is right to say they are not the Yankees. But there’s no reason they can’t be the Detroit Tigers, a team that outearned the Orioles by only $35 million in 2013 and managed to outspend them by $57 million.
Teams that made more in revenue than the Orioles (the Angels, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox, Nationals, Tigers, and Cardinals, ordered by most overall value) were all ranked less valuable, according to Bloomberg. So how can that be? Because MASN is a boon! Just how much of a boon is unclear. Forbes roughly estimates the value of the MASN at $600 million. The Orioles and Nationals, whose games are broadcast on one of the network’s two channels, are in the middle of a lengthy dispute over just how much the Nationals should receive as a rights fee. (Angelos, to his credit, shrewdly negotiated for lopsided ownership of the network when Major League Baseball decided it wanted to move the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., traditionally a part of the Orioles market.) According to the Washington Post, the Nationals feel they should receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million; in 2011 they got slightly under 30 percent of that. That same year, when the Nationals owned a 13 percent stake in MASN, they received an equity payout of $7 million.
While the rest of the figures are unknown, this much is certain: The one person who has stood to make a windfall from a regional sports network is the same person who controls the fate of the Orioles: Peter Angelos. It’s time for him to spend some of that windfall to give the O’s a serious chance at a championship.