Baltimore Orioles: Free agency, production, and patience
Yesterday’s column questioned whether or not there could be pressure on Buck Showalter to win and win now – as in 2014 – in Baltimore. Could Showalter be on the hot seat if the Baltimore Orioles don’t qualify for the post season in 2014? My personal opinion is that’s totally out of the questions barring a totally destructive type of season, but some would disagree. There are those who would argue that if you can’t win and win now, you’re useless. However my point would be that in a sense then we might as well go back to the “old days” when coaches operated on one-year contracts, allowing owners and GM’s the chance to truly ask what have you done for me lately? But why suddenly do some fans have this attitude that if you can’t win for me this year it doesn’t matter what happened last year?
Let’s take that and run with it in a sense. First off some people are just brutally honest to the point of being blunt. And while honesty is the best policy in life, we also have to put honesty into context; if we’re going on his latest body of work (as in 2013), Buck Showalter didn’t quali
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fy his team for the post season. Is that being brutally honest? Absolutely. But put it into the context of the fact that Showalter had a plan, resurrected the franchise from destruction, and qualified them for the post season for the first time in 15 years (only one year prior), and suddenly that “brutal honesty” sounds overly blunt, and even a bit mean.
However we’re talking semantics in a sense. I would submit that this sudden thirst for production in a sense (from fans) is one final delayed affect of free agency taking over baseball (and other sports). In the hey day of the old Oriole Way, the idea was to raise a core crop of home grown players to come through your farm system and to have them burst onto the major league scene at around the same time. In theory, this would sustain a degree of par for some time while those players were in their prime. Granted you would end up having to endure some “re-tooling” at the tail end of those careers, but that would in theory start the process again.
However something disrupted that concept: free agency. Suddenly free agency became the “new draft,” in baseball along with the other sports. However I’m not sure that the idea of “team building” through free agency was truly refined and at it’s peak until recently. Teams would add free agents here and there, however rebuilding a franchise would still take some time. Now we see it done almost overnight. The 2013 BoSox obviously are a perfect example, as is the sustained success of the Tampa Rays. If you play the free agent game the right way, you’ll be more successful in less time than teams who are building from the ground up.
This is not to say that the Orioles are playing the free agent game wrong. I’m not sure that’s the case; granted they aren’t going after high-ticket items, however they’re looking for better value overall at a better price. But ultimately fans and more importantly owners see that it is in fact possible to go from worst-to-first overnight. So they perhaps legitimately ask themselves why they’re wasting their time paying someone who wants to “build” the franchise as opposed to someone who’d rather come in and win right away.
I would submit that the Orioles are poised for greater long-term success given at how the team has been and is being built, and luckily Dan Duquette and Peter Angelos seem to understand that. I firmly believe that you have to take what you have now and play it forward in your mind a few years to see what you’re on track to become. If in two or three years the O’s are still hovering around the 85-win plateau and can’t get over and into the post season, then perhaps you consider a change in leadership. However the team’s on track at the moment to achieve great things, and the last thing that ownership wants to do is to disrupt that.
So to folks who find themselves in the what have you done for me lately camp, I suppose I’m saying you should cool your britches! This Oriole team may not win overnight like Boston did, but also remember that instant gratification isn’t always the right thing. Also keep in mind that this franchise’s luck with free agency hasn’t always been the greatest. Albert Belle comes to mind, and to a lesser extend Vladimir Guerrero, Kevin Millwood, and a few others. Right now it appears that the team is right on track. But time will tell the tale for sure.