As Orioles enter season with another payroll, club expect changes to be visible ‘beneath the surface’ – The Mercury News

When Mike Elias first saw the Orioles general manager opening in 2018, he saw a unique opportunity. He might not just be rebuilding the player pool in Baltimore, a group already affected by a trade-deadline sell-off earlier that summer; He will need to overhaul the organization Ground,

“We saw it as a total refresh,” Elias told The Baltimore Sun.

The agricultural system was devoid of major talents. The International Scouting department was used less and less, especially in the Dominican Republic. The analytics department was lacking in staff, the player development area was out of date, and with many large contracts for players that didn’t pan out, there was little room left for the team to maneuver.

All this needed to change. And it takes time to change.

As Elias enters his fourth season as executive vice president and general manager, many of those changes remain unseen, invisible from the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. What’s visible is fans are disappointed: a 100-loss season and the incessant trade of household names in favor of prospects.

But there is an internal belief that beneath the surface lies a change of fate, a revitalization of a franchise that has recently become The only Major League Baseball club to lose value in 2021According to Forbes magazine. It’s a process that’s been conceived since Elias’ arrival, and he feels it’s close to coming to fruition.

Baltimore isn’t made to win this year, and the club’s lightweight payroll — currently around $40 million for players in the organization — reflects that. But the Orioles hope that spending money on long-term, sustainable efforts like scouting, analytics and development of minor league players can lead to a more competitive club in the years to come.

“I really feel like we can boast now [a solid foundation] as an organization,” Elias said. “While the last three years were tough at the major league level, I think the next three years will represent a clear reflection of what is happening beneath the surface.”

‘At the low point of the flywheel’

For Clarence “Fancy Clancy” Haskett, a longtime beer salesperson at Camden Yards, going to work in recent years has meant seeing less and less of his regulars.

“They are tired of spending their money” [when] Nothing is happening on the field,” said Haskett, 63.

Haskett, who has worked at Orioles games for 48 years, said that when attendance is low, it hurts the average salesperson, who can earn half during a sparring night compared to a well-attended.

Baltimore’s home attendance has decreased every year since 2014, when the team averaged 30,806 fans a game. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this figure had nearly halved to 16,348 in 2019. After a spectator-less year of 2020, the Orioles averaged more than 10,000 fans a game in 2021—including one game. Camden Yards Bottom Level 4,965 One September night.

However, this year’s smaller payroll is not the result of poor attendance; Instead, it is a product of greater priority. Instead of investing in on-field talent in 2022, the Orioles have opted to focus financially on other areas – scouting, analytics, minor league development – ​​to the detriment of the present, but in an effort to create a long-term contender. .

“Hopefully when they start winning, they can get [the fans] Back,” Haskett said.

Although reduced attendance could hurt beer vendors and ding revenues, it doesn’t have a massive impact on the Orioles’ finances.

The bulk of the team’s revenue comes from frequent streams—including league-wide revenue sharing and national media deals. Each Major League Baseball team pools 48% of its annual revenue together, dividing the pot equally among all 30 clubs, which enthuses smaller-market ones like Baltimore. With shared national TV revenue, small-market clubs can derive most of their revenue from those two streams alone.

Additionally, the less the Orioles earn in gate fees, the less rent the club owes. The Orioles Pay Their Landlord, Maryland Stadium Authority, a percentage of in-game earnings instead of a flat fee. During the most recent fiscal year, Authority received $1.6 million in rent from the Orioles, compared to $8 million during some of the more popular years.

That’s unlikely to happen this season, however, as the Orioles — who have the worst combined record in baseball since 2015 — are expected to struggle again. Most sportsbooks consider Baltimore to be the worst team in the major leagues, with an estimated 62.5 wins.

Meanwhile, the club has a lease for Camden Yards. to expire at the end of 2023 and longtime owner Peter Angelos is in ill health, prompting some to question the future of the team in Baltimore. However, members of the Angelos family have constantly said The Orioles will remain in Baltimore.

To help keep the team and update the old, yet beloved venue, the stadium authority is seeking the approval of the General Assembly to borrow up to $600 million for improvements, plus more people at the ballpark. want to go

The pandemic posed financial challenges for any MLB team, especially small-market ones, but the Orioles still managed $251 million in revenue in 2021, Forbes reported, comparable with its small-market peers. However, its player payroll ranking remains the shortest among the major leagues for another year. near the bottom of the league in 2021 ($57 million, 27th) and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (estimated $23 million, 29th).

In fact, the team’s payroll isn’t that far off. Annual salaries of some of the biggest individual stars in the gameSuch as Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout ($39 million) and New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36.5 million).

The club has spent close to the league average in previous years as it competes for a playoff spot and division title, ranking ninth in total payrolls entering the 2016 season.

Georgetown University professor Marty Conway, who worked for MLB for the Texas Rangers, and as vice president of marketing for the Orioles in the early 1990s, described spending as a “dial” that was adjusted as needed. can go. He added that the Orioles are “at the low point of that flywheel.”

“The hope is that this strategy pays off on the other end, and then you can look to supply more investment in payroll and try to actually play postseason baseball,” Conway said.

Conway said attendance is a “backward indicator” of success, and should the Orioles compete for a playoff spot in the coming years, Camden Yards could see a return to larger crowds. If more viewers bring in more revenue, Elias plans to “leverage those resources on the MLB roster.”

“As the team gets better,” Elias said, “we expect and project and expect our local revenue to increase as the team becomes more popular and more successful and more enjoyable.”

building for the future

When Elias arrived in Baltimore, one of his first moves was to hire Sig Mejdal as assistant general manager for Analytics. Mejdal had worked with Elias in Houston, and the two helped transform the Astros from bottom-feeder to World Series contender.

He had a blueprint. It wasn’t through exceptional free-agent signatures—at least not now. It was up to the farm system, analytics department, and international scouting to create and maintain championship contenders.

The Astros achieved what Elias achieved with shortstop Carlos Correa, future American League Rookie of the Year and a driving force in the team drafting a two-time All-Star, with the top overall pick in 2012.

But that foundation did not exist in Baltimore.

“It was a franchise that operated on a model of heavily leveraging major league payroll, many times at the expense of the future-oriented investment and infrastructure that has been ubiquitous in the way every Major League Baseball team has run itself since the middle of the day.” It’s done. 2010,” Elias said. “It was, first and foremost, the creation of an entire baseball operations department.”

that Started in the Department of Analytics, where there was a developer on staff when Alias ​​started. Since then, Di Xu, that lone developer, has been promoted, and there are now a dozen or more software programmers on the analytics staff. To speed up Baltimore, that staff had to rebuild equipment Elias and Mejdal were accustomed to using in Houston and earlier in St.

There was a push to upgrade player development features, and the Orioles are in the process. Building a 23-acre campus in the Dominican Republic, The team has emphasized minor league development, including revised hitting and pitching schedules, and Hired a Mental Skills Coordinator, As part of the new league rules, the organization is now also responsible for Providing accommodation for your minor leaguers,

“It’s all stuff that runs beneath the surface and isn’t reflected in your major league payroll,” Elias said, “but it’s a legitimate strain on your resources.”

The MLB Draft has been an important rebuilding tool for the Orioles in recent years, and Baltimore is again the No. 1 overall pick in July. Based on finishing last season with the Major’s worst record at 52-110, the team has one of the largest bonus pools to work with when it comes to signing amateur players.

Since losing 115 games in 2018 – a season that has featured trades from home stars such as Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gossman and Jonathan Shoup – the Orioles have taken first (catcher Adley Ratsman), second (outfielder Heston Kjerstad) and second (outfielder Heston Kjerstad) Fifth is chosen. outfielder Colton Cowser) in the draft, accumulating talents that have led some to consider the No. 1 form system in baseball.

Many of those players — including baseball’s top overall prospect Ratsman and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez — are is expected to make his major league debut this season.

Of course, there is no guarantee of reconstruction works. But as a core group of highly-celebrated players near Baltimore, the hope of winning illuminates the darkness of recent mediocrity.

“We’re sitting on top of the best minor league system in baseball, and those players are getting closer and closer to Camden Yards,” Elias said. “We see this season as a sign of significance, aspiration, hope for the Orioles as we begin to demonstrate the product of the work we are putting around the organization.”

When will the victory begin?

Orioles fans have suffered the loss that comes with a rebuild, and many fans are weary of the wait. Want to know: When will the victory begin?

Baltimore has had a no-win record since 2016 and has lost at least 108 games in each of the last three full seasons. Some fans are dissatisfied as they watch the Orioles flounder, while the Tampa Bay Rays, even in a smaller market, have risen to a 100-win season last year and a pennant in 2020.

If Elias’ time in Houston is any harbinger, a playoff contender could be coming in the next two or three years.

The Astros hired general manager Jeff Luhno prior to the 2012 season, who also brought Elias to Houston. Houston’s big league club went limp for three seasons, racking up losses and draft picks, before making the playoffs in 2015 and winning the 2017 World Series; Though that title has been tainted by a sign-theft scandal.

It was similar to what the Chicago Cubs started under Theo Epstein in 2011, when the team suffered miserable campaigns in 2012, 2013, and 2014. But came a surprisingly successful season in 2015 and then, in 2016, a World Series title led by talented, home players, including 24-year-old Kris Bryant, that season’s MVP, who was drafted by the Cubs during rebuilding.

Those are the models — with more wins and more presence — that Baltimore fans and beer sellers alike can look forward to.

When Haskett, a longtime salesman, isn’t brewing at Camden Yards, he tracks down to Mount St. He said that the team he coaches is young but talented, and with some development, they could be great in the near future.

“We’re going to be really good,” he said, “in a couple of years.”


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