Average performances in all four categories leads to the biggest surprise in the rankings thus far. Baltimore certainly should be considered a team on the rise, but is it enough to justify their lofty position here?
Present Talent – 75.00 (T-20th)
Future Talent – 85.00 (T-5th)
Financial Resources – 76.67 (17th)
Baseball Operations – 76.82 (T-20th)
Overall Rating – 77.45 (15th)
There are many factors that go into why the Orioles ended up 15th, much higher than anyone (including most of our writers) expected. Before we get into those specific reasons, it is important to note just how bunched up the teams in the middle really are. Baltimore finished with an Overall Rating of 77.45, but the teams that finished in the 15-19 slots were separated by less than a single point. This means that the rankings were extremely tight, and there’s no real difference between the placements of the teams in this grouping. If you wouldn’t have been upset with Baltimore at #19, then treat this accordingly, as a small change in voting could have knocked them down several pegs.
How did they end up in this tier anyway, though? First off, the Orioles didn’t rate terribly in any of the four categories. When you look at the teams directly below the Orioles in the rankings, all of them have at least one category of extreme weakness. The Orioles didn’t rate exceptionally well in any category – it’s comparable to passing all of your classes, but getting straight Cs.
That said, the Orioles look like a team on the rise. Their present talent doesn’t rate well now, but a big reason for that is based on the fact that they recently promoted many of their youngsters who are still adjusting to the major leagues. If Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta (to name a few) start to reach their potential, the Orioles major league talent could experience a significant jump in the rankings. The farm system, while depleted due to the recent graduates, still has some promising talents – namely Manny Machado and Zach Britton.
Say what you want about Peter Angelos (and trust me, many people have), but he’s shown a willingness to spend money on his team in the past. When the team did contend in the mid-90s, Angelos authorized heavy spending to import key free-agents. The Orioles tried the same approach in 2004, when they signed Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez to lengthy contracts. When Angelos realized that approach didn’t work, the team attempted to focus on building a strong farm system. Now that the young talent is starting to reach the majors, Angelos seems to be willing to spend money again. While the Orioles’ 2010 off-season was relatively quiet, in recent years they have aggressively pursued Mark Teixeira and Paul Konerko; a sign that the team may start spending once they realize the gains of their young stars.
Despite a promising young core, and a willingness to spend cash, the Orioles will struggle to compete in future seasons due to their division. While finishing in last place every season makes the Orioles look like a hopeless franchise, it’s more a statement on the talented teams within their division. If the Orioles were in the NL Central or NL West, for instance, they would be talked about as a potential surprise team by many analysts this season. Unfortunately, they have to compete with three of the best teams in baseball and the Blue Jays (who look dangerous under Alex Anthopoulos). This gives the perception that the Orioles will continue to fail when they would most likely be competitive in other divisions, but divisional strength wasn’t a factor in these ratings.
There isn’t much hope for realignment, however, so the Orioles will have to play the cards their are dealt. As Omar Little might say, it’s “all in the game,” and you shouldn’t feel sorry for the O’s. In any other division, however, the team’s young nucleus would be feared and they would be on a level playing field financially. Angelos might be more willing to spend money in this situation upon realizing that he wouldn’t have to compete with the likes of New York or Boston, and this ranking of the Orioles wouldn’t be viewed as a surprise.
The Orioles should be credited for building a respectable young core and shedding some payroll the past few seasons. Unfortunately, those gains seem unlikely to pay off unless the team can get out of the AL East. They’ll likely finish in last place again, but it’s going to be a respectable last place finish. As an Orioles’ fan, it’s tough not to look at the team’s situation and utter Clay Davis’ most popular phrase, a long, drawn-out “[expletive].”
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.