Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
Baltimore’s 2011 Ranking: #16
2012 Outlook: – 31 (29th)
The Orioles would be a long shot to be a contender in any division in baseball, as their young pitching hasn’t emerged as they had hoped and they’ve struggled to find good complementary offensive pieces to surround their best young players. As such, this a team that is going to give up a lot of runs and not score enough to compensate. When you add in the level of competition they face in the American League East, it would take something close to the largest miracle in sports history for the Orioles to win their division this season. The addition of a second wild card spot does make it more possible for the Orioles to hope they can play in October again at some point, but that point is not this year. The talent level just isn’t in place to compete with good Major League teams, and in a division with three of the seven best teams in baseball ahead of them, they should consider a 75 win season a success.
2013+ Outlook: 37 (28th)
Matt Wieters might not be “Joe Mauer with power”, but he is one of the best catchers in baseball, and he has room to eliminate the “one of” disclaimer, perhaps as soon as this year. If you were looking to start a franchise from scratch today, he’d be on your short list of guys to build around. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they only have one Matt Wieters. Adam Jones is a solid piece, but he’s only under club control for two more seasons, and other clubs are already anticipating that he’ll be put on the block sooner than later. J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are more useful pieces than true building blocks, and injuries have taken a toll on both. As for the pitching, it went from promising to questionable in a hurry, and the organization will be lucky if they can get two good starting pitchers out of their vaunted group of prospects from two years ago.
Down on the farm, there are a couple good prospects on the way, but Marc Hulet still rated the farm system as just the 25th best in baseball – it drops off very quickly after Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado. If those two can develop at a quick pace and begin to contribute for the Orioles at some point in 2013, then they might be able to begin assembling a core of players they can win with. The long term outlook is better than the short term, but it’s still not great.
Financial Resources: 42 (24th)
This is the area where the Orioles should really be strongest, as Baltimore is a large metropolitan area that has a long history of supporting baseball, and Camden Yards remains one of the premier venues in the sport to watch a game. From 1995-1997, the Orioles had the second largest payroll in baseball, trailing only the Yankees. In 1998, they passed the Yankees, and spent more on their Major League roster than any other franchise. When the team was winning, Peter Angelos was happy to invest in the roster, but years of losing have caused a cycle of declining attendance and dwindling payrolls. The Orioles now spend a fraction of what the Yankees spend, and it’s hard to imagine that they were once a franchise that went toe-to-toe with the big boys in spending. Those days offer the hope of what could be again, especially since the franchise co-owns their own network (MASN and MASN2) with the Nationals, but they have to regain the interest of their city before that potential can be realized.
Forbes reports that the Orioles only averaged 31,000 households per game in average audience last year, tied with Oakland for 28th in baseball. After six consecutive 90-loss seasons and 14 straight losing years, the team has simply lost the interest of the casual fan, and that is a major source of revenue for any franchise. To get those fans back, they’ll have to win, but as we discussed the paragraphs above, that probably isn’t going to happen in the next year or two. Their lack of burdensome long term contracts should give them the chance to spend again when they feel they have a chance to be competitive, but premium free agents aren’t overly interested in playing for the Orioles until they prove they can contend again, so they face a chicken-and-egg scenario. The chance for a significant uptick in revenue generation is possible, but it’s going to have be the byproduct of winning, not the cause of it.
Baseball Operations: 33 (30th)
No offense to Dan Duquette, but he was not the Orioles first choice to take over as GM this off-season. He wasn’t even their second choice. It’s not even clear that he was a legitimate consideration for the position until the team had been rebuffed by both Jerry DiPoto and Tony LaCava. That they eventually turned to someone who had been out of baseball for nearly a decade to take over the ship says something about the Orioles ability to lure talented employees to the franchise, and speaks mostly to the negative effects that Peter Angelos continues to have on the franchise.
Duquette’s career reboot didn’t get off to a great start, either, when he violated league rules and signed Korean high-school pitcher Kim Seong-min – the deal was later voided and the Orioles were then banned from scouting in the country going forward. The embarrassment is only heightened by the fact that Duquette’s connections in Asia were touted as one of his major strengths upon being hired. With a new wave of front office talent crashing into front offices are furious rates, it’s nearly impossible to turn over a front office and not get an analytical upgrade in the process, but the Orioles may have accomplished exactly that this winter.
Overall: 36 (30th)
The Orioles total was fractionally lower than the Houston Astros, and after a surprising (and essentially incorrect – consider this our mea culpa) #16 rating last year, Baltimore is presently rated as the franchise with the longest road to travel before they become legitimate contenders. They play in a monster of a division, their team isn’t good, their farm system still needs work, and they’ve been unable to convince fresh young front office talent to come work for their stifling owner. The market has potential, but the team will have to win in order to convince the fans to come back, and that doesn’t seem to be in the cards any time soon. This is not an easy problem to solve.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.