The Detroit Tigers shocked the baseball world earlier this week by signing free agent Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract for $214 million. The wisdom of the Fielder signing will be debated endlessly but there is no debating the commitment to winning exhibited by Tigers ownership. While Fielder was packing his bags for Motown the Baltimore Orioles announced that they had agreed to a two-year deal with free agent infielder Wilson Betemit. Such is life for an O’s fan.
I never expected the Orioles to sign Fielder. When rumors of the Orioles’ interest in the slugger surfaced late last week I assumed it was just Scott Boras using his industry connections in an attempt to drum up interest. The Orioles simply don’t sign good players in the prime of their careers. I wouldn’t be shocked if Fielder signs with the Orioles at the conclusion of his nine-year run in Detroit. I read a report that the Orioles may consider signing free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year deal. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.
I checked out some Orioles message boards yesterday only to find that a lot of fans were happy that the O’s didn’t sign Fielder. Huh? The argument seems to be that Fielder’s contract is for more than he’s worth, and that he’ll be a disappointment, and the Tigers will regret the deal. There is also the belief that the Orioles could never afford the kind of contract Fielder signed and that any such expenditure would set the franchise back. Righhhhhhhht. The franchise that hasn’t sniffed .500 since the Clinton Administration would be set back by acquiring an All-Star caliber player. Got it. If you think the Orioles couldn’t afford Prince, or any other prominent free agent, you’re fooling yourself.
Baseball is no longer a game of haves and have-nots as we’ve heard so often over the years, but more a game of haves and haven’ts. The Orioles haven’t made a commitment to winning, haven’t invested in player development, and haven’t used their ample financial resources to attract good players to Baltimore.
The offseason, which began with the hackneyed search for a new General Manager, has been underwhelming even by Orioles standards. Dan Duquette has made some nice hires to his baseball operations team, which I’ll get to next week, and made some interesting forays into long forgotten international markets. As for the Orioles Major League roster Duquette’s additions have been less than inspiring. He began his tenure in Baltimore by giving career minor leaguer Matt Antonelli a Major League contract. Antonelli is expected to battle for the second base job in Spring Training, assuming Brian Roberts is unavailable.
Baltimore had baseball’s worst pitching staff in 2011. Duquette has done little to impact the pitching staff other than adding some depth and a couple of lottery tickets from Japan. The Orioles still lack reliable options at first base, second base and third base. Buck Showalter seems set on moving Mark Reynolds back to third base in 2012, despite the matador act that got him moved to first base last season.
I’m hopeful that Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei Yin Chen can be solid starting pitchers, but I’m pretty sure they won’t. Wilson Betemit may be an okay DH again right-handed pitchers as his career numbers suggest, but he probably won’t. Antonelli could be the find of the offseason and finally make good on the potential that at one time made him the Padres’ top prospect, but he probably won’t. Duquette has spent the offseason shifting lousy parts and calling it progress.
The 2012 Orioles actually look worse on paper than the 2011 Orioles. That’s quite a feat. Baltimore’s success this season will once again hinge on the performance of young pitchers Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arietta, and Zach Britton. Given the collective dump that group took in 2011 the outlook isn’t bright in Charm City. The Orioles’ collection of number four starters doesn’t figure to fare well in the AL East.
Don’t bother looking to the farm system for reinforcements. The Orioles have just two players ranked in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects; pitcher Dylan Bundy and shortstop Manny Machado both ranked in the Top 10. The Orioles are stuck in neutral; not enough talent to compete, not enough willingness to add actual good players, and not enough young talent to say they’re rebuilding.