Organizational Rankings: #17 – Baltimore

I like a lot of players on the Orioles. The core is certainly there – few teams in baseball can boast a young stable of talent like the O’s have, who can build around Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Matusz, plus a host of other quality guys without the same star potential but who are productive nonetheless. They also have a star player in Brian Roberts, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how good he is. Andy MacPhail has done a lot of good things for the Orioles, acquiring talent and building a team that should be at least decent in 2010 and better going forward.

There’s just one really large glaring problem; they play in the American League East, the division of behemoths. The bar is set so ridiculously high that even with all the things that Baltimore has done well the last few years, they’re still extreme long shots to make the playoffs. They have to climb over two of the three best teams in baseball just in order to have a chance at a Wild Card spot. The degree of difficulty for the Orioles is off the charts.

And, fair or not, we have to hold this against them in a series where we’re trying to figure out which teams are in position to win now and in the future. In any other division, the Orioles are an interesting sleeper for 2010 and a potential giant going forward, but in the AL East, they’re an afterthought. They would need monstrous career years from multiple players at the same time just to get in the discussion, and then they’d still have to hope that the Yankees or Red Sox didn’t react to having another contender by just trading for the best player available at the deadline.

It’s sad, in a way. This roster should offer O’s fans a lot of hope, but due to factors beyond their control, that hope is significantly diminished. Even if Jones, Wieters, and Matusz all develop into stars, it still probably won’t be enough. MacPhail needs to continue to hit home runs on trades, have every draft pick pan out, and they need to stay completely healthy – if all those things happen, they could challenge for the AL East crown in a year or two, until their core gets so expensive that they’ll struggle to surround them with enough quality players to keep up.

It’s the crappiest situation in baseball, outside of Toronto, anyway. The O’s front office has done yeoman’s work in building a good young roster, yet there’s still a pretty decent chance it won’t result in anything besides a few better than .500 finishes and frustration at the size of the mountain they’re trying to climb. If anyone ever deserved a medal for finishing fourth, it’s these guys.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

25 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #17 – Baltimore”

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  1. arbeck says:

    A perfect example of why we need some sort of realignment. I would propose we do away with divisions completely. The top 5 teams in each league make the playoffs. The 5 and 4 seeds play a 3 game series for the right to play the 1 seed in a 5 game series. The 2 and 3 seeds play a 5 game series. Then the two winners play a seven game series.

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    • Dave S. says:

      This is the best idea I’ve read yet. It adds playoff revenue and enough incentive to not be one of the two de-facto wild-cards. I guess the only concern might be that the East teams would dominate.

      I have long though that adding another wild card and giving them a single play-in game would be good in that it would add regular season drama but also represent a legit penalty for being the wild card instead of the division winner, but I think arbeck’s is the most sensible one I’ve heard yet.

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      • Glen says:

        Over Bud Selig’s dead body does something positive/proactive like this get done. What a corrupt mess of a commish.

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      • Dave S. says:

        I don’t know…I think Selig would love to expand the playoff pool. There’s more money during the regular season as you add another team to the races, and then another series in the playoffs adds that revenue. Plus, Selig – who almost certainly is aware of how much the playoffs rely on luck – would love another opportunity to trumpet equality. It’s unlikely, of course, but not out of the realm of possibility that this solution could be brought into play, solely because it could make the owners richer.

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    • Scott says:

      You’d probably have to get rid of the unbalanced schedule as part of this scenario as well. Sounds good to me.

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  2. The Usual SusBeck says:

    I sort of remember articles saying the Angelos was willing to spend in the near future. Whether this means retaining the guys they’re developing or banking on a couple big FA in a year they want to make a run, I don’t think they can be written off as their players get more expensive.

    Also a lot of payroll comes off the books next year with Tejada, Atkins, Millwood off the books.

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    • CMC_Stags says:

      Baltimore has spent before. I would imagine that they would spend again under the right circumstances in the future.

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  3. Whateverfor says:

    The Orioles had a 95 million dollar payroll in 2007, it’s only been down the past few years because of the highly necessary rebuilding. They won’t compete with the Yankees and Red Sox on payroll, but if they start winning games again they should support a Phillies-level payroll.

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  4. James F says:

    As an O’s fan, I like being in the AL East. Does it make things harder? Sure, I guess. But if you want to be the best team in baseball, you need to beat these guys.

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  5. Llewdor says:

    There’s no need for radical realignment. In 2008, Toronto fielded the 4th best team in all of baseball. They were legitimate contenders, even in the AL East.

    That shows that contention is possible even for the teams with the most disadvantageous circumstances, and that means we don’t need to do anything drastic. The problem isn’t nearly as big as people think it is.

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    • Jacob Jackson says:

      I think the 4th-best team in baseball should always make the playoffs.

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    • JT says:

      Yeah, seriously. If you’re going to call 2008 Toronto the 4th best team in baseball, don’t you have to address the fact that that strength still meant they finished 4th in their division, 9 games out of the wild card?

      You can be the 4th best team in baseball and not be competitive for a playoff spot due to the strength of the AL East. To me, that’s the essence of the case for revising divisional alignments or playoff spot distribution

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    • Whateverfor says:

      2008 Toronto is the worst possible example for your opinion. They ended the year 9 games out of the playoffs despite being the fourth best team in baseball. 2008 was also the year every single AL East team had a winning record outside the division, winning 56.6% of the time (equivalent to 92 games over a 162 game season).

      The correct way to approach it is to say that years like 2008 in the AL East aren’t that common.

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  6. Chair says:

    Too bad Tex didn’t sign with them. That would have changed their outlook by a fair amount. Still, if they follow the 08 Ray’s model……………

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  7. Grant says:

    How can you justify having an inferior Baltimore team, both in the majors and in the minors, that far ahead of Toronto? You take 10 spots from the Jays rightful spot (~16-18) because of the AL East but don’t do it for the O’s? Makes no sense.

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    • Michael says:

      The O’s have a better core of young players and no hamstringing contracts than the Jays. They also have comparable players coming up in the future. They’ll probably be better this year than the Jays. I think that’s reason enough.

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    • Jeff Nye says:

      I wonder how many people’s first post on Fangraphs is to complain about the placement of their favorite team in this series.

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      • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

        I am positively giddy that my team hasn’t been mentioned yet. What with Omar and the contest I figure he would bump us way down, luckily the minors actually look pretty damn strong.

        Note* Please don’t burst my bubble by telling me the Mets were already listed at 26 or something and I missed them. That’d make a day where Manuel puts Mejia in the pen even worse.

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      • Jeff Nye says:

        Well, to be fair, I imagine payroll is the main reason we haven’t seen the Mets, yet.

        Their kind of revenue streams can cover up most of the mistakes that Minaya can make.

        I expect we’ll see them in the next few slots, though.

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      • CasseyB says:

        Detroit (ranked 21) had a higher payroll than the Mets in 2008. The Cubs (ranked 18) had the same payroll as the Mets in 2009. I doubt payroll is the main consideration. Don’t mistake injuries (the problem with the Mets last year) for incompetence. Having said that I think Omar is a mediocre GM, though not nearly as bad as some make him out to be.

        I’m glad that the whoever determined these rankings appears to be fairly objective.

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  8. I’d expect the Mets to land around 12 due to payroll, Wright and Reyes with very reasonable contracts, and ummm… Ike Davis? Yeah, so Mets around 12 due to payroll, that sounds good.

    BTW I’m also Mets Knicks Rutgers, not many of us around (I’m also Giants/Devils)

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  9. Steve says:

    Even Boston doesn’t sport a payroll outside of the Orioles’ reach. So we play in a division with the Yankees… so what. They’ve had financial advantages for 60 years. Hasn’t stopped any of the other 4 division contenders from making the World Series. It’s an excuse. Field a good team and you’ll win games. Didn’t you just say that last year?

    The O’s appeal to people all over Baltimore/Washington, which is the 4th largest metro area in the U.S. Bigger than Boston. Bigger than Philly. Bigger than Dallas. Sure we have to share with the Nats, but the way MASN is structured, them doing well actually pumps more money into the Orioles.

    That the O’s can’t spend is a bunch of bunk.

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  10. cowboy says:

    Can’t say I’m fond of “Organizational Rankings” that so heavily factor in opposing teams and the division. Sort of does a injustice to the Orioles who have a bright organization which is the only thing they can control. Nonetheless, I appreciate the work done as usual.

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  11. And they’ll turn on you together with consider your freedom aside. Do not you will know this kind of key phrases as “Social Justice” “Economic Justice” “Environmental Justice”

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