The biggest news is baseball this week was the Florida-Toronto megadeal. Since the Blue Jays are in the same division as the Orioles, it’s natural that Baltimore fans got a little nervous when five players—three of them front line—were sent to Toronto.
The Blue Jays have seemingly been stuck on a treadmill for nearly 20 years, never good enough to contend, but never bad enough to draft a difference maker.
Toronto’s last star picked in the draft was Roy Halladay, and that was 17 years ago. There have been some decent players taken in the first round since: Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero and J.P. Arencibia, but no Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy.
Free agents rarely want to play in Toronto and players with no-limited no-trade clauses routinely have the Blue Jays in the no-way category.
That’s why the Orioles still have the advantage over Toronto. They have a core of players: Markakis, Wieters, Machado, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones who are under team control for at least the next two seasons. They were either drafted or acquired in smart trades.
The Orioles are highly unlikely to make a huge deal like the Blue Jays did. They don’t have enough holes to fill.
Twice in their history, the Orioles made large deals, both with the Yankees. At the end of their first season in Baltimore, after they’d gone 54-100, the teams made an astounding 17-player trade.
In June 1976, the first year of free agency, one of the best trades in team history the Yankees and Orioles traded 10 players. Baltimore acquired Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez and Scott McGregor, players who would be essential to their 1979 and 1983 success.
Since then, most deals have smaller. Jones was acquired with five others, including Chris Tillman and George Sherrill from Seattle in 2008. Hardy was picked up for two lesser players.
While others may have belittled Andy MacPhail’s incremental approach, combine his way with Dan Duquette’s undervalued and undiscovered approach, and you have a 2012 season.
Next year will be quite a challenge. Not only will the Orioles be playing with heightened expectations. The temptation is natural to think that they can simply add a piece or two and then advance to the World Series.
Key players must perform as well or better than they did in 2012. Inadequacies must be addressed earlier, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette must give manager Buck Showalter lots of options and trust that they’ll be used wisely.
A year ago, the Orioles sold opportunity to prospective free agents. Other than at a few spots, that is no longer the case. This is a much better, much deeper club than last year.
This year, the Orioles will be selling playoffs to those free agents. The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox can play the opportunity hand this time.
-Orioles’ FanFest will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday Jan. 19.