Baltimore Orioles: How to put athletics back in the business of sports

Today is the first day of business for the Baltimore Orioles in 2017. That’s right – the champagne has dried, and the fireworks have been put out. Man, New Year’s Eve seems like ages ago!

So while the Birds are “on the clock,” in a sense (in terms of making moves and so forth), I want to piggyback to what I wrote yesterday about guys sitting out to protect future contracts. As I said, I’m the first one to point out that sports is a business. However I also don’t believe that business should totally get in the way of sports. How do we change that?

It starts at a grassroots level, ironically in a very innocent manner. When I was a kid in the 1980’s, I played just about every sport in an organized manner: baseball, basketball, and soccer. My mother never wanted me to play football or hockey…because they were too dangerous (in her mind). But I played my share of quarterback on the sandlots of the community park and so forth. Not unlike other kids of my generation.

However how often do you drive by a park now and see neighborhood games of football, baseball, basketball, etc? Not as often as you used to, right? Video games, internet, and social media have replaced playing outside as a source of entertainment for kids. Furthermore many parents don’t want their kids to cross the street unattended, much less walk to the park to play with other kids in the neighborhood.

But that’s just an add-on in a sense. My main point goes much deeper; how many kids play multiple sports nowadays? My Dad not only wanted me to play different sports, but he coached me in all of them. (And had my mother allowed me to play football, I’m sure he would have coached me in that also. But not hockey; my Pops isn’t much of a hockey fan so I’m not sure he could have pulled that off!) That’s a very powerful lesson to kids in terms of not limiting yourself to only one thing; play multiple sports and try to be at your best in all of them.

Nowadays let’s face it; not only do kids only play one sport, but they’re almost being groomed to be a superstar in it by age ten or eleven. And no that’s not a stretch – you know that as well as I do. College recruiting is extremely competitive nowadays, and if you want to be recruited by the top schools and coaches in your sport you have to be the best. And if you can’t hack it, odds are someone else can.

So many parents’ and kids’ attitudes have become why should I waste my time with baseball when I can do basketball 365 days a year and be really good at it? And you can insert any sports you want into that equation. The DC/Baltimore region is a hot bed of talent in terms of high school and college basketball. Big schools from all over the country recruit from this region – look at Texas getting Kevin Durant, and Syracuse Carmelo Anthony. How many of these kids are playing multiple sports?

Some of them are, I suspect. However that number is getting smaller and smaller. So the perhaps unindended message that parents are sending is focus really hard for a long time at this sport and forget about the other ones so that you can play college ball at a high level, go pro, and make a lot of money. And there’s where the beginnings of the business begin: make a lot of money. I’m not suggesting that shouldn’t play a role, because it should. But later – much later.

Baseball unfortunately is no different. Parents who see their kid can throw a great fastball in the zone are just as aggressive as basketball or football parents. My point is to let kids be kids for awhile. I was never a good enough athlete to play anything at the high school level. However I remember my school’s basketball coach (who was the best teacher I ever had and who lettered in three different sports at that same school) telling me that kids should get to play every sport when they’re young. And there’s no reason why you can’t be good in more than one of them, for the record. If you’re good enough, somewhere around your sophmore or junior year in high school you should probably consider picking one on which to focus.

Admittedly, none of this is gospel. However I do think that perhaps if parents were a little less aggressive in trying to engineer their kids into a star basketball or football player (again, insert your sports) at such a young age, perhaps the pressure wouldn’t constantly be on the kid to have to be the best. Should we train our kids to believe that second place is okay? Absolutely not – I’m not on board with participation awards. However I do believe in not pushing quite so hard so young to get a college scholarship so as to have a great collegiate career so they can get drafted and make a lot of money.

Again, this is all theoretical in a sense. But you get my point, I suspect. Incidentally, what if the kid just isn’t that good of a basketball player? What if he can throw a great slider but can’t locate his fastball? (If you can’t throw a big league fastball you won’t make it in MLB.) Then you’ve put all you eggs in one basket, and you’ll never know if perhaps he would have been great at another sport. So let the kids play, and put sports back into the game!



Baltimore Orioles: When sports ceases and business takes over

Today is obviously a federal holiday (for New Year’s Day since it fell on a Sunday), which means that the Baltimore Orioles probably aren’t going to do much today. In fact, I’m not going to do much either – aside from watch bowl games. Which is a nice tie-in with what I’m about to say.

It’s always dangerous when I bring money and so forth into this column. But I’m going to do it. I’m the first one to tell you that sports is a business. That usually comes up when fans cry foul over contract negotiations, and even when I go into rants about unwritten codes of baseball. I’ll always throw that in when that topic comes up because I do believe that people should conduct themselves with a certain amount of decorum in the workplace (and the ballpark is their workplace). But can the who it’s a business angle be taken too far?

There are several collegiate athletes in this year’s slate of college football bowl games who are opting to sit their school’s game out. Now in some cases, the players had nagging injuries. If someone’s hurt, I totally understand not playing. However if it’s the player’s decision, that gives it a different angle.

The point here is that some of these players decided to do this so as to avoid an injury in a non-national championship bowl game that would potentially hurt their draft status. And yes, that’s a business decision. One I’m sure that’s applauded by financial advisors and agents. However does it not work contrary to the very business that the athletes are trying to join?

The idea of course is that if the player gets hurt (and I always think back to Miami’s Willis McGahee) he could cost himself a lot of money and potentially a career in the NFL. And yes, that may well be a legitimate concern, especially if you’re playing in a game such as the Idaho Potato Bowl or something like that. (I’m not knocking that game, just using it as an example of  non-national title game bowl that isn’t going to garner much interest.) But is that fair to teammates, coaches, and fans?

And the answer to that is obviously no. Furthermore look at it this way; while you as a collegiate athlete don’t draw a salary (and it should remain that way), in a sense you do get paid because you’re getting a free education along with room and board. And yes, the university is probably making money off of you as an athlete – that’s part of the deal. So are you not in a way going against the grain of the business you’re in at the moment by not playing?

That’s a tough one to prove because we now have this conversation about whether college athletes should be paid. I obviously don’t think they should, but that’s another story. With that said, I’d be wary of drafting even a superstar who pulled a stunt like that. It tells me something about their character when they claim they’re sitting out for a reason like that. Now granted I’m pretty old school; I’m sure there are a million “new-age GM’s” out there who would gladly draft a college superstar if he fell to them because of what I would deem a conflict of character, and then if the guy ended up being a superstar in the NFL I’d be charged with not being willing to take a chance on a guy. But that’s just how I roll.

To equate this to baseball, let’s say that several members of the Orioles didn’t want to play in the wild card game in Toronto last October because they felt the game wasn’t important enough. Now granted that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because that’s a winner-take-all game as opposed to one out of however many college bowl games which admittedly are somewhat meaningless. But you get my point; what would fans say if someone like a Trumbo didn’t want to risk injury because it’s such a long shot to make it to the fall classic and I have to ensure my future?

Again, that’s why I say this is a character issue. It’s easy enough to in a way applaud a player for looking to the future when he’s in college, but there’s not a fan out there who wouldn’t be all over a professional athlete for doing the same thing. And justifialy so.

This is what happens when we totally let the business side of it take over. You now have 21 and 22-year old kids making business decisions before they’re even in the business – an agent’s dream, I might add once again. There has to be a balance between both sides. All I know is that it’s incredibly poor form to sit out of any game simply because you don’t want to get hurt and risk an injury. While you may be doing yourself a favor in a business sense, it’s not about that. It’s about the team. And if you aren’t a team player, you shouldn’t be playing the game and thus be “in the business” to begin with.

Baltimore Orioles: Happy New Year, 2017!

Seven short hours ago at the stroke of midnight, 2017 because this year for the Baltimore Orioles. 2016 is now officially last year…all it took was the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve! If you’re reading this before noon, congratulations. That means you’re like me, and you like getting a jump start on your day – and year.

The alternative is that you’re like me in another way…you’re so unpopular that nobody wants to do New Year’s Eve with you. But I digress…welcome to this year, O’s fans! Does it feel any different?

It shouldn’t. The Orioles still have the same virtues and shortcomings as they did yesterday. However New Year’s Day is a strategic moment in the off season. When the calendar turns can also be when the hot stove season really gets heated up. But we’ll get to that.

For now, I hope that all of you had a safe and Happy New Year last night and today. We find ourselves in a weird bizzaro world whereby the NFL season is closing on New Year’s Day, whereby normally it’s a day stacked with college football. But baseball’s coming folks, and soon at that!

Baltimore Orioles: A look back at 2016

This being New Year’s Eve, it’s probably appropriate to look back on 2016 and some of the moments the Baltimore Orioles provided. And there were quite a few, starting with their Opening Day win over Minnesota that featured two rain delays. The Birds found several games rained out in April, which pushed their schedule later on down the line.

But if I had to remember one thing from the 2016 season, it would be the stretch run. Even from the perspective of a writer covering the team, August and September were flat out exciting times in Birdland. We literally had five or six teams in the American League bunched together vying for wild card spots or division titles.

Part of that stretch run was taking three of four from their regional rivals, the Washington Nationals. These two teams always play each other tough, but as has usually been the case the Birds came out on top. The O’s also took two-of-three in San Francisco, with the final game of the series being perhaps one of the biggest wins of the season. The Birds came back from six runs down to defeat San Francisco and take the series in dramatic fashion.

A series win in Detroit also aided the cause, potentially ending Detroit’s playoff hopes. However it was taking two-of-three in New York in the final series of the regular season that sealed the Orioles’ fate. They clinched the final playoff spot at Yankee Stadium, and went onto Toronto for the Wild Card game.

Obviously we know how that ended up. But in the end it’s the fact that they made it to the post season that really counted. And as I said, those final two months of the season were pure excitement almost everyday.

With that said, at midnight tonight it’ll be time to turn the calendar. 2016 will be history across the board. Hope springs eternal.

Baltimore Orioles: Should the Birds reconsider Jose Bautista?

The Baltimore Orioles have been steadfast in their denials of Jose Bautista thus far this off season. Whatever the reason is – the fans, clubhouse, coaches, or something else, the O’s just don’t want him. His agent seems intent on Bautista wanting a long-term deal, whereas it seems franchises aren’t so keen on the idea.

However I do want to re-visit this idea for the purposes of this column. Are the Orioles doing themselves a disservice? Bautista’s camp has recently come out and casually indicated that they might be ameanable to a shorter deal. So…should the Orioles consider making an offer?

Let’s say that Dan Duquette was totally on the level when he said that the Orioles didn’t want him because the fans didn’t like him. I think he would have been right – Orioles fans have never liked Bautista. Mainly because he’s never not taken an opportunity to show the Orioles up on the field. Beating them is one thing, showing them up is quite another.

Bautista’s a showboater, and guys like that have never done well in Baltimore. In any sport. But would he help the Orioles on the field? That’s the true question. And that’s ultimately the one that a lot of Orioles fans will want to know before they render judgement on a potential deal for Bautista.

I’m not sure that there’s anyone out there who would look at Bautista’s attitude and say that’s exactly what the Orioles need. Bautista’s a guy who’s going to get his teammates injured if he isn’t careful. Remember the time he tried to throw an Orioles’ runner out at first base after a base hit? That’s the type of bush league attitude that he brings to the table and that the Orioles are trying to avoid. Again, I’m not sure that anyone’s looking at his attitude and thinking that the Orioles sorely need someone like that. Whether he would help the team on the field or not.

For the record, Bautista had a WAR (wins above replacement) of 1.0 last year. That in effect means that Bautista’s team will get one additional win as opposed to if some other run-of-the-mill player was in his spot. That’s certainly a positive WAR, and there’s no doubt about that. But keep in mind that stat can’t tell you how many losses he might induce with his attitude. So…do we really think that it would behoove the O’s to go after Bautista?

Baltimore Orioles awaiting word on minicamp

The Baltimore Orioles are expecting to continue their time-honored tradition of hosting an annual minicamp next month. The Birds gather every year at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to work out young players and to gauge where they are in their progression. It’s normally something that leads into Orioles FanFest week.

However right now there’s a hangup in this process: the union. The MLBPA has to sign off on any baseball-related activity that occurs during the off season. This has never been a problem before, and I don’t expect it to be this year.

But the Birds are still in a holding pattern in a sense. I wouldn’t expect anything to happen before the New Year’s holiday. You can kind of understand how this might be frustrating for a team given the fact that they’re trying to get their ducks in a row in terms of sending out invitations and getting lodging for players. But still…we wait.

Personally I think it’s a good thing that the O’s hold these minicamps, as it gives guys a chance to hone their skills in the middle of the winter doldrums. And Sarasota in January is similar to Baltimore in May, so that’s not a bad thing in the least for most players. At the end of the day, this has me thinking far too much about spring time!

Baltimore Orioles: Looking back on ratings once again

Looking back on the autumn, I wrote here and there about lessons that the Baltimore Orioles and MLB could learn from the NFL in terms of over-saturation and TV ratings. I would argue that the NFL is over-saturating it’s product which in turn is diluting it – if that’s possible. In their quest to own almost every night of the week, they’re providing an almost unwatchable product in Thursday Night Football. But I digress.

NFL ratings were down this autumn, due in large part in my view to the election. However again, there were other reasons for this, not limited to the whole National Anthem debate. However the ratings have started to pick up as the season’s gone into it’s stretch run, which in my view is no coincidence given that the election is over. However the NFL feels differently as to why this has happened – and the Orioles should take note.

I’ve read a few articles to the effect that part of why ratings have spiked again is due to the success of the Dallas Cowboys this year. Their success isn’t debatable, however to pin the ratings of the entire league being up again on that is a bit much. I’m not debating that they have a national following, because that goes without saying. However I highly doubt that someone was more motivated to watch last week’s Chargers/Browns game because the Cowboys are good.

However if in fact this is a prevailing sentiment, it’s entirely possible that MLB might start thinking to themselves, gee, maybe our ratings would spike if certain teams are running the table also. Obviously by that, I mean teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox, both of whom have national followings. Could and would MLB make things easier for those teams in a sense?

Well first off, could they? And the answer is no – at least not any more so than they already have. The luxury tax in baseball was designed to squeeze teams who go over a certain level when it comes to salaries. However teams like that simply work that into their budget. MLB couldn’t really do anything to tangibly ensure that those two teams are perpetually good; again, more so than they already have.

The other part is would  they? And the answer there is probably. Baseball’s heyday in the lasrt 15-20 years was probably when New York and Boston were battling year after year in the post season. People paid attention – BIG TIME. Heck, most of America seemingly adopted either New York or Boston during these series’ just to have a rooting interest. So again, if in fact the Dallas Cowboys are single-handedly driving NFL ratings, MLB could look to that and think of how good their ratings might be in some of their more polarizing teams were in it big.

And incidentally, you notice I used the word polarizing. I didn’t say popular. The Los Angeles Dodogers and Chicago Cubs are popular teams. The Green Bay Packers are a popular team. But those franchises aren’t polarizing, like the Cowboys, Yankees, and Red Sox. People who despise them are just as likely to tune in and watch as people who love them. And when you combine the lovers and the haters, yes you have a vast audience.

One thing that MLB could and probably will do is ensure that Boston and New York are on national television as often as they can be. Granted that’s been happening for years, but of course teams get more revenue for national telecasts. When the two sides play over a weekend, you can expect them to be shown nationally on FOX on Saturday afternoon, and of course on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

So where does that leave the Orioles? In an uphill fight for sure. But that’s been the case for a long time, and since 2012 at least they’ve always found a way.

Baltimore Orioles: Fools or kings?

The Baltimore Orioles are either really dumb or really smart. Take your pick. I say that in the tradition of how in international politics they say that one man’s criminal is another man’s freedom fighter. Now I don’t personally believe that because regardless of anything else terrorism is terrorism. But work with me.

The Orioles hold out seemingly every year for value. While other teams make big splashes that are very costly in November and December, the Orioles wait until the waning days of the hot stove season to make their moves. And they aren’t necessarily taking pieces off the scrap heap.

Many would argue that with the likes of Gallardo and Jimenez that’s exactly what they did. But that’s called revisionist history; at the time those deals were signed, they were widely praised. The Orioles got a bargain on both players, according to most experts. And that’s how you have to judge a move like that – in the moment. If you let production in real time taint the deal, it either becomes the greatest deal or the worst deal of all time.

However the same was true of guys like Cruz, Alvarez, and even Davis. The Orioles waited until the market forced the price to come down. And they got themselves a great deal on a great player. Those moves of course are considered great moves given the way the player’s production turned out. But again, that’s the wrong way to judge a move.

Nevertheless, it’s also playing a game of chicken in a sense. You never know when someone else is going to swoop in and grab the player on whom you have your eye. That might have just happened with Cleveland signing Encarnacion. I would agree that $20 million a year for three years is too much for him. Cleveland basically threw caution to the wind and overpaid him.

The question is how much interest did the Orioles actually have in him? I think there was some muted interest, but they weren’t hot on the trail. However what Cleveland did is a player’s dream; just swoop in and make an offer like that which can’t be refused. And again, that’s why you run a risk when you wait for the price to come down on players. If someone says screw it we want this guy at all costs, you’re done before you started.

So the strategy is either brilliant or ridiculously dumb – take your pick. If the Orioles end up with a guy like Trubo returning because the market went down late in the game, they’ll be incredibly lucky and look incredibly smart. But it’s also a game of roulette – and time will tell whether or not their number comes up.

Baltimore Orioles: Is Mike Napoli a fit?

The rumor’s out there – that the Baltimore Orioles are interested in free agent first baseman and catcher, Mike Napoli. He of course played with the Cleveland Indians in 2016, helping to lead them to the World Series. And he wasn’t just a role player – Napoli was a big part of the team.

Napoli played in 150 games, hitting .239 and getting on base at a .335 clip. He also smacked a career-high 34 home runs. So before we go any further, is there more than meets the eye to those numbers?

Obviously what I’m questioning is whether or not Napoli was juicing. And I’d be willing to put my hand to the fire and say that he wasn’t. Granted I can’t say that for sure, however there are always rumors about guys when that type of thing is going on. Due to varying injuries in the past, those questions have been raised about Napoli. But nothing was ever definitively proven or even insinuated. Where there’s no smoke, there’s often no fire.

So what would Napoli do the Orioles’ lineup? I suspect that the days of him being a regular catcher are over, and the Orioles already have the likes of Joseph as their backup catcher. So…would Napoli be the Orioles’ first baseman? Perhaps a DH?

I suspect that signing Napoli to be a DH would waste a roster spot. That’s why a guy like Trumbo was so valuable, because he was an outfielder. The Birds need to beef up their outfield, specifically in right. So if they’re going to platoon a guy at DH, he should be an outfielder. So where does the Orioles’ interest in Napoli stem?

I suspect that if they were to bring him aboard, the idea would probably be that Davis would move to right field semi-regularly. We know he can play the position, dating back to the waning days of the 2012 season – and onward. On days when Napoli would DH, we’d probably see Davis at first base again.

That’s not a horrible idea, incidentally. However Davis is a good first baseman. The Orioles in my view would be foolish to lose his glove over there. Granted in the scenario I just gave you he would still play there part-time, but you get my point. When you have something good going you don’t change it up.

So could Napoli play in the outfield? In 2015 he did play 11 games as a left fielder for Texas…and held a .600 fielding percentage. So scrap that idea. Napoli’s bat, leadership skills, and savoir faire would definitely help the Orioles. However I’m not sure there’s space for his skill set on the roster. Time will tell.

Baltimore Orioles: Pass on Rajai Davis

As the Baltimore Orioles and the rest of the world celebrate Christmas morning, there’s been a name out there the past couple of days in Birdland: Rajai Davis. Davis spent last year as a member of the Cleveland Indians, and of course was a part of their World Series run. And now apparently there’s interest in the Warehouse in signing him.

And I’m one writer who’s going to suggest that’s a bad idea. First off, let me contradict myself for a moment; he would fill a need for the Orioles in the outfielder. Davis is solid in the outfield, presenting a .980 fielding percentage last year across two different positions. So if he came to town, the Orioles would fill that need.

However at 36, Davis would probably be signing a one-year contract. Trust me folks I’m going to be 36 in a couple of weeks; nobody’s banging the door down for your services at that age! last year Davis hit .249 with only 12 homers in Cleveland (over 134 games). He also only got on base at a .306 clip. That isn’t exactly what the Orioles need right now.

Dan Duquette is on record as saying that he wants to improve the Orioles’ OBP this off season. A guy who only gets on base in some manner 30% of the time isn’t exactly going to cut it. Now with that said, there are also much worse signings out there than Davis. However I just don’t see him as being a viable option for this team.

In general however, I would normally thrown in a disclaimer of you never know what putting him in a ballpark like Camden Yards will do for him. That’s always a valid point, however in this case perhaps not so much so. Davis played last year at Progressive Field in Cleveland, which was modeled after Camden Yards.

You can see his production numbers for yourselves above. Davis has had a solid career without a doubt, and quite frankly he’s always played well against the Orioles. However that shouldn’t be a factor in the Orioles’ decision. This is nt to say that there isn’t a place for a guy like Davis out there somewhere. I suspect that there is, and that he’ll be on someone’s roster in 2017. I just don’t think it should be that of the Orioles.

So if you’ve made it this far, thank you! There are other things to do today besides read a baseball column, or even worry about the 2017 Orioles. There are gifts to be given and opened, and in my case a big vat of tomato sauce to be made in for my parents. So fro my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas!