In a Friday afternoon segment with 105.7 The Fan, Orioles CEO and chairman John Angelos said he was hopeful the club will eventually operate with a payroll that’s in the upper half of the major leagues while also mentioning three clubs who have combined for one top-15 payroll in the past decade as models the organization has studied.
After dismissing a question during a Monday news conference about his family’s future owning the team because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Angelos was not asked about those comments during Friday’s radio appearance, nor his statement to reporters that he would welcome them back to Camden Yards “next week” to “show you the financials of the Orioles,” a meeting that has yet to be scheduled. He also faced no questions about his family’s ongoing legal battles, the team’s expiring lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the dispute between the Washington Nationals and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, for which he is also CEO.
Angelos was asked, though, whether the team’s payroll — projected to be the second lowest of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams on opening day, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts — had “the capacity at some point in the near future” to return to the top half of the league. It was all but one year from 2012 to 2018, a stretch in which the Orioles made three playoff appearances but also posted the worst record in franchise history, prompting an organizational rebuild.
In his response, Angelos referenced a comment earlier in the segment when he said the baseball operations department led by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias — who appeared alongside Angelos — has studied how teams in Milwaukee, Tampa Bay and Cleveland have had success despite lower payrolls. The Brewers, Rays and Guardians have ranked among the upper half of the league in opening day payroll one time combined over the past decade, according to Cot’s; Cleveland was 15th in 2018.
“I like to tell everyone, this job stinks with low payrolls, right?” said Angelos, whose family owns 70% of the team. “I’d love to be sitting in New York with $300 million payrolls. You’ve got to build it like any small, medium or large business. It’s cyclical, and then you hope that you can continue to feed that cycle, and I think we will be able to [return to the top half of the league].”
In each of the past four seasons, the Orioles ranked in the bottom four in payroll, having one of the majors’ five worst records from 2019 to 2021 before unexpectedly breaking out of their rebuild with an 83-79 campaign in which they were the best American League team to not reach the postseason. Much of the organization’s focus during that time was devoted to improving its underlying infrastructure, particularly investing in analytics and international scouting.
“Everything that we’ve asked for since I’ve been here,” Elias said, “to carry out the stuff that we need do to rebuild the team on the field, but also the infrastructure of the organization, everything that we’ve asked for in that regard, hiring, building a Dominican academy, building new offices in the warehouse, all that kind of stuff behind the scenes has been a ‘yes’ from this partnership group.”
The team’s projected $64.9 million opening day payroll is nearly a 50% increase from the beginning of last season, but it’s more than $200 million below the New York Yankees, who rank second, and more than $100 million behind the Boston Red Sox, who rank 15th.
Angelos said efforts to increase payroll would be helped “if we collectively as a community can get people coming back downtown,” adding the team plans to announce several non-baseball events at Camden Yards soon.
“Obviously, baseball has the most unbalanced nature to it,” Angelos said. “You’ve got teams with $300 million payrolls and teams under $100 [million]. You don’t have that in the other sports, so it’s a different animal. They’re all a little bit different, but we’re trying to maneuver our way through it.”
The Orioles’ payroll could still increase before opening day, with Elias saying the club will continue to explore upgrades in all areas before and after pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Florida, for spring training Feb. 15. After signing right-hander Kyle Gibson in early December to a one-year, $10 million contract — the largest guarantee the Orioles have given out in the past five offseasons — Elias said he would be interested in adding another starting pitcher. But the free-agent market has thinned out since, with Elias saying Friday, “We had some very close opportunities where it just went in a different direction.”
There was movement in the trade market Friday, with the Minnesota Twins trading AL batting champion Luis Arráez to the Miami Marlins for starting pitching Pablo López and two prospects.
“We’ve been talking to everybody,” Elias said. “There’s nothing imminent as of this afternoon, but that changes with sort of one text, one phone call sometimes. We really like our team. We see areas where we can get better, and we’re trying to pursue those players, but there’s competition out there.
“You see a trade like today where it was two teams kind of exchanging major league pieces. That’s been more of the nature of what’s out there in terms of dialogues this year because everyone’s kind of going for the playoffs.”
Elias said last month he was hesitant to include a major leaguer in a deal. Baltimore has the sport’s best minor league system, with both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus including eight Orioles prospects in their respective top 100 lists, and pulling from that stockpile would likely better suit Elias’ efforts to improve the major league team without also detracting from it.
“We’re wanting to get into the dance here, so we were oriented towards that with every move that we make,” Elias said. “We’ve got to keep the health of the organization in mind and not sell out the future for 2023, which we’re not going to do that, but we’re really enthused about this group for this year, for the next several years, for beyond, and the thought of getting to Sarasota really gets me going right now.”
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