The Rockies have been the weirdest team in baseball for about 23 years. It's not always their fault, as explained here, but they have a penchant to compound the weirdness with inanity and more weirdness. They're the Cardinals of being weird. Every year you think they might stumble, and then, nope, they're right back where they were, being the kings of weird.
Except the Rockies have a stable of homegrown young pitchers now. They're all part of a plan. A reasonable plan. The Troy Tulowitzki trade was a little bizarre at the time, and time isn't helping that perception, but building a rotation from the ground up is how they won their only pennant. Their grip on the weirdness trophy is in jeopardy.
Enter the Orioles. You might think this is an overreaction to the Dexter Fowler non-signing, and you might be right. But it's not just the Fowler mess, in which a deal was so close to being done that the Baltimore Sun was writing editorials about it, unless it wasn't close to being done at all, like Fowler's agent contends. It's all of it. It's the moves they make and the moves they don't make.
The Orioles are the weirdest team in baseball. We'll start at the top.
1998 - 2011
The Orioles were lousy during these seasons. That's a long time, y'all. Kids went from diapers to Dodges between postseason appearances. The team spent a little, but not enough. The farm system didn't spit out enough talent. Did you know there was a season in which the top player on the team by WAR was Brad Bergesen? They finished 39 games back, but it really felt like 40.
It's hard to explain the mood around a team like this. The fans are mad at the team. They're mad at themselves for caring. They're indifferent at their anger, unless they're angry at their indifference. And it just keeps going on and on and on.
At some point, the Orioles were kicked out of Korea, too. That made perfect sense. That was something the Orioles would have happen, alright.
Then the Orioles are good. The entire baseball universe was reenacting the scene from Contact, where astronomers from around the world had to confirm they were also picking up the weird signals. You're getting this, right? The Orioles are good? It's not just something that needs calibrating or ... got it, they're actually good, thanks for the confirmation.
It was just about the most magical season in baseball history, at least when compared to the previous 13 seasons of utter non-magic. The Orioles were back.
Here's what the Orioles did in the offseason to capitalize on the momentum:
- Signed Jason Pridie
- Selected Alexi Casilla off waivers
- Signed Nate McLouth
- The Yamaico Navarro Trade
- Signed Chris Dickerson
- Played a lot of Minesweeper
- Signed Rich Rundles?
They drew two million fans for the first time in five seasons. They were finally relevant again. They made the postseason after more than a decade of misery. They were a team on the rise, with under-30 talent and a steady manager to guide them. And the team did nothing in the offseason.
The Orioles had wildly exceeded their expected winning percentage the previous year because of their absurd record in one-run games. Then they did nothing. They finished in third place with 85 wins because of course they did.
Whoops, well, they learned their lesson. They weren't going to do that again. They were going to be active in the market because that's what normal contending teams did. So, they went out and got Edgmer Escalona and, uh, Brad Brach. And Johnny Monell.
Then December came, and they got Jemile Weeks and David Lough. And, uh, Xavier Paul.
Then January came, and they got Delmon Young. And then Alex Gonzalez. It doesn't matter which one. Oh, Orioles.
It looked like another disaster of an offseason, at least until February. That's when they POW signed Ubaldo Jimenez and BAM signed Nelson Cruz. It was a one-two punch that shook the hot stove league up just before spring training. It turns out they had money to spend, and they weren't afraid of giving up draft picks. It's just that their plan was to wait and wait and wait for some reason.
Cruz worked out. Jimenez didn't. And in retrospect, the entire 2014 free agent class was a complete boondoggle, so the Orioles made out like bandits with Cruz. But the strategy was still curious. Why wait until February? What would have happened if those players weren't there?
Hey, it worked. Looks like they were smart, and we were dumb. The Orioles won 96 games, their highest total in almost two decades. They were a hot streak away from winning the pennant. They had that momentum again, that sweet, sweet momentum that the fans drink up and the players can sense when they're playing at home. They were going to take that momentum into the offseason, and ...
... claim Alex Hassan off waivers. And purchase Jason Garcia. And re-sign Delmon Young. And sell Steve Lombardozzi. And ...
It was another offseason of utter inactivity after making the postseason. It's like everyone exhaled after the season and said, "We did it. We have a postseason team now. Don't want to mess with this baby."
That's weird, right? It's beyond weird. It's just about the weirdest offseason I can remember, and the Orioles have done it twice.
Lots of money was spent to keep the Orioles' own players, which should build up some credibility with the fans. But a pattern emerged.
- Do nothing
- Pounce on those February free agents
- Do nothing
- Pounce on those February free agents
It's better than doing nothing? And like Cruz and Ubaldo did, Yovani Gallardo makes a fair amount of sense. Manny Machado is a star who might become a super-mega star. Chris Davis' contract might be a mess in five years, but he's still a prodigious dinger monster for the near future. Adam Jones is locked up through his peak years. You have to build around those players, even if with unexciting, competent free agents.
Fowler made sense, then. Just like every other outfielder on the market did. The Orioles' strategy was apparently to wait out the market again, and they would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for those meddling agents. Or those opt-out clauses. Or, look, it doesn't matter. Fowler would have helped a team that needs every scrap of help in a taut AL East.
Instead, it looks like a .500 team essentially traded Wei-Yin Chen for Gallardo.
Where's the plan? Where's the urgency? Where are the flashing sirens and screaming klaxons after their return to relevance in 2012, when everyone in that front office and ownership group should have thought, "WE DON'T WANT TO WAIT ANOTHER 13 YEARS. WE CAN'T WAIT ANOTHER 13 YEARS?" Are the Orioles the only team in baseball that would have followed ultra-rare postseason appearances with devastating periods of hibernation? Are they the only team in baseball that has an organizational philosophy of "Wait until February and see what shakes out?"
Yeah, probably. Which is why they're the weirdest team in baseball. They could still contend this season, and if the pattern holds, they probably will contend. They might even surprise the baseball world and make the postseason.
If they do, they'll get a chance to have the offseason they should have had in any one of the last four. If they act with the slightest sense of urgency, they'll stop being the weirdest team in baseball. It's an easy fix, and the Rockies will reclaim the throne.
Until then ... go Orioles? Keep doing your thing, and we'll take notes. It's pure baseball nihilism, and at least we get to study it.