Before Félix Bautista’s elbow, the main disruptor of the Orioles’ good vibes this season was John Angelos’ mouth.
Numerous times this year, the club’s CEO and chairman has needlessly turned the spotlight on himself with both his actions and words. The trend began in January — when he derailed his own news conference by breaking into a rant about Martin Luther King Jr. while making his first fraudulent offer to publicize the Orioles’ finances — and has carried into last week, with an article from The New York Times in which Angelos took center stage amid his team’s success and squalled about its economical capabilities of retaining its young stars without raising the prices fans pay at Camden Yards.
Between, during a nearly 40-minute media session in February at the team’s spring training complex, he noted the Orioles were “lucky” with the timing of the coronavirus pandemic and unnecessarily doubled down on his offer to break down the organization’s business side, saying he would do so “before spring training is over.” Criticized for once again missing a self-imposed deadline, Angelos spent the final inning of Baltimore’s opening day game blathering to a local radio station, wondering where the fascination with his team’s financial situation had come from.
Like Angelos telling The Times that an internal review was underway into the recent suspension of broadcaster Kevin Brown, it was a case of the Orioles’ CEO embodying the “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this” meme: If he’s wondering who drove the Wienermobile into the Warehouse, he should look down at his hot dog costume.
The criticisms brought Angelos’ way this year aren’t misplaced, but self-wrought. In many ways, he would be doing himself a favor if he stopped speaking and let the team on the field — the best in the American League — do the talking. But there are also ways for him to quiet his detractors, and he doesn’t even have to go so far as answering calls to “open the books” or “sell the team.” The former is impractical, which makes his insistence he would do it all the stranger, and the same is true of the latter as long as his father, incapacitated owner Peter Angelos, is alive, given Angelos would otherwise be subject to steep capital gains taxes.
Instead, here are three reasonable ways for Angelos to improve his public perception among Orioles fans.
1. Sign the lease
This alone could be enough to sway some fans from disdain to neutrality when it comes to Angelos. His year of unforced errors has coincided with the final year of the Orioles’ lease, though that’s only the case because he chose for it to be. After last year’s gubernatorial election, he stopped negotiating with the Maryland Stadium Authority until Wes Moore took office. In February, he had the chance the extend the agreement by five years but declined, leaving it to expire in 11 months. The neighboring Ravens of the NFL agreed to a new lease late last year with five years left on their previous deal.
Angelos has long been adamant the Orioles will remain in Baltimore — as has, importantly, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred. Yet Angelos is leaving a city with scars from the Colts’ exit to stew as the days tick away. In February, he said he hoped a new lease would be an “All-Star break gift,” but that was yet another deadline he fell short of.
The reported holdup is Angelos’ vision of something broader, hoping to turn Camden Yards and the surrounding area into a year-round event space. Trying to achieve that, Angelos at one point asked during negotiations with the state that it provide the Orioles an additional $300 million beyond the $600 million in public funds that will be used to upgrade Camden Yards once there’s a new lease.
“I think it’s premature to talk about investments around the facility when we don’t have a partner that is committing to be there for the next 20 to 30 years,” Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said earlier this month.
Angelos is welcome to think big when it comes to the future of downtown Baltimore, but trying to tie everything together under a ticking clock feels like a fool’s errand. First and foremost, Camden Yards is home to a baseball team, so sign a document to keep it that way, then worry about the rest.
2. Give out an extension
Angelos’ complaints about the impact multiple contracts of at least $150 million would have on the Orioles’ finances fall flat when the largest guaranteed contract they have given out since 2019 is $10 million.
He and his brother, Louis, made the right choice in hiring Mike Elias as the club’s executive vice president and general manager in November 2018, and Angelos has done well in stepping aside and allowing Elias to handle baseball operations. But during Elias’ tenure, Baltimore has signed only one player to a guaranteed multi-year deal, inking John Means to one after he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction during last season.
The organization’s young stars such as Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez remain several years from free agency, but it’s become a common practice for teams — including those in small markets — to sign players of that talent level at this stage of their careers. The club also has a collection of players who weathered the rebuild such as outfielders Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander who have become popular with fans; although that teardown produced potential replacements, signing any beyond the next couple of seasons would show a level of financial investment not seen in recent years.
It’s important to note the club should not spend money for the sake of spending it and that the players, of course, have a say in these processes — and if Angelos has yet to commit to Baltimore, why should they? But his apparent hesitancy raises concerns.
“Let’s say we sat down and showed you the financials for the Orioles,” Angelos told The Times. “You will quickly see that when people talk about giving this player $200 million, that player $150 million, we would be so financially underwater that you’d have to raise the prices massively. Now, are people going to come and pay that? I don’t know if we’re at the limit, to your point. I don’t know if we’re in equilibrium elasticity, supply and demand. Maybe we are. But really that’s just one team. What I’m really trying to think about is macro.”
In place of that word jumble, here is what Angelos could have said when asked whether the Orioles have the ability and willingness to sign their players to extensions: “We’re going to do the best we can and hopefully win some World Series along the way.”
3. Express a desire for a title
To that point, despite his numerous media appearances in recent months, Angelos has seemingly never publicly expressed a desire to bring a championship to Baltimore. An elementary school in the B&O Warehouse? A “live, work, play” district? Sure, but he hasn’t come out and said he wants to make sure the Orioles end a four-decade World Series drought.
It’s not that he hasn’t had the opportunity. In his February session, he said he hoped his team could mirror the successes of other “small market” franchises such as the Cleveland Guardians, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays. Presented with the fact it’s been 75 years since any of those teams won a World Series and asked what that comparison says about his aspirations for the Orioles, Angelos responded, “Well, we’re aiming for sustained success,” before breaking into praise of the Rays’ owner.
Elias has made that level of declaration, saying last month ahead of the trade deadline, “We want to make a deep playoff run. We want to get in the World Series. Whatever you want to call it, we want to do that.” Yet Angelos openly said in February his primary focuses are elsewhere.
“It’s not my job to predict payroll,” he said. “My job is to make sure that the community partnerships are sustained, and I think all of that comes after that. First, I have to do the concerts. Then we have to do the [public-private partnership],” his way of referring to the lease.
Angelos saying he wants the Orioles to win a World Series would require him speaking. But if those are the words out of his mouth, it would be hard to complain.
What’s to come?
With their next victory, the Orioles will secure their second straight winning season, with 2012 to 2014 representing their only other such streak in the past 25 years. They’ll first try to pick it up while closing their homestand with a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox before beginning a nine-game road trip at the Arizona Diamondbacks. On Friday, rosters expand from 26 players to 28, with the expectation being Baltimore adds one hitter and one pitcher.
What was good?
That series with the D’backs will see each league’s Rookie of the Year favorite face off in Henderson and Arizona outfielder Corbin Carroll. Henderson has excelled in many fashions to propel himself back into contention for that honor, but his game-winning home run Friday night was another sign of his improvements in left-on-left matchups. Through June, he hit .189 with no extra-base hits off left-handed pitchers, but over the past two months, Henderson is batting .254 with a solid .782 OPS and three home runs — trailing only lefty masher Ryan Mountcastle for the team lead in that span. He said early in the year it would be only a matter of time before he was comfortable against left-handed pitching, and he was right.
The loss of Bautista to a potentially season-ending injury to his ulnar collateral ligament drastically alters the Orioles’ September and October outlook. They have the benefit of replacing one All-Star reliever with another in the ninth inning, but the fallout of Bautista’s injury figures to have less to do with Yennier Cano than the bullpen arms who will pitch in front of him. Last year, after the Orioles traded All-Star closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins in a swap that brought them Cano, Bautista had a 3.22 ERA as Baltimore’s new closer, with half the earned runs he allowed coming in one outing, but the rest of the bullpen had a 4.53 ERA. They’ll hope this year’s relievers handle the change in roles better.
On the farm
Outfielder-first baseman Heston Kjerstad was already expected to be among the candidates for a call-up with the expanded roster, and Elias confirmed as much Saturday. A former No. 2 overall draft pick who missed two years with heart and hamstring ailments, Kjerstad is batting .302 with an .878 OPS for Triple-A Norfolk.
“Anytime you’re hitting well in Triple-A, you start getting discussed by the manager and the major league staff and the front office, and he’s definitely entered that conversation,” Elias said. “Heston is having a wonderful season, especially given the context of everything that’s brought him to this point. He looks great. He’s not necessarily gone through or seen everything that he could or will see in Triple-A, so it’s still not a waste from a development standpoint that he’s getting those at-bats. But he has entered the conversation about the major league roster in a legitimate way and is certainly a candidate for any part of the stretch run here coming up should we decide he’s the guy.”
White Sox at Orioles
Monday, 7:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)