Baltimore remains a dead-end destination

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Baltimore Orioles.

2011 record: 69-93
Finish: Fifth place, AL East
2011 final payroll: $85.9 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $75 million
Yahoo! Sports’ offseason rank: 28th
Hashtags: #newGM, #badowner, #notpacman, #matuszrhymeswithgolgiapparatus, #trashstache, #concussions, #buck

Offseason action

Dan Duquette wasn't Baltimore's first choice to run baseball operations.
(AP)

Reputations in baseball die hard, and few these days are as entrenched as the Baltimore Orioles’. It is the place not to be. Whether it’s general manager candidates turning down the opportunity, free agents eschewing pit-beef sandwiches for (fill in delicious regional specialty) or fans abandoning lovely Camden Yards like it’s condemned, no team generates ill feelings today quite like the Orioles.

It was no surprise that Jerry Dipoto turned down the Orioles for the Los Angeles Angels GM job and a third-of-a-billion-dollar spending morning. More embarrassing for the Orioles was Toronto assistant GM Tony LaCava turning down Baltimore’s gig for … an assistant GM job in Toronto. Baltimore found its new steward in Dan Duquette, whose last high-level baseball-operations position came almost a decade ago.

Duquette does know the international market, his affinity evident in the signings of left-handed starters Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen. Wada is a soft-tossing 30-year-old from Japan whom Duquette handed $8.15 million for two years, Chen a higher-upside 26-year-old from Taiwan given a three-year, $11.3 million deal. Another $1.5 million went to outfielder Endy Chavez, and while Baltimore may poke around, its offseason spending before a designated hitter looks about done.

Which is to say the Orioles look a whole lot like last season’s underachieving outfit. Not even the turnaround king himself, manager Buck Showalter, found enough talent or fortitude to forge ahead in the AL East. Players remain ever wary of coming to Baltimore because of concerns over the demanding Showalter and a franchise whose owner, Peter Angelos, plays puppeteer from afar.

[ Fantasy: Five Pressing Questions for Baltimore Orioles ]

Baltimore still could try to persuade Prince Fielder to come east with a monster deal like the one it offered Mark Teixeira during his free agency. Of course, Teixeira was from the Baltimore suburbs. The Yankees wanted him. If anyone was going to inspire Angelos, it was Teixeira. And now Teixeira isn’t playing anything like a $20-plus million player. As for Fielder, perhaps one question can make up his mind: Does he really want a championship? The answer is yes. In which case, so much for Prince and Baltimore.

Reality check

Brian Matusz

All the sympathy in baseball used to emanate toward the southeast, where the previous worst owner in baseball put together awful teams and couldn’t possibly compete anyway, not with the AL East and its powerhouse teams lurking. Now, it turns out, the Tampa Bay Rays are one of those top-of-the-division bullies, and the pity goes instead to Baltimore, where they’ve seen enough bad baseball to understand it’s going away no time soon.

The Orioles’ place toward the bottom of these rankings has plenty to do with geography. Were they not in Baltimore, they might not be in the AL East. And were they not in the AL East, they might not get pummeled annually by teams with twice their budget. It sucks being the not-Yankees and the not-Red Sox.

At the same time, pervasive institutional failure has doomed the Orioles to 14 consecutive seasons under .500 as well as six in a row with at least 92 losses. Teams cannot be that bad for that much time unless something goes seriously wrong. Either someone broke mirrors as a kid or the decade-and-a-half-long string of misery is more than just bad luck.

Player-development potholes have turned the Orioles’ for-the-next-decade rotation into a gaggle of questions. Zach Britton? Inconsistent as a rookie. Brian Matusz? Mysteriously lost nearly 10 mph off his pitches. Jake Arietta? Got famous more for a disastrous mustache than his arm. Among those three, Chen, Wada, top starter Jeremy Guthrie, plus Alfredo Simon and Tommy Hunter, Duquette has afforded himself enough to weather through injuries.

It’s not like they’re barren in the field, either. Matt Wieters is one of the five best catchers in the major leagues. Adam Jones plays a mean center field. Right fielder Nick Markakis, while not the superstar his salary and standing suggest, is a perfectly viable everyday player. Shortstop J.J. Hardy hit 30 home runs last year. Third baseman Mark Reynolds added 37 more. As always, there are pieces.

[ More Hot Stove Daily: Selig needs to free A’s from Oakland ]

And problems. Second baseman Brian Roberts’ post-concussion symptoms refuse to wane. The Orioles still don’t know what’s up with Matusz’s arm. Showalter could be the wrong guy for this sort of team. Their bullpen might be the worst in the major leagues. All of that while breaking in a new GM amid a stacked division.

More and more lately, Duquette has affirmed his commitment to owning the Asian baseball market. He wants the Orioles to stand for something, if not winning quite yet, and this is the most penetrable place for a team on a budget. It’s those little advantages that add up, and if this is the first of many, more power to Duquette. Every revolution has to start somewhere.

Savior

It looked like Peter Angelos finally sealed off his Dr. Evil trapdoor for GMs when he gave Andy MacPhail autonomy over baseball relations in the middle of the 2007 season. MacPhail left after last season as his recent predecessors had: chafing at Angelos’ heavy hand, among the weightiest of owners in professional sports. Since buying the Orioles in 1993, Angelos has shuffled through as many baseball-operations bosses as Liz Taylor did marriages. No, seriously. Eight men have run the Orioles in the last 18 years. It’s an embarrassing number, and Angelos is one of the few owners whose mere presences revolts a fan base. The other in baseball? Frank McCourt. It’s bad company, and unless the 82-year-old Angelos somehow can reinvigorate the magic from his early days of ownership, the Orioles are destined to mediocrity or, as has been the case for years now, even worse.

Peter Angelos

Orioles in Haiku

Gorgeous at birth, still
The perfect park. Camden Yards:
Happy 20th

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Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 12, 2012