Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues at No. 21 with the Baltimore Orioles.
2009 record: 64-98
Finish: Fifth place in American League East
2009 final payroll: $79.1 million
Estimated 2010 opening day payroll: $78 million
They're ready. That's what Baltimore Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail is saying. These Orioles, doormats for a decade, are like snakes, rubbing themselves against the nearest object to start the skin-shedding. They want that attitude, that history, everything involved with it, gone for good.
To forge a new identity, then, new faces must arrive. Starter Kevin Millwood(notes) did via trade and closer Mike Gonzalez(notes) and infielder Garrett Atkins(notes) did as free agents, and suddenly an Orioles team that looked young enough to start a "Twilight" fan club found itself carrying the kinds of veterans that round out championship-level teams.
Maybe they're not ready for that, but MacPhail believes that something is next, whether it's a .500 record or simply acquitting themselves in baseball's toughest division. There is something to be said for respect and admiration from New York and Boston; it portends well.
Which pretty much matches the Orioles' future today: In a crystal ball, it's shiny, Matt Wieters(notes) and Adam Jones(notes) and Nick Markakis(notes) and Brian Matusz(notes) and Chris Tillman(notes) all primed to excel. They're good, young and talented, and if they're not ready now, they will be soon enough.
The stigma is there, and that's going to prove difficult to change. Two winters ago, Mark Teixeira(notes), the top free agent on the market, listened to Baltimore's offer and scoffed at it. He ended up signing with the New York Yankees for $180 million, and Baltimore, as usual, played second fiddle..
"We were legit on Teixeira," MacPhail said. "If you superimposed him on our lineup now, 28, with great work habits, played a position where you could expect him to perform over a long-term deal, local kid. He really would be somebody you could go out for. But if you're wrong …"
And there's the rub. The Orioles cannot afford to be wrong with a free agent as they build around their excellent young core. The Gonzalez deal runs two years, Millwood's and Atkins' one, and Baltimore doesn't find itself tied up into the kinds of long-term contracts that hamstring so many other organizations.
The struggle, of course, is taking that leap from talented bunch to winners, and it's not exactly a caterpillar-turned-butterfly process.
"While our club has shown some individual progress, we need to show some collective progress as a team," MacPhail said. "You can only be down for so many years."
Every year the Orioles pick themselves up, only to get knocked back. One of these days, they're going to keep standing, celebrating, remembering what winning feels like. It's intoxicating, and the Orioles will bet it's coming sooner than later.
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