With the Tampa Bay Rays rapid ascent from the cellar to first place, many O's fans and commentators are taking a look at how the Orioles can apply the blueprint the Rays used to build what looks to be a long-term contender in the big money division of the AL East. Peter Schmuck is the latest.
I agree with the crux of his argument: the Rays stockpiled lots and lots of young talent until they were ready to compete, and the O's are on track to do the same. Still, Schmuck seems to be torn between keeping the 2008 team together and continuing on the rebuilding track. He notes that "the Orioles have made some major progress rekindling local interest in the team and improving the baseball-wide credibility of the organization in advance of the next free-agent signing period," which is true. Why would that perception change if the Orioles become sellers by the end of the month?
I don't think that the Orioles are going to be exceptionally active in the next free agent signing period. Sure, there will be big prizes like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, but each of those guys is likely to cost upwards of $15 to $20 million per season for perhaps six years or more, huge sums that I think the Orioles can better spend by investing in long-term deals for their homegrown young players, overseas scouting (anyone else notice that international signing day came and went with nary a peep from the Orioles?) and the draft.
The merits of a Teixeira signing can be debated ad nauseum, but the fact that remains that just adding Teixeira will not remake this team into a contender. Shortstop, third base, starting pitcher and relief pitcher will all need to be upgraded as well (I'm assuming that Wieters will upgrade the catching from within). The best way for the O's to contend next season may very well be for MacPhail to trade Huff, Roberts and Sherrill in the coming weeks. That was the plan before the season, and nothing I've seen from this team changes the situation materially.
And, as Schmuck notes, MacPhail has earned the trust to make the decisions regarding the future of the O's. Let's hope everyone keeps that in mind if the Orioles start to lose and some of the best players are sold off before the trade deadline.