There once was a time free agents didn’t want to come to Baltimore.
Year after year, the Baltimore Orioles were basement dwellers. National television audiences didn’t pay attention to the Orioles. It wasn’t the ideal place to attract players. The big-time players want to win, and that wasn’t the culture in Baltimore. Fourteen years of losing will do that to an organization.
They did try to bring in their share of stars once the Cal Ripkin era was over. Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero are just a few guys they hoped would turn things around. While these guys brought some excitement to Baltimore, they didn’t pan out in terms of winning. The Orioles were still perennial losers.
With that, the Orioles had to build the core of the team through the draft. Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz and Kevin Gausman are the rewards of being a bad team. They also hit the jackpot with the trade of Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman.
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The solid free agents were not coming to Baltimore. The fans always wanted to get the best players in free agency, but the players didn’t see the Orioles as a team to show off their abilities. Most didn’t even consider Baltimore as an option.
When Dan Duquette was signed in 2012, he made no significant splash in free agency, but he found two starting pitchers in Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen. He took a chance on Luis Ayala, Wilson Betemit and Nate McLouth. Each of these guys was critical to the turn-around of the Orioles. The 2013 offseason was much of the same. No splashes, but the winning ways continued despite failing to make the playoffs.
Winning brings excitement. Hope. The average fan back to “The Yard.” It also brings free agents who can really make a difference.
The Orioles finally made the big splash in 2013 with the signing of Ubaldo Jimenez for four years at $50 million. He was considered one of the top free agent pitchers available, and it was the Orioles who were able to secure his services. It certainly didn’t work out the way the team has hoped thus far, but you can’t fault them for finally being able to lure a big-name free agent to Charm City.
Nelson Cruz, the cheaper offseason acquisition, turned out to be the best move in all of baseball. At certain points of the season, he was the Orioles. He led the Majors in home runs. The Orioles made the playoffs and to the American League Championship Series. Much of that is credited to Cruz.
Then there are the other two forgotten signings who made an impact on the club. Ryan Webb was a terrific addition to the bullpen. Delmon Young was one of the most clutch hitters whenever he was in the lineup. I can still hear the roar inside Camden Yards from Young’s bases-clearing double that ultimately gave the Orioles the win in Game 2 of the AL Divisional Series.
Now the Orioles are attracting those free agents. The Orioles were actually players in the outfield free agent pool, linked to Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus once they let Cruz and Nick Markakis walk. It wasn’t just that the fans wanted them. There was actually joint interest.
While Duquette wasn’t able to acquire that big-name outfielder, he did get Travis Snider to likely fill the void in right field. He may have found a catcher in J.P Arencibia that could be the heir apparent to Matt Wieters. He might have an upgrade at second base in Everth Cabrera. Not splashes, but free agents who can certainly make a difference.
Duquette lures these players to Baltimore on one-year deals. He gives them a chance to put up solid numbers and cash in the next season. Cruz is the perfect example of it. This season, it could be Cabrera or Arencibia. Heck, it could be our good old friend Nolan Reimold.
What’s important is that winning has changed the view of Baltimore. Players around the league see Baltimore as a place of redemption, and the Orioles are the beneficiary.
Now it’s not who wants to play for Buck Showalter, but who does not want to? That’s a sign of progress.