The Baltimore Orioles have not exactly had the best luck with top-tier free agents since the 1990s.
And minus a few occasions, stud-quality free agents have not been terribly attracted to the Orioles, either.
This sad consequence results from nearly two decades of abysmal baseball, beginning in 1998.
Baltimore suffers such misery because the club nixed “The Oriole Way,” which was inspired by manager Paul Richards in 1954 and carried forth by Hank Bauer, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken, Sr. through “The Glory Years” (1966-1983).
Instead of keeping true to the path of homegrown, fundamentally sound players and making savvy trades that brought three World Series' to Charm City, Orioles' leadership chased overpriced free agents. This was especially true in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Free-agent newbies such as Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Randy Myers, B.J. Surhoff, Jimmy Key and Eric Davis were welcome additions to a club that was enjoying their new, swanky brick ballpark. However, more traditional Orioles fans saw a storm looming on the horizon.
As the aforementioned players aged, and their performances declined, fans began to see the coffer-draining consequences of this “win now” mentality.
Equally disheartening, Orioles' leadership neglected the importance of developing prospects so they could successfully transition to the major leagues one day.
Even worse: Remember when Baltimore signed Albert Belle to a monster five-year contract worth $65 million?
That worked out well. Not.
Orioles' fans are still fuming about this acquisition. I'm not sure who is more maligned in Baltimore—Albert Belle or Billy Cundiff.
Wheels in motion: Prior to 2012, Baltimore has not won more than 79 games in a season since 1998. In what would become an unbearably long playoff drought, the Birds failed to win 70 games in seven of the past 15 years.
Flash forward to the Orioles' magical season in 2012.
This team, thought by many experts to once again finish in the cellar of the AL East, won 93 games and made the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
But unlike 1997, the Orioles achieved this feat with a roster of homegrown talent, career journeymen and young, unproven players.
Serving as this team’s glue was Buck Showalter, whose clever tactics and ability to push the right buttons at the right time were both entertaining and nerve-wracking.
Also great to watch was the rare sight of true brotherhood that this team exuded both on and off the field. In an era sometimes driven by individualism and monster egos, it was great to see a group of young men jell so selflessly and seamlessly.
Even cooler to watch was Nate McLouth rising from the ashes of a dying career to lead the Orioles during the playoffs.
Now here we are, in the midst of the free-agency period. And many big-time free agents have signed with new clubs.
With the free-agent pool shrinking to a few remaining stars, some Orioles' faithful have hollered, “DO SOMETHING!” at the Birds' brass.
To this I say the Orioles are doing something. They are standing pat. And wisely so.
By developing talent and making a savvy trade here and there, the Orioles' front office is expressing its resolve to return this proud ball club to “The Oriole Way.”
Either that or Orioles are trying to re-create the no-name Orioles team from 1977—the one that won 97 games.
Regardless, at minimum, Baltimore must prevent another "Albert Belle" moment.
Currently, the Orioles have 13 able-bodied pitchers fighting for five spots in the rotation. You never know: Somewhere in this mix may be the next Steve Stone (minus the career-ending arm injury).
Some of these pitchers may get traded before winter ends. Regardless, competition in spring training will be fierce.
And the Orioles' bullpen will be solid; maybe not as unworldly as in 2012, but solid nonetheless.
The Orioles also have a very healthy lineup of quality players in Nate McLouth, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. A healthy Brian Roberts and a consistent DH are both wild cards, of course.
While by no means fear-inspiring, surely many managers throughout the league would not complain about penciling in a lineup like this each night.
And let's not forget that Nolan Reimold, Ryan Flaherty, Wilson Betemit, Danny Valencia and Trayvon Robinson all have enough skill to make spring training intriguing to watch.
Down on the farm, the Orioles are also working hard to add talent and depth. Dylan Bundy, L.J. Hoes, Kevin Gausman, Mike Belifiore and Jonathan Schoop are five prospects who come to mind (along with Xavier Avery). Branden Kline and Adrian Marin are two recent draft picks who have solid talent as well.
There are also some under-the-radar prospects with nice potential. A few of these prospects include Ty Kelly, Robbie Widlansky, Buck Britton and John Ruettiger (nephew of University of Notre Dame football legend Rudy Ruettiger).
Now, I know that in a ridiculously competitive AL East, it is easy for Orioles faithful to want to keep pace. But should fans take in the lessons learned from the crappy chain of events that led to the abandonment of “The Oriole Way” in the 1980s?
To me, this is a no-brainer.
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