For all those depressed today over the plight of Baltimore’s pro football team, here’s a thoughtful distraction – it’s not too early to get depressed over Baltimore’s baseball team, too.
The Ravens spoiled the final hours of the weekend by dropping a tough one to the Pittsburgh Steelers – anybody around here still seriously thinking playoffs? – while the Orioles dropped a tough one to the New York Yankees without a pitch being thrown.
The O’s brain trust now settles in for this week’s wheel-and-deal winter baseball meetings, knowing that the Yankees landed Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend. Stanton was last year’s National League Most Valuable Player. He hit 59 home runs. The Yankees already have Aaron Judge, who hit 52 home runs last year. The Yankees got Stanton because they routinely throw money around the way the Orioles of Baltimore cannot.
Stanton has a contract that will pay him roughly $25 million a year for much of the upcoming decade. The only time the Orioles traffic in such numbers, they instinctively say “Ouch.”
For reference, we offer two names: Chris Davis and Manny Machado.
A couple of winters ago, Davis got himself a seven-year deal here averaging about $23 million annually. He’s an embarrassment at any price, with his pitifully low batting average and pitifully high strikeouts.
Then there’s Machado. After next season, he’s eligible for free agency. If the Orioles want to keep him, they’ll have to offer Giancarlo Stanton-type money. Even in the modern, money-saturated world of pro sports, is Manny worth it?
Here’s a little perspective: the Orioles have been playing major league baseball for more than 60 years. In all that time, how many Hall of Fame players has the club’s farm system produced, who played extensive time here?
There’s Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken. Four very special ballplayers – in more than 60 years! (Plus Mike Mussina, who should be in the Hall of Fame.)
Manny Machado has a chance to be better than any of them before he’s through. He has a chance to be not only the best player in the entire history of the Baltimore franchise, but its very face, its heart, and its central reason for fans to enter the ballpark summer after summer.
In baseball, hot prospects come along all the time. But how many pan out the way Manny has? Not Ben McDonald, who was supposed to be the next Jim Palmer. He was a .500 pitcher who left with arm trouble. Not Matt Wieters, who was supposed to be the next Johnny Bench. Does anyone truly think Wieters lived up to his billing?
Machado has. He’s that once-in-a-generation player who’s unlike almost everybody else. So the Orioles’ other option is to trade Manny while they can. Of course, his value has already dropped, since he’s a free agent a year from now. So how much could they get for him? Here’s one bit of good news: the Yankees probably won’t go after Manny, because they’ve spent so much on Stanton.
Around here, that’s the day’s only good sporting news.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.