In a lean market, no sense in O's spending big dollars

December 02, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

If you've been reading me or listening to me on the radio the past year or so, you know that I've been insistent that the Orioles stop half-stepping and make some dynamic moves to improve the team and end this interminable string of losing seasons. Unfortunately, the William Donald Schaefer "Do It Now!" approach appears to be impractical at this point in a thin free-agent market.

The Orioles offered $65 million to Paul Konerko and lost out to the lowest bidder, which ought to tell you something about the challenge that the newly reconfigured front office faces on the threshold of the winter meetings. There is not enough relevant talent left on the market to turn this team around this year, so it no longer makes sense to mortgage the future for the immediate gratification of a respectable 2006 season.

I'm not letting Peter Angelos off the hook. This team should be a contender by now, but I've been convinced by cooler heads that it would not be fair to force Mike Flanagan and his new front office crew to pay for the combined sins of the front office hierarchies of the last decade. They should be allowed sufficient time to do the job right.

That said, it also would not be fair to subject long-suffering Orioles fans to another three years in fourth place without the organization doing something concrete to win back their confidence.

Which brings me to my new "Three-year Plan," which I have not copyrighted, so the Orioles are free to adopt it without remuneration. I'm sure that once Angelos reads this and finishes cursing me and my children, he will see that it is the only honorable thing to do.

Step 1: Lower ticket prices across the board for 2006 by 10 percent and promise to lower prices another five percent each year until the Orioles post a winning season. This sounds draconian, but in light of the recent revelation that the Washington Nationals - without the benefit of modern luxury boxes and the broadcast revenue they ceded to the Orioles - posted a pre-tax profit of $10 million for their first season in the District, I'm guessing the Orioles can afford to do it if they really care about regaining the confidence of their fans.

Step 2: Back away from any mediocre free agents and place the additional $20 million in 2006 payroll that was going to be spent in this market in a fund for the future - a fund that would be built with similar contributions over the next couple of years so that there is plenty of money to buy top-quality free agents when the team is ready to pop and to extend the contracts of the club's best young players beyond their arbitration and early free-agent eligibility.

Step 3: Go to the fans and sell it ... tell them that the combination of these short-term savings and the long-term revenues that will be derived from the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is going to put the Orioles on a par with the Yankees and Red Sox in relatively short order. And humbly ask for their continued support.

I can't wait for the news conference.

I'm not surprised that the Commander in Chief's Trophy has been found unharmed in a closet at the Naval Academy. This smelled like an inside job from the start.

I suppose it's possible that some cadets from West Point auditioned for a future role in special ops by boosting the 170-pound trophy and leaving a note admitting to their involvement, but you have to be a little skeptical about their ability to move freely around the Naval Academy at a time when security was extremely heightened in anticipation of Wednesday's speech by President Bush.

Then again, maybe everyone was watching the goat.

Glad to hear that Carlos Delgado is going to abide by a New York Mets rule that every player must stand for "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. The Mets claimed during Delgado's introductory news conference that they have a standing policy about that ... which apparently supersedes Delgado's sitting policy.

BALCO conspirators Victor Conte and Greg Anderson were scheduled to report to prison yesterday, which raises one important question: Does this mean we're entering the juiced-convict era?

And is it just coincidence that Barry Bonds has announced that he plans to come back next season 40 pounds lighter? I don't know, but if he does, I'm afraid he's going to look like a human bobblehead doll.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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