Keith Law, the lead baseball writer for ESPN's Scouts Inc., has been critical of the Orioles' offseason moves, so I thought my readers might want to see what he had to say about the additions of Vladimir Guerrero and J.J. Hardy, the Matt Wieters debate and where the Orioles stand in the American League East.
The last of my spring training Q&As with national baseball writers, here is my lengthy interview with Law, who previously worked with the Blue Jays as a special assistant to the general manager for more than four years:
MV: You have criticized the Orioles for bringing in veteran players such as Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee in the offseason. Are these just cosmetic moves meant to excite the fan base and that’s it?
KL: I don’t have inside information on what the front office was thinking. My criticism was that this is a franchise that has been trying to build from within, which is the only way they’re going to be competitive in the American League East. And it’s as if they suddenly decided, ‘We’re done waiting. We need to try to be competitive or make it look like we’re going to be competitive in the short term.’ And they decided to spend some money, but they stayed in the shallow end of the free-agent pool. And if you look at the players they brought in, that’s just nowhere near enough to get them to contending status in the best division in baseball. You might be able to fake it in, say, the NL Central or the NL West, which are weaker up and down the standings. But in the American League East, the standard is extremely high. Their best chance to contend still resides with the young players on the roster and a couple of guys coming up through the system. I feel like they shifted philosophy here, and I don’t know why.
I have speculated -- and it’s pure speculation on my part just having been in an organization that went through some of this -- that the business side, whether it’s ownership or marketing or finance, said, ‘Enough. We need to do something to win more games this year.’ … They decided to shift toward bringing in names. Ken Weinman, your radio host down there [for 105.7 The Fan], has mentioned fans getting very excited over Vlad Guerrero because he is a name. He is a name. He’s also not very good anymore, and he’s injury-prone. You might get a short boost in attention -- maybe that’s a very quick revenue hit -- but when Vlad Guerrero goes out and hits like the player he is today, as opposed to the player he was five years ago, that revenue boost isn’t going to last, and it’s not going to translate into wins.
MV: Looking at the long-term picture, what would have been a better way for the Orioles to spend the money they used to sign those players, like putting it back into the farm system or scouting?
KL: We don’t know that they’re diverting money away from the farm system. I have pointed out many times this offseason that they do very little internationally. They got outbid on Miguel Sano, for example, the top prospect for the Twins now. They were in on it. They saw him. They liked him. And they decided to low-ball him relative to what the Pirates and the Twins were offering him. If you’re going to be involved internationally, you’re probably not going to have a lot of success if you’re constantly coming in third or fourth on the top prospects. There’s a couple of guys every year who are going to get a million dollars or more. You’ve got to be winning to pony up and take the risk.
It’s extremely risky. I’m not trying to downplay that aspect. But to play seriously on the international front, it might take five million dollars. Do they no longer have the five million dollars available to put in the Dominican, Venezuela, East Asia? I don’t know that. Again, I’m just speculating, but I don’t like seeing the shift in commitment. ... I don’t know exactly how much money they have left for other areas, but to see them suddenly give this money to veterans who are not going to work out, it’s not going to return a ton of value. This team is not going to win 85 games this year. This makes me worry that their philosophical commitment to building through the draft, through international scouting, through trading veterans for young players, may have waned, and that they won’t be willing to commit the same money to acquiring young talent.
MV: What can the Orioles expect from Mark Reynolds in his first season in the AL East?