MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

As we established and waxed nostalgic over yesterday, the big league baseball season is now less than two weeks away, which is pretty cool (see yesterday’s entry). We had a lot of fun yesterday, didn’t we? Well, can’t say we’re going to have fun today.

It’s time to get down to business; it’s time to explore documented truth, then lend unsolicited opinion. It’s just a matter of whether or not we can take the truth and unsolicited opinion.

Fact: The Major League teams in our area that draw the most interest are the Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals for the obvious logistical reasons. And, just as obviously, just as all regions of the country are, we are stuck with a lot of New York Yankees fans, which, honestly, is understandable (they are the Yankees), and a disturbing number of Boston Red Sox fans for the same reason we have Duke basketball fans who have no idea Duke has a football team.

With this established, here is a Fact: The top three teams for total payroll for the coming season are the Los Angeles Dodgers, $270,158,333; the New York Mets, $249,099,999 and the Yankees, $235.940.714.

The bottom three? No. 28, the Cleveland Guardians, $35,600,000; No. 29, that’s right, the Pirates, $35,250,000 and No. 30, wait for it … the Orioles, $30,316,666.

Let’s go to the least money spent in free agency: Oakland A’s $0, Guardians $900,000, Cincinnati Reds $5.5 million, Orioles $7.9 million and Milwaukee Brewers $12.9 million.

Are we beginning to detect a trend here?

The Orioles are now in Year 4 (I think) of the grand Mike Elias I Did It in Houston, I’ll Do It Here rebuilding plan. The Pirates? Nobody seems to know what they’re in the process of doing, other than not spending money.

Keeping this in the state of Maryland, consider: Orioles-owned MASN, citing COVID prevention measures, is not even sending Orioles or Nationals announcers on road games “to start” the season. Per The Athletic, both the Nationals and Orioles TV broadcasters will be calling road games from their home stadiums.

The Nationals, however, confirmed that their radio broadcasters will be going on road trips, as the Nats’ radio team is on the Nationals’ payroll. The Orioles radio crew, however, will call games remotely.

Not a good look.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have not tried to extend pending free agent Trey Mancini, the All-Star outfielder and fan favorite, who came back last season after battling colon cancer. Rather, the club is taking Mancini and No. 1 starter John Means to arbitration hearings over mere thousands, which makes it pretty obvious the 30-year-old Mancini, who, in fairness, does not play the outfield or first base very well, and who really doesn’t seem to fit into the Elias build-young plan, will be dealt by the team before the trading deadline.

Means likely will be dealt as well.

Clearly, this will not be a popular decision with the much-dwindled Orioles fan base, particularly the Mancini part of it, but even more clear is this is a business of have-nots (Orioles, Pirates for instance) trying to build from within to avoid spending money and to reap financial gain through luxury-tax dollars from the teams that do spend money on players.

Trading Mancini, however, is going to be dicey … On the one hand, he is 30 and won’t be any younger in a year or two when the rebuild is ready to kick in; and did we mention he doesn’t play any position well?

On the other hand, he’s been a great person, a great teammate, and he’s in his last year on a bad team. The Orioles are just not going to get a good return for him.

On yet another hand (hey, I’m an octopus, all right?), it’s doubtful Mancini will want to stick around Baltimore for his free-agent season anyway.

Mancini is the poster boy for goodness, mental and physical toughness, being a fan favorite for being so kind and gracious to all fans, and is a pretty good hitter. But even if the Orioles don’t trade him, he’s still going to be gone next season.

Truthfully, the Orioles would have gotten far more value for Mancini in a trade last year, given the downside circumstances would be the same, actually even less advantageous, a year later; but it would have been a national public-relations disaster to trade any player, much less a popular role-model player, coming back less than one year from overcoming colon cancer.

Not that the thought of that has ever stopped Elias’ decision-making through any of this.

When your payroll is half that of the Miami Marlins’ (think about that), which the Guardians’, the Pirates’ and the Orioles’ are, it’s probably time to show your fans some measures of good faith.

Vegas has the over-under for Orioles wins this season at 62.5. Frankly, 70 wins would be nice, and much appreciated.

In fairness, since undertaking the complete organizational overhaul, the Orioles have constructed the No. 1 farm system in baseball, according to Baseball America, yet have seen their progress stalled by two years of restricted spring trainings due to COVID, one completely lost minor league season at all levels and now an abbreviated spring training due to the owners’ lockout.

Still, it’s time to see the needle at least move a little on all of this, as fans need some tangible and visible proof of progress on this Mike Elias science project for at least a shred of hope and purpose.

What fans there still are, that is.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, trust the process, I know. Last I looked at my ticket for Opening Day, though, they’re still charging Major League prices.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT