The Orioles' 1994 payroll is inching toward $40 million, but new managing general partner Peter Angelos seems unconcerned that he has exceeded his early estimate of the cost of competing for the American League East title this year.
In fact, he's still in a buying mood.
Angelos said again yesterday that the money will be available if the Orioles are able to acquire another front-line pitcher, even though that might push the club's total outlay for salaries as high as $42 million.
"Absolutely," Angelos said. "Now is not the time to turn back. Let's just say that if the additional help that Johnny [Oates] has been talking about comes along, we will go that extra mile to see that he has the complete roster we would like him to have."
The new owner has said some of this before, but he admits that he did not have a feel for how much the payroll would grow irrespective of the handful of free agents he has signed. Large salary increases for several players on the roster have made his early payroll estimates unrealistic.
"I think we did what we wanted to do and expected to do with free agency," Angelos said. "But in rewarding the players on our existing roster, we probably committed more than we expected. There was a miscalculation on my part with regard to that area."
The day Angelos took control of the team, he promised to spend liberally in the free-agent market and build on the Orioles' 1993 payroll, which was close to $30 million. But he figured that the addition of two or three top quality free agents would boost the payroll to only about $35 million once the departures of Glenn Davis, Rick Sutcliffe, Harold Reynolds and several other veteran players were factored into the equation.
He didn't figure that the $8 million that dropped off the payroll would largely land in the pockets of the club's up-and-coming players.
"There was a substantial saving," Angelos said, "but most of that money was used to reward existing members of our team for their extraordinary performances in 1993. Even if Eli Jacobs had remained as owner, he could not have stayed at $28 million."
Jacobs' strict budget constraints could not keep the Orioles' payroll from growing significantly during his tenure as owner. The Orioles' Opening Day payroll was less than $10 million in 1990, but it had more than doubled (to $21 million) by 1992 and had risen another 33 percent last year. It figures to rise by at least another 25 percent this season.
"We had to take care of players like Chris Hoiles, who went from $350,000 to $2 million, which he richly deserved after the things he did for us last year," Angelos explained. "The same went for Ben McDonald. There were incremental increases that were going to be required whether we got into free agency or not."
That is not a revelation, but the way Angelos responded to the higher cost of doing business had to be refreshing to Orioles fans more used to budget-cutting than budget-busting.
Angelos estimates that the payroll is just under $38 million, but it will continue to rise -- though perhaps more subtly -- as the club negotiates with its remaining unsigned players. If the club succeeds in acquiring a pitcher such as Andy Benes or Pete Harnisch, it would jump another $3 million or more.
This might be the perfect year to push the payroll to the limit, since Major League Baseball's coming showdown with the players union could result in a salary cap. Angelos may never have another opportunity to buy his way into the World Series, but he claims that the possibility of payroll limitations played no part in his decision to pull out all of the financial stops this off-season.
"No, that has not been a consideration, though maybe it should have been," Angelos said. "It has played no part in our decision to go forward and improve the team."
A look at the approximate spring payrolls for the Orioles in the 1990s:
Year .. .. . .. .. .. .. ..Payroll
1990 .. .. .. .. .. .. .$10 million
1991 .. .. .. .. .. .. .$14 million
1992 .. .. .. .. .. .. .$21 million
1993 .. .. .. .. .. ..$28.5 million
1994 .. .. .. .. .. .. .$38 million