The Orioles have the worst record in the major leagues, and they’re on pace for a 116-loss season.
Before the season began, the players union alleged in a grievance that four teams — the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates — were not using revenue-sharing money in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement. In other words they were blamed for not spending enough money on payroll, contributing to the offseason free-agent freeze.
They are among several teams that have been accused of “tanking,” or purposely trying to lose this season by trading off their top — and highest-priced — players and seeking to rebuild through the high draft picks that serve as the only reward for bad seasons, similar to the way the long-suffering Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have built sustainable contenders.
Now, as the Marlins — a club that was singled out as the prime example of perceived tanking this offseason under new ownership and new team chief executive officer Derek Jeter — arrive in Baltimore for a three-game interleague series at Camden Yards, the series serves as a baseline for misery.
The Orioles’ Opening Day payroll was actually down this season after five straight seasons of increased spending from 2013 to 2017. But the combination of some unprecedented long-term commitments (Chris Davis’ club-record seven-year, $161 million deal before the 2016 season is the most glaring, as well as multiyear deals with Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day) and incremental raises to key homegrown players (Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Jonathan Schoop), which have ballooned as they approach free agency, created an albatross of a payroll even before entering this season with little leverage barring a rebuild.
And now, the Orioles are a combined 4-8 against the Rays and A’s (they do not play the Pirates), so not only do they have a worse record than teams that are perceived to be not trying to win now, but they also have performed poorly against those teams.
The difference is the Orioles — who also receive revenue-sharing dollars — went into this season hoping to make one last run to the postseason with much the same core group of players that led them to the playoffs three times in a five-year span from 2012 to 2016, and invested money into that goal.
In terms of dollars, the Orioles — a team ranked in the top half of Opening Day payrolls — project to be the team that will pay the most per win this season.
And among those four teams accused by the players union, only the Marlins — who are clearly in the process of shedding money under new ownership — have one of the 10 worst records in baseball, a clear indication that a lack of payroll dollars doesn’t correlate to being competitive, and, in the Orioles’ case, vice versa. By finishing with the worst record, the Orioles, and not one of the teams accused of tanking, would receive the first pick in the 2019 amateur draft.
At 19-48 entering Thursday, the Orioles are baseball’s only team yet to win 20 games, They’ve lost 14 of their past 16, a stretch that includes two seven-game losing streaks, the latter of which is active going into Friday’s series with the Marlins.
The Marlins — a club that dealt nearly all its marketable on-field assets, such as outfielders Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees, Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers and Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals, losing a combined 4.6 wins in WAR so far this season while shedding $41 million in 2018 payroll on those three players alone — are still 6½ games better than the Orioles going into this series.
Tampa Bay, which has beaten the Orioles five of nine times this year, has undergone a similar overhaul, trading the face of the franchise in Evan Longoria, and also Jake Odorizzi in the offseason and dealing Denard Span, Brad Miller and Álex Colomé during the season, are 13 games better than the Orioles. The Pirates, who moved cornerstone Andrew McCutchen and top pitcher Gerrit Cole in the offseason, are 13½ games better. Oakland, which entered Thursday at 34-34, is 14½ games better.
These are all teams accused of trying to lose. But the Orioles, who had an Opening Day payroll, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts of $148.574 million, spent more money on their Opening Day roster than Tampa Bay ($76.388 million) and Oakland ($65.985 million) did combined.
And if the Orioles continue on their current pace, they would win just 46 games, the fewest since the 2003 Detroit Tigers went 43-119. At their current pace, and based on their Opening Day payroll, the Orioles would spend $3.23 million per win this season.
Comparatively, the Marlins, who are on pace for a 62-100 season, are projected to pay $1.6 million a win, while the Pirates ($1.09 million a win), Rays ($979,000 a win) and A’s ($815,000 a win) will also pay far less.
Projected cost per win this season
Team ;Projected W-L ;Opening Day payroll ;Cost per win
Orioles ;46-116 ;$148,574,615 ;$3.23 million
Marlins ;62-100 ;$99,510,143; $1.60 million
Pirates; 79-83; $86,340,000 ;$1.09 million
Rays ;78-84 ;$76,388,930 ;$979,000
A’s ;81-81 ;$65,985,833 ;$815,000
Source: Opening Day payrolls from Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Payrolls include salaries and prorated signing bonuses for players on active roster and disabled list, as well as guaranteed salaries to be earned that season by players no longer on the roster. Deferred payments and performance or award bonuses are not included.