Crack open a Boh. We could be in for a city holiday.
The Banner is reporting that the Angelos family is on the cusp of selling the franchise to a group of big-money owners led by Baltimore native David Rubenstein.
It would put a period on a nearly 31-year era of Angelos ownership, which has seen just six playoff appearances and a lot of forgettable seasons. Although the franchise just had its best season in years in 2023, the shadow of John Angelos — who raised blood pressure by dragging out a stadium lease process and perhaps being a little too frank in an interview with the New York Times — has loomed over the team’s future.
Although it’s impossible to know how Rubenstein, who made a fortune in private equity and is well-known for backing various civic projects in Washington, D.C., will function as an owner, change naturally brings in a fresh wind of optimism.
There’s undoubtedly a long wish list that many fans have for Rubenstein and his group, which includes franchise legend Cal Ripken Jr. We might as well make one now.
1. Extend Elias and Hyde — and make a big deal about it
Two figures have loomed large in the Orioles’ rebuild, and although general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde are back for 2024, it’s not publicly known how long they are under contract. You could convincingly argue that the best move of Angelos’ tenure was hiring and empowering Elias, who has made the Orioles’ farm system the envy of every other franchise. Hyde showed he was not merely a rebuilder, steering the Orioles to 101 wins and an AL East title last season. They won league honors as executive and manager of the year, respectively.
Here’s an idea — reassure the fan base that they’re sticking around for the next few years. Particularly for Elias, Hyde and other important front office executives such as Sig Mejdal, tell the rest of baseball they can’t be pried away. Their guidance from the tanking years to now having a runway to compete for championships is what gives many fans faith that the Orioles have a bright future.
2. Sign one or more of the young stars to a major deal
Particularly with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, it feels like the clock is ticking. Angelos specifically balked at the idea of signing young stars to expensive contracts, but Atlanta has done it with Austin Riley and Seattle with Julio Rodriguez.
Henderson, who is repped by infamously tough agent Scott Boras, may be more difficult to pin down before he hits free agency. But Rutschman, who is 25 in a physically demanding position, might be more amenable to lock in for the long term now. Rutschman was an All-Star last season and could be in that conversation every year for the coming decade. Keeping him in orange and black would be a sign of franchise investment — and it would beat back the impression that Baltimore is merely a farm system until the big-payroll teams swoop in on their free agents.
3. Make meaningful additions to payroll
It’s Year 2 of the Orioles hitting free agency with ambitions to win … with rather underwhelming returns. A year after their biggest signing was Kyle Gibson, a solid but unspectacular starter, this offseason has netted closer Craig Kimbrel, who at 36 may help bridge the gap until Felix Bautista is healthy but won’t impact the rotation the way a No. 1 or 2 starting pitcher would.
There are a few knotty issues as to why the Orioles haven’t spent on starters like the fans might hope, such as avoiding bidding wars and protecting their top prospects. But, if you boil them all down, all of the Orioles’ strategies stem, first and foremost, from their budget. They are going to add more salary when they finish negotiating with their arbitration-eligible players, but for now they still have the second-lowest payroll in baseball above only the woeful Athletics.
A new owner should empower the front office to make these decisions, to trade some of their younger, cheaper prospects for experienced pieces who can help the team win now. At the moment, it’s hard to tell whether Elias has been conservative as to protect his stash or whether ownership is keeping him from making the payroll too expensive. I’m eager to see if a change will make Elias a more dynamic decision-maker with a competitive squad.
4. Settle the long-term rights of Camden Yards
After the exhausting saga that played out in 2023, a lot of folks are ready to stop thinking about the stadium lease in Camden Yards. Although the Orioles are locked into the park for the next 15 years, they have to settle development rights to ensure the team stays through 2053. That deadline is the end of 2027.
There has been no hint of a comprehensive development plan from the Orioles or Angelos, who was most gung-ho on the rights during negotiations. During the lease signing in December, state leaders weren’t shy about mentioning that the rights to negotiate would pass to a new owner in the event of a sale.
In the right hands, the development rights could add value to the franchise — but hopefully also serve the surrounding community as well. During lease negotiations, local residents told The Banner they felt left out of the process.
New ownership could use the four-year period to open the dialogue about how the development rights could be used to enrich the neighborhood around Camden Yards while adding to the game day experience. Hopefully, the result will be the Orioles will stick around Baltimore for an extra generation — with an owner who causes less heartburn than the last one.