SARASOTA, Florida — In a wide-ranging conversation at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Sunday, Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos detailed his family’s long-term commitment to the organization, his hopes for a new Camden Yards lease by the All-Star Break and his vision for the team to remain “relevant and competitive” for years to come.
Angelos visited the Orioles’ spring training home Sunday, met with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, and answered questions from the news media for the first time since promising to open the books last month.
Angelos didn’t disclose how long Elias remains under contract in Baltimore, but he emphasized how no one involved in the organization is a “short-timer,” including himself and his family as majority owners.
“I’m here for the long haul,” Angelos said. “Mike is here for the long haul. Brandon is here for the long haul. We are all fully vested. We’re not going anywhere, and nobody’s a short-timer. Nobody’s expiring in a year or two years or anything like that.”
There are no plans to change “the partnership group or change the managing partnership structure that we have,” Angelos added. He noted that if another potential shareholder expressed interest in purchasing part of the Orioles, he’d listen, but the Angelos family isn’t looking to sell their majority stake.
The lease for Oriole Park at Camden Yards expires Dec. 31, and the Orioles chose not to trigger a one-time, five-year extension before the Feb. 1 deadline. When asked where the lease stands, Angelos said he didn’t want to rush a new agreement before the transition of leadership in the State House and the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Gov. Moore appointed attorney Craig A. Thompson this week to replace outgoing chairman Tom Kelso for the Maryland Stadium Authority. Kelso said in a statement he has already begun to work with Thompson to ensure a smooth transition.
“I’d love to have that [lease] as an All-Star Break gift for everybody, really, in the community,” Angelos said. “There’s just no there there other than we’re going to get that done. That’s always been one of the things I’ve committed to, and I have no intention of not seeing that happen. I know the governor and his folks are just as keen on it as we are.”
Angelos said renewing the 30-year lease agreement is a “minor sidelight.” Rather, the main discussions between the city, state and team revolve more around the live-work-play components around Camden Yards — the idea of rejuvenating the surroundings at Oriole Park.
Once a new lease is signed, the Orioles will be eligible to receive $600 million for stadium improvements from the state. Angelos said exact plans for that money haven’t been laid out yet, although a portion will likely be used to upgrade infrastructure, such as air conditioning. A new video board could be installed, too.
On the field, Angelos has maintained that he leaves Elias and the rest of the front office to make the major decisions. He said that Elias had full support from him to spend this offseason, and while the Orioles are still projected to spend $64.9 million on their opening day roster — the second-lowest mark in the league, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts — he anticipates payroll to continue to rise in the coming years.
Although, that won’t mean competing with large market franchises such as the New York Mets and Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers.
“That’s not an Oriole thing,” Angelos said. “That’s a small, middle-market team in this economic system. This is not football. This is not basketball. In a lot of respects, it would be great if it were. You see in those other leagues where Oklahoma City can spend at the same levels as the New York Knicks playing in Madison Square Garden.
“We’re not there yet in baseball, but we’re going to make all these capital investments and stay the course and we’ll see where the payroll goes,” Angelos continued.
Angelos pointed to the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays as examples of organizations that are consistently competitive despite below-average payrolls. However, Angelos noted that he doesn’t expect the Orioles payroll to always model those teams.
None of those teams Angelos referenced have won a World Series since 1948. The Rays and Guardians appeared in the World Series in the last decade, but haven’t turned consistency into a finishing product.
Still, Angelos “would be disappointed if we’re not the next Tampa. Which means being sustainably relevant and competitive.”
“Could payroll be double or triple what it is? Or could it be over $100 million?” Angelos said. “Yeah. We’re not there yet. We have a very young team that has overachieved and overperformed because of the work of our baseball folks.”
Last month, Angelos said he would invite the news media in to see the financials of the organization. And while he said Sunday that he would provide a “full picture of the business” during spring training, he won’t “pull out the payrolls and show you everything financially.”
The Orioles have sat near the bottom of the league in payroll since Elias restructured the organization, beginning with his hiring in 2018. He expunged the high-value contracts that he felt weighed down the franchise and put more focus into analytics, international scouting and development, and the farm system.
The first tangible evidence of improvement came last year, when the Orioles finished 83-79 to achieve their first above-.500 record since 2016. Angelos said he’s glad the Orioles began their rebuild when they did for a few reasons.
“I don’t think we’re rebuilding anymore,” Angelos said. “I’m glad we were in a full rebuild, because it was what was recommended, and was the right thing. It was also we were fortunate that as the world hit a pandemic, we were stripped down. … I mean, that was just good luck in that sense, to not have a lot of payroll. Teams that had a lot of payroll and that were relying on live attendance to pay for that, were in a much worse situation. We were much better situated. Just luck. Lucky, really.”
Baltimore will have four spring training games televised on the team-owned Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, or MASN, as will the Washington Nationals. The lack of spring training games is a “valid question and criticism,” Angelos said, but it’s part of a larger problem.
When the Montreal Expos were moved to Washington, D.C., by Major League Baseball, part of the agreement included MASN controlling a majority stake in the Nationals’ television rights.
That has been a point of contention since, with a hearing in the New York Court of Appeals scheduled for March 14.
“If you’re [Baltimore mayor] Brandon Scott, or Wes Moore, or in my position, you have the same goal: Make sure there is the same permanent long-term compensation,” Angelos said. “I think it’s resolvable today, tomorrow — I’m oversimplyifing — separate and apart from that appellate track.”
Angelos said his goal is to “never be around any litigation again,” saying how the end of the lawsuits between members of the Angelos family was a relief. “I think those things are distractions, and it’s unfortunate whenever they arise.”
Sunday marked the fourth time since Elias’ introductory press conference that Angelos has spoken with members of the Baltimore press corps. The questions that have piled up have often gone without answer — or, at least, a straight one. It led to Sunday’s discussion near the bullpens of the Orioles’ spring training complex, to a wide-range of topics and, again, a wait for resolutions.