Even amidst the jovial press conference Monday to celebrate a final agreement on a lease extension to keep the Orioles at Camden Yards, thoughts of what comes next for the ballclub surfaced.
Comptroller Brooke Lierman quipped that she has “strong feelings about the recruitment of a new starting, veteran pitcher,” and that she looks forward to more 100-plus win seasons in the years to come. She’s not alone.
A lease, which keeps the Orioles in Baltimore for at least another 15 years if not for decades, was approved by the Maryland Stadium Authority board and the state Board of Public Works. What comes next, though — beyond the relief of more games being played at Camden Yards — is still an open question.
Does not immediately getting development rights mean John Angelos will be reluctant to spend on players?
The Orioles won 101 games with an Opening Day payroll of $60.9 million, among the lowest in the league. That number is set to go up next year with 17 players in arbitration, but the question remains: Will the Orioles spend money on players, including that starting pitcher they know they need?
Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos said to The New York Times earlier this year that, without major changes, including development rights to bring in additional profit, they would unable to retain their young stars or bring in new ones. He was hoping, perhaps even expecting, to have a 99-year ground lease for $94 million as part of the lease agreement. Angelos still has a path to getting that deal — they have four years to develop a plan and get it approved — but for now he will not gain that added revenue stream.
General manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias has said multiple times this offseason, including at the MLB winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this month, that he has the authority to spend money. But they’ve made just one free agent signing this offseason — Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $13 million deal — and have not signed any free agents to a multiyear guaranteed deal under Elias.
What will the Orioles do now that they can spend $600 million in public money on stadium improvements?
When the Ravens signed their lease in January, they publicized how they planned to improve M&T Bank Stadium — including a tailgate and concert venue, field-level seating and infrastructure investments. The Orioles have not done so yet, so it’s unclear how they will utilize their allotment.
There are notable things, though, that need to be addressed. The sound system, which gives off muffled sounds, and scoreboards along the base lines, which are small and hard to see from just about every angle, are in dire need of an overhaul. Although not a public area, the Orioles clubhouse could also be spruced up. It’s smaller than most in the major leagues and doesn’t come with some of the perks that others do, including lounge areas and expansive dining rooms.
On a larger scale, the Orioles could make changes around the stadium to improve the fan experience better. This could include a restaurant in the seldom-used upper deck sections and specialty clubs, such as one behind home plate.
In 2015, John Angelos, then the team’s chief operating officer, floated the idea of removing some sections to create an open concourse, installing party decks, and expanding a picnic area beyond the outfield fence.
Did we learn anything about whether the Orioles are actually for sale?
The Bloomberg report that stated David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group is in talks to buy the team interrupted lease negotiations at the eleventh hour. Senate President Bill Ferguson objected to the deal earlier this month because of the proposed ground lease, but he also noted to The Baltimore Banner that the report of a potential sale added to his concern.
In the week since negotiations hit that major snag and Monday’s approvals, the lease terms changed. The Orioles were locked into a minimum of 15 years rather than at least 10. And the development rights weren’t a given anymore; instead of a 99-year ground lease for $94 million, the state, Orioles and Ravens will have four years to work out the specifics of a master plan before receiving approval.
A spokesperson for Rubenstein declined to comment on the Bloomberg report, as did a spokesperson for Angelos. However, Angelos spoke with Gov. Wes Moore over the phone after the story published, assuring the governor that the Angelos family does not intend to sell its majority stake, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the call.
Still, plans can change, and it was apparent Monday how state political leaders accounted for the possibility of a sale.
“This deal will last potentially for decades. Unless I pull a Louis Goldstein — doubtful — this deal will well outlive my time in public office,” said Lierman, referring to the comptroller who served for 39 years up until his death in 1998. “It may also outlast the current ownership of the Orioles. Therefore, it’s essential to me that the MSA has the ability to step in and seek recourse to maintain the state jewel, our Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and that this deal ensures that’s possible.”
Later, in the Board of Public Works meeting, Lierman confirmed that should the Orioles be sold to new owners, “all of these obligations [will be] transferred to the new owner.”
What about the Ravens?
A parity clause within the leases for the Orioles and Ravens — that is, whatever one team gets from the state, the other has to receive something of equal value — made negotiations for development rights, which would primarily benefit the Orioles, somewhat tricky.
On Monday, though, Moore said the Ravens will have an active role in the master plan to develop the Camden Yards complex. Whether that satisfies the terms of the parity clause was not immediately known. The Ravens did not respond to a request for comment.
“What happens next is we’re going to begin a larger master planning process that the Ravens will very much be a part of,” Moore said. “The Ravens have been great partners throughout this entire journey. … This larger master planning process will very much involve them.”
Lierman echoed the sentiment: “I know the Ravens next door are also excited and, I’m sure, interested in being a part of the collaboration moving forward, as well, on any future development plans. I’m sure they’ll be subject to a similarly extensive, thoughtful and methodical process, and I intend to bring a keen eye to them as both an advocate to the taxpayers of Maryland and as a Baltimore resident.”