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Peter the Grate
2004-09-29 10:55
by Mike Carminati

Frank Rizzo: "He's a real chaza! Tony, you know what a chaza is?"

Tony Montana: "No, Frank, why don't you tell me what a chaza is."

Frank Rizzo: "He's a pig, but he don't fly straight no more."

—The nonpareil "Scarface"

Oriole owner Peter Angelos will apparently make out like a bandit in the deal to move the Expos somewhat near his mediocre Baltimore team if this report by Jayson Stark is any indication.

Angelos, whose team paid a paltry fee to move into the then-Washington Senators territory—either $100 K or $250 K depending on who you believe—, will get previously unheard-of concessions from Major League Baseball.

Baseball is willing to guarantee that the Orioles will earn a still-to-be-negotiated minimum in annual revenues. If their revenues fall below that figure, MLB would make up the difference.

Baseball also is willing to guarantee a minimum franchise value for the Orioles. So if Angelos attempts to sell the team and can't find a buyer willing to pay that amount, MLB also would make up that difference.

Beyond those measures, baseball will help establish a new regional sports network in the Baltimore-Washington area that would enable the Orioles to continue to televise games in Washington and its Virginia suburbs.

The man whose organization imploded under the weight of his trying to be the new Steinbrenner (are they still paying Albert Belle?) is now a welfare mother suckling at the teat of Bud Selig and MLB—sorry for the image. If no one comes out to see his lackluster club, he still gets paid. If he decimates the club and then Carl Pohlad-esque wants to cut bait and dump his club but can no longer get his price, MLB will make up the difference. Plus there's no need to put up his own cash for a cable network, Bud TV will set him up throughout the Balto-DC area.

It's like Henry Hill's description of how the mob bleeds a company dry in "Goodfellas", "You got no business? FU, pay me. You had a fire? FU, pay me. The place got hit by lightning? FU, pay me." The only difference is that the mob, MLB, is the one getting bleed. What incentive does Angelos have to make an honest effort with the O's? If the late great Doug Pappas were still with us, I'm sure he would be able to show that Angelos could make more money if his team loses.

Let's give it a try. The Orioles reduce their salary by a third a la the Brewers. The O's payroll was $51.6M at the start of the season, twentieth in baseball. Let's say they go down to $40M. The will lose Rafael Palmeiro's $4M contract at the end of the year. The lose David Segui's $7M-per-year, Omar Daal's $4.5 M-per-year, and Marty Cordova's $3.5 M-per-year contacts at the end of the year. That's $19 M right there and all you get rid of is dead weight and 40-year-old future Hall of Famer. Then there's Jerry Hairston ($1.55 M), who lost the second base job. They dumped Mike DeJean's $1.5 M contract on the Mets and can buyout Buddy Groom for $250 K, instead of picking up his $3 M option. That's a total savings of $25 without substantially affecting the team's on-field performance. Subtract, say, $5 to pay warm bodies to replace those players and to retain other players, and the Orioles can very easily get to the $30-$35 M payroll range.

If there's backlash from the fans and attendance is down, the Orioles will a) get money from revenue sharing and the luxury tax and b) if that's still not enough, their welfare deal kicks in. So Angelos can cut costs to the bone and still field a team that's not much worse than today, he's guaranteed money from various sources to keep his revenue at a certain level. If he cuts payroll even more, say, to the point that the Orioles are a perennial doormat, he saves the additional payroll costs and still makes the revenue. It's better for him to pay his players less, which will, at some point, translate into a worse product on the field, than it is to overpay in order to compete with the Yankees and Sox. He'll be able to pocket more that way. Even Angelos will be able to figure that out.

And the Washington Expos will now be saddled with Oriole games being broadcast to their new fan base. I hope that MLB includes them in the cable package and doesn't make them fend for themselves. Then again, with the O's disincentivized from putting a quality product on the field, the metro fans may come a-runnin' for the new Senators.

And get this, Angelos not only wants the deal for as long as he owns the team but wants to keep the support system in place in perpetuity:

[T]he biggest remaining sticking point in negotiations with the Orioles is the length of time for which baseball would be willing to make those guarantees. The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that MLB has offered to extend the guarantees for as long as Angelos owns the club, but Angelos is pushing to keep them in effect indefinitely.

So MLB may still be paying off this deal when your grandkids are paying off George Bush's deficit while finishing up the war in Iraq. Hard to believe, Harry.

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