Peter Schmuck: What new O’s ownership might mean, and might not -
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: What new O’s ownership might mean, and might not

Photo credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar - Sipa via AP Images


If you’re a regular user of social media, you know that a significant portion of the Orioles’ fan base would be dancing in the streets right now if it weren’t so cold.

The Angelos family has reportedly reached a deal to sell the Orioles’ franchise to billionaires David Rubenstein and Mike Arougheti in a two-tiered purchase for $1.725 billion, or about 10 times what Peter Angelos paid to bring the club back under local ownership in 1993. Rubenstein, a Baltimore native, is expected to become the controlling partner immediately upon approval of the deal by Major League Baseball.

So, does the arrival of a new ownership group with much deeper pockets than the one it will replace mean that the small-payroll Orioles will suddenly become a bigger player in the free-agent market? Inquiring minds and 2023 Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell’s agent – Scott Boras – would certainly like to know.

Of course, these things take time. The deal to first acquire a 40-percent interest in the franchise almost certainly will come up at next week’s MLB owners’ meeting in Orlando, but it seems unlikely that it could get fast-track approval, which would require a speedy vetting process and vote of all the other team owners.

Whether the new owners will want to make a big splash to introduce themselves to the fan base remains to be seen, but they will not be haunted by the failures that soured the Orioles on the giant contracts required to pull premier players out of the free-agent market.

Peter Angelos, who spent freely to build some of the biggest payrolls of the 1990s, stumbled with the $65 million acquisition of controversial outfielder Albert Belle in 1998 and would greatly regret the $161 million deal he gave to declining slugger Chris Davis that is still on the books.

John Angelos, who succeeded his father as controlling partner, angered fans when he was quoted recently warning that the Orioles’ small-market status would make it too difficult for the team to retain its budding superstars when they become eligible to test the open market.

No doubt, the fan base will be very interested to hear what Rubenstein has to say about all of that when he takes control of the team.

Presumably, he isn’t getting into the baseball business to leave well enough alone, but the uplifting performance of the Orioles over the last two seasons and the terrific job done by executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias to build such a successful and attractive young team would argue against any major change in direction … though one big-name starting pitcher would make a very nice first impression.

The future of the franchise has been a media obsession since Peter Angelos fell ill and turned the operation of the club over to John. The situation reached a fever pitch when Peter’s other son, Lou Angelos, filed a lawsuit against his brother charging that he was – among other things – subverting his father’s wishes regarding the eventual sale of the team. The lawsuit was eventually dropped and the Orioles finally signed a new lease that keeps them in Baltimore for at least the next 15 years.

John Angelos had already telegraphed months ago that he was interested in selling a minority interest in the club, presumably to put the family in a better position to deal with eventual inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes.

By waiting until Peter passes to sell the remaining 60 percent of the franchise, the family can take advantage of the “step up” provision in the federal tax code that increases the cost basis of the team to current value and erases the giant capital gains liability for the approximately $1.5 billion profit realized in the sale.

If the deal seems reminiscent of the one Steve Bisciotti made with Art Modell to acquire the Ravens, the only technical similarity was the fact that Bisciotti bought the team in two transactions, acquiring 49 percent of the team in 2000 with an option to purchase the rest of the NFL franchise in 2004 while Modell was still very much alive.

Fans will also be buoyed by reports that Orioles icon Cal Ripken is a friend of Rubenstein and reportedly a part of the investment group. Though it’s hard to imagine him owning any significant percentage of the team, it probably portends a much more visible presence in the organization going forward.

If nothing else, with spring training set to begin in a matter of days and excitement about the team already running high, things just got a lot more interesting.

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