On the same frenzied Friday that the Seattle Mariners reeled in free agent superstar Robinson Cano with a $240 million contract and several other teams made major free agent acquisitions, the Orioles signed an unheralded middle reliever, surrendered outfielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Scott Feldman without a fight and began informing season ticket holders that the price of poker is going up.

Throw in the highly unpopular Jim Johnson deal earlier in the week and it's clear that this offseason if off to a bang-up start.

Of course, the modest signings of right-hander Ryan Webb and non-tendered reserve outfielder Francisco Peguero this weekend and the decision not to make an aggressive attempt to retain two veteran free agents cannot be directly linked to the hike in season ticket prices by an average of about five percent and a change in the way single-game tickets are priced.

Those are decisions made at two different organizational levels, but the timing of all this is enough to make a marketing consultant jump off the Warehouse.

To be fair, that timing is coincidental and the O's have not bumped up season-ticket rates for several years. The club's new "dynamic" pricing plan has been in the works for a while and season ticket mailers — which went out on Friday — have to be delivered before the holidays.

The decision to jettison Johnson's salary with a thin trade also was made in the face of a deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players, though the Orioles could have waited and gambled that they could get more for him from a pitching-challenged club during spring training.


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It's unfortunate for the franchise that it has found itself in a perfect storm of bad public relations, but it's not like the front office couldn't have seen it coming.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette has spent the past month packing the roster with anonymous players and — as has become an Orioles custom — apparently waiting to see which veteran free agents nobody else wants.

The fact that the Nationals signed McLouth and the lowly Houston Astros gave Scott Feldman $30 million is not exactly a sign of the apocalypse, but in a sports world where appearances matter, the Orioles appear unwilling to make even a cursory attempt to compete for quality talent outside the organization.

Maybe Duquette and the Angelos family will have the last laugh and prove that the Orioles are way smarter than their well-heeled division rivals, but fans have every right to wonder what exactly is their plan to compete for the American League East title.

Owner Peter Angelos said on Thursday that the team is doing the best it can in a market with limited revenue potential, but it gets harder and harder to make that case when other teams in similarly sized markets manage to spend significantly more money and don't appear close to filing for bankruptcy.

The irony of the "dynamic" pricing plan is that one of the teams that the Orioles will leverage by increasing single-game ticket prices is the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, who play in a very similar market and annually spend about $25 million more on player salaries.

The focus of the premium single-game pricing is always the Yankees and Red Sox, but fans who wait to buy tickets to see the interleague games against the Nationals also will pay more, which has to be galling to a franchise that already helps support the Orioles by paying more to field an attractive team while getting a much smaller fraction of the revenues from their jointly held regional television network.

The proof will be in the final payroll. Duquette has been saying for the past five days that the Johnson deal was simply an attempt to reallocate the club's resources to position it better to fill its offseason needs.

Hard to say exactly what that means. The O's have been relieved of Brian Roberts' $10 million salary and just pared more than $10 million by shedding the 2013 salaries of Johnson, McLouth and Feldman. They will have to give big raises to arbitration-eligible Matt Wieters and Chris Davis but should be able to afford a quality left fielder or designated hitter if they can locate one.

The Orioles don't broadcast their budget, so there's no way to know for sure how much revenue the franchise brings in and how much will be spent this year. Last year's payroll started out at $92 million and increased with several midseason acquisitions.

Based on the club's own good tidings about 2013 attendance, television ratings and merchandise sales, it would be fair for fans to expect some increase in spending, but based on the noise coming out of the Warehouse this winter, that might not be a fair assumption.

With the way free agent prices have accelerated again this year, it's hard to imagine the Orioles having any chance of retaining Wieters and Davis when they become eligible for free agency, so the clock could be ticking on their opportunity to make a World Series bid with the current nucleus of the team.

Sometimes, it seems like the front office is just tone deaf. Angelos, Duquette and whoever else might be calling shots in the organization need to remember one of the unwritten rules of sports marketing.

If you want people to drink the Kool-Aid, you have to put some sugar in it.