In a vacuum, it’s difficult to comprehend the level of optimism in Baltimore right now. When the Orioles dreadful 2018 season came to a close, a stench of failure and uncertainty emitted from the organization. After only a few months, and even fewer changes, things still seem to be looking up.
The writing appeared to be on the wall regarding Buck Showalter’s position down the stretch, but it wasn’t as clear what the Orioles would do with Dan Duquette and his expiring contract. When the Orioles announced they would be moving on from Duquette, there was suddenly reason to believe that changes were coming in Baltimore.
The last time the Orioles had openings at manager and general manager the positions did not garner a great amount of respect. Many feared that Baltimore was a toxic situation, and that issues could arise with ownership. Duquette and Showalter showed that success was possible in Baltimore when they won more regular season games than any American League team in a five year period.
The negative stigma surrounding the Orioles continued to dissipate after the July 31 trade deadline. The Angelos family issued a statement that Baltimore was finally going to dedicate itself to improving in the international market and with analytics.
While some wondered if these were just words intended to help ease the pain of losing top talent like Manny Machado and Zach Britton, many hoped the Orioles would practice what they preached. The club gained several prospects at the trade deadline, and stocked up on international bonus money.
The optimism surrounding the Orioles took a brief hit when the club missed out on Victor Victor Mesa and his brother Victor Jr., but that disappointment evaporated when the club finally announced the new leader of the front office.
When the Birds hired Mike Elias as the new executive vice president and general manager, the decision was highly lauded by fans and media alike. The Orioles had managed to corral an up-and-coming talent widely respected for his use of analytics and scouting.
Elias exuded confidence from the jump, boasting to fans that he knew how to chair a rebuild because he had done it before. Fans looked at how he helped convert the Astros into world champions after multiple 100-loss years and thought, “why can’t he do that here?”
There’s also something to be said about the joint message John and Louis Angelos sent throughout the hiring process. They were open with the fans about goals moving forward and secured a man who fit the mold. As they sat on both sides of Elias at their living-room style introductory press conference, they replaced their aging father as the faces of ownership in Baltimore.
Elias has said all the right things during his brief tenure in Baltimore. Whether he’s responding to fan questions on a reddit AMA, or speaking directly to the media, Elias has demonstrated poise while discussing his future plans. He’s responded to direct questions, but refused to put the team in a box.
The news that Elias would be bringing Sig Mejdal with him to chair the sabermetrics department added fuel to the fire. Mejdal, a former NASA engineer, is the epitome of new aged analytics and the direction that the Orioles are heading.
Every fan knew that a rebuild was coming. After all, the team only won 47 games last year. But it takes more than hitting rock bottom to kick off a rebuild. The decision to hire Elias and Co. truly signaled a new beginning in Baltimore.
Simply put, it’s a lot easier to watch a team lose 100-plus games is you know there’s a plan in place. All of a sudden, there’s a bright future to distract from the present. It’s an odd sense of relief, but one that fans can already feel.
While the Orioles have Elias’s time in Houston to look to as a template, every rebuild is different. The “trust the process” attitude will certainly be tested, but it’s a proven method. Orioles fans can focus a little more on the number one draft pick and a little less on Chris Davis’s contract. A little more on Yusniel Diaz and a little less on the fact that Adam Jones is no longer around. A little more on Hunter Harvey’s progress than Zach Britton attempting to work his way back from the DL.
While the Orioles have yet to hire a manager, it will be difficult for that decision to break the wave of confidence. Unless, of course, the orioles manage to botch the process. Nearly any choice will be acceptable, because the Orioles aren’t prioritizing winning games right now. As long as the talent is being developed, that’s a win in 2019.
A rebuild requires a different style of fandom. You become desensitized to losses, you try to focus more on the big picture, and you probably pay a little more attention to our minor league recaps. But that’s the type of fan we all have to try and be right now. The rebuild truly started the day Elias took the job, and it’s okay to be hopeful for the future.