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With a manager on board, it is now time for Orioles to improve the on-field product

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The Orioles’ focus is rightfully on the future. But after losing 115 games, the Orioles are running out of time to find short-term improvements.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Birdland, our leadership is finally in place. Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde are both officially on board to lead the Orioles into this new era of, hopefully, winning baseball. Both hires have been universally applauded by the industry (something O’s fans aren’t exactly used to). We’ve even been given the sense that the front office and field staff will actually work well together! I’m as excited right now as a person can possibly be after a 115-loss season.

While it seems like the Orioles got the right men in place, the process took a long time. We learned of a front office shakeup on October 3 when it was announced that Dan Duquette would not return. But Duquette’s contract was expiring and ownership had to have known in advance of October that they would go in a different direction. Despite that, Elias was not introduced as GM until November 19. Elias’ full attention went towards finding a manager, but it took nearly a month to officially introduce him.

The Angelos brothers owed it to the fans to conduct a thorough search and Elias did his due diligence in finding a manager. We won’t remember the amount of time it took to staff the organization when crowded on Eutaw Street for the 2022 World Series Championship parade (it’s the holiday season, please allow me to dream). But the time it has taken to get these leadership pieces is place has cost the Orioles valuable time in an important regard: improving the worst team in club history.

Yes, we all know that the 2019 Orioles won’t be judged on wins and losses. In the first full season of a major rebuild, they should not be. But the club may suffer serious loss of fan support if they lose 115 games again. Losing at such a rate could also negatively impact the development of young players.

The O’s are clearly not in a position to sign marquee free agents or trade top young talent to fill a need. But there will be upgrades on the free agent market available on cheap, one-year deals. These players could provide veteran leadership on a young club, bridge the gap to when prospects may be ready this summer, be traded in July to further restock the minor league system, and help ensure that another club record for losses isn’t set.

Now that Elias has selected his manager, he should think about his plans for the following positions.

Third base

Elias needs to decide if his internal options at the hot corner will suffice for the 2019 season. Renato Nunez was acquired in May and served as Baltimore’s primary third baseman from July 20 through the end of the season. He served quite admirably in the role, batting .275/.336/.445 with seven home runs. He is a former top prospect and hit for serious power in the minor leagues. His performance certainly earned him a hard look by the new staff in spring training.

One of the few moves Elias has made is claiming Rio Ruiz off of waivers from Atlanta. Elias is familiar with Ruiz, having drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Ruiz has some MLB experience, but the numbers aren’t good. He’s hit .189/.282/.302 in 169 at bats spanning the last three seasons. He spent seven seasons in the minors, hit .264/.333/.409 in parts of three seasons at AAA, and never hit more than 16 home runs in a season. He could be given the opportunity to compete for the third base job, but his ability to play first base and the outfield suggests he may be competing for a bench role.

The third baseman free agent market is pretty thin. If Elias opts not to upgrade the position with an external option, many fans will clamor for top prospect Ryan Mountcastle to get a look at third base. His bat is very close to big league ready, but there are major concerns about his defense. Specifically, his arm may not be good enough to play third base.

Shortstop

When the O’s selected Richie Martin in the Rule 5 draft, many said that they could have found their 2019 shortstop. There is a lot to like about Martin, who immediately slots in as the Orioles #13 prospect. While his offense is a work in progress, he carries the reputation as a very solid defender and brings an element of speed (25 steals last year).

It is tempting to throw Martin into a starting role in a rebuilding year. But it is very possible that he is offensively overmatched at the top level and needs to serve his full season on the MLB roster as a utility infielder/backup shortstop. The Orioles may be best served by bringing in a veteran shortstop on a one-year deal to guard against that. Tyler Young listed some possibilities recently.

Outfield

The Orioles have a lot of outfielders who are worth being excited about, but they are young and inexperienced. Trey Mancini will be in left if Mark Trumbo begins the 2019 campaign healthy and we can pencil Cedric Mullins into center field. DJ Stewart and Austin Hays are possibilities for right field. Yusniel Diaz could be ready for the bigs over the summer.

While the future is bright at this position, a veteran outfielder could be useful to start the season. Said outfielder would provide steady defense, veteran presence, and an insurance policy for the young guys who may experience some rocky times as they get their feet wet at the highest level.

Starting pitching

September was a painful month for the Orioles for a variety of reasons, one of which was that they simply ran out of starting pitchers. Fans who were still watching may be surprised that the team’s ERA in the month of September was only 5.33. There were multiple games where Buck Showalter struggled to find pitchers to record all 27 outs. It was a clear illustration of what we all know: you can never have enough starting pitching.

Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy are the only certainties heading into 2019. Internal candidates to fill the final two rotation spots include David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Luis Ortiz, and Josh Rogers. While there is plenty of upside amongst those candidates, none have proven themselves at the major league level yet. The next wave of prospects (Keegan Akin, Dillon Tate, and Dean Kremer) may not be ready in 2019. A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness could leave Brandon Hyde in the same ugly predicament that Showalter was in in September.

It won’t excite fans, but it would benefit the Orioles to bring in a veteran “innings eater” type on a one-year deal. There are names on the list of free agents who will accept a one-year deal or even a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.