On Thursday afternoon, the Orioles secured their 57th loss of the 2018 season. It was yet another blemish on a disappointing campaign that is mercifully nearing its halfway point. Despite the nightly embarrassments on the field, the team’s decision-makers have been remarkably slow in making any decisions on the direction of the organization. That needs to change.
Perhaps most perplexing is that the Baltimore coaching staff remains entirely intact from the beginning of the season. That includes hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. The Orioles offense deserves most of the blame for the team’s lackluster performance. They are in the bottom five of the entire league in team batting average (.227), on-base percentage (.291), slugging percentage (.380), doubles (119), triples (9), walks (224) and, most importantly, runs scored (294, 3.675 runs/game).
Prior to the start of this miserable endeavor, the O’s were projected, along with the division rival New York Yankees, to break the 1997 Seattle Mariners MLB record of 264 home runs in a single season. Through 80 games, the Birds have 94 long balls (1.175 per game), putting them on pace for just 190 dongs, their lowest total since 2010.
Overshadowing the offense’s overall incompetence have been the struggles of Chris Davis. There’s no need to reiterate the numbers. The first baseman is costing the club wins on the field (-2.0 WAR) and tons of money off of it. However, such a great financial commitment means that the Orioles cannot simply give up on Davis, at least not yet. Instead, they need all hands on deck to salvage whatever is left in the 32-year-old’s tank.
Coolbaugh, it would seem, is not the person to get this done. There was significant drama surrounding Davis and Coolbaugh following comments made by MASN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer after a game in late May. Lack of journalistic integrity aside, if Palmer’s remarks are to be taken seriously, it would indicate a notable rift between the two parties, and it makes Coolbaugh look like a gossip that other players cannot truly trust.
Of course, a coach can only work with the players at his disposal, and it could very well be the case that this batch of hitters just isn’t very good. It’s an aging group overall with a sprinkle of younger players that aren’t performing well. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to ship out 12 or 13 guys in one season. On the other hand, it is quite simple to axe a single coach, promote a replacement, send a message to the clubhouse, and keep on humming.
The fact that this, or something like it, has not happened yet speaks to one of the flaws of Orioles manager Buck Showalter. His loyalty, and sometimes stubbornness, regarding those around him should be commended to a certain degree. It can be difficult to find a person who is so often willing to reinforce his belief in those around him, and it has been one of the trademarks of his time in Baltimore. But things are different this year. Never before have Showalter’s O’s faced these sorts of struggles. In cases like this, staying the course is not a viable option.
This tendency extends beyond the coaching staff. Sending Chris Tillman out to the mound so many times between last season and this was a mistake. Colby Rasmus continues to get at-bats for some reason. Preferring veteran catchers over the superior Chance Sisco has been a head-scratcher. The list goes on.
This unwavering maintain-the-status-quo way of doing business continues right up to the front office. The warehouse has shown no signs that changes are on the horizon. They have not spoken with Adam Jones regarding a trade or an extension. There are doubts around the league that the O’s are even going to trade Manny Machado. Rival executives are saying the club “struggles with the process” of dealing players. In short: it’s a mess.
At the very least, the team could go out on a limb and try to alter the way they approach their homegrown talent. Perhaps an extension for Dylan Bundy could be in order? Kevin Gausman? No way. Why be proactive?
This all gets murkier because two of the most high-profile people in the organization, Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, may not be around after this season. Although those two are the most public-facing figures, they do not ultimately make the decisions. This comes down to what the Angelos family wants done. So far, it seems like they prefer to slow play just about everything.
It’s pretty clear that the Orioles are due for a fairly involved rebuild if they wish to become something more than also-rans in the next couple of seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not that will be the actual end goal.
If it is, then the sooner the team can rid the major league roster of veterans with expiring contracts, the better. There are younger players at or near the major league level that deserve to get an extended run in Baltimore to find out if they can hack it in the bigs. Blocking them with lame duck predecessors on a team going nowhere is pointless.
It makes more sense to have a look at Steve Wilkerson or Drew Dosch at third base over Danny Valencia. Can Mike Yastrzemski or DJ Stewart cut it in Baltimore? They would have to be an improvement over Rasmus. Cedric Mullins will be up at some point. He’s probably a better fielder than Jones at the moment.
This is not to say the Orioles should sell any of their valuable assets to the first team that picks up the phone, but they could work with a tad more urgency. Two fellow AL East clubs, the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays have already begun to make deals. Tampa shipped out Denard Span and Alex Colome to Seattle last month, and Toronto sent Steve Pearce to the Red Sox on Thursday. Both teams are above the O’s in the standings, and yet they each seem much more aware of their current place in the baseball hierarchy.
How much longer can the Orioles kick the proverbial can down the road? Machado’s red hot April has turned into an ice cold June. Zach Britton looks like a man that returned from injury too soon. Jonathan Schoop has had a season to forget. The organization has already whittled down the trade value of their biggest stars to the smallest it will ever be. Before you know it, decisions will be made for the Birds. Other teams will move on and fill their holes with cheaper options elsewhere. The world does not revolve around Baltimore. The Orioles needs to stop acting like it does.