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Competition should be the first theme of the Orioles rebuild

Several positions should be up for grabs early on in Baltimore. Every player from Chris Davis to the newly acquired Carlos Perez should prove if they can help the team win.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By now, everyone has watched or heard about Clemson dismantling Alabama in the National Title game Monday night. The Tigers 44-16 victory over coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide secured another championship for the “Orange Uniform Club.” Don’t expect the Orioles to contribute another one any time soon.

Okay, so there’s not a club. And even if there was, the Orioles may have had their membership revoked after posting a 47-115 record last year. Baltimore is currently focused on removing itself from the “Last Place Alliance” and the “Feeble Farm System Fraternity.”

How are the Orioles attempting to move out of the basement? This week they signed catcher Carlos Perez and acquired reliever Austin Brice off of waivers. If we’re still making bad jokes, this would be the perfect time for a “start printing the playoff tickets...”

There’s always room for another reliever on a bad team. Well, at least after you clear a spot for one. The Orioles did that by designating Breyvic Valera for assignment. Baltimore eventually worked out a deal to sell Valera to the Giants.

With general manager Mike Elias and skipper Brandon Hyde now in place, storylines have been hard to come by in Birdland. In the interest of overreacting, Rich Dubroff placed a great deal of emphasis on the Valera departure. Dubroff wrote here that the Orioles moving on from Valera, who was acquired in the Machado deal, showed that Elias does not have any extra incentive to prioritize prospects from the previous administration. It’s a great point.

It does not matter how a player ended up in the Orioles organization. The only question that should truly impact personnel decisions is “can this player help Baltimore win games?” It appears that will be the case with Elias calling the shots, and that’s exactly how it should be.

However, that philosophy should not be limited to just prospects. Every Baltimore player should have to earn his position every single game. The Orioles signing Perez could represent just that.

Chance Sisco no longer holds prospect status when it comes to the farm system rankings that are compiled every year. And while those lists aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on (and far less than the device they’re typed on), Sisco’s absence from the compilation seems symbolic. If he were still eligible, he certainly would not rank as high as he did only a few years ago.

The Orioles top prospect from 2016 hit just .181 in 63 games at the Major League level last year. While there have always been concerns about Sisco’s defense, his offensive woes were enough to relegate him back to Norfolk for a large chunk of the season. The former second-round pick failed to capitalize on minor league pitching and hit just .242 for the Tides.

The Orioles decided against tendering former catcher Caleb Joseph a contract, which creates an immediate demand behind the plate for Baltimore. While many anticipate the starting job should be Sisco’s to lose in camp, the 23-year-old should not clinch the position if he struggles early on.

The same logic should apply to Austin Wynns. The 28-year-old hit .255 in 42 games last season, and showed enough to earn consideration for a roster spot in 2019. With the Orioles set to carry two catchers, where does Perez come in?

It’s perfectly reasonable to assume Perez, a four-year MLB veteran, was acquired simply to add depth at the position. But a strong spring for Perez, paired with a struggling Sisco, could lead to more time at Norfolk for the former top prospect.

A team should encourage competition during the early stages of a rebuild. The organization is filled with lottery ticket prospects that the Orioles hope will blossom into contributors, but every opportunity must be earned. Yes, the Orioles need to find out what they have in players like Sisco, but a losing record is not enough to justify an extended audition. Players need to perform.

Few, if any, players are completely locked in to a starting position next season. The middle of the infield has yet to be set, and there should be at least one outfield spot up for grabs. How much value will the Orioles place on performance regarding playing time early on? That’s a $161-million question.

While the Orioles will do everything they can to turn around Chris Davis’s career, the guy has to perform at some point. Chance Sisco holds the highest ceiling among catchers in the organization, but he can’t have guys running all over him. Jonathan Villar can’t play second base and shortstop.

Yes, now is the time to evaluate young players. But rushing guys to the majors may not be the best thing for them. The Orioles might not do much winning in 2019, but they should still start the players that give them the best chance to do so.