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The difference between rebuilding and tanking for the 2019 Orioles

The Orioles are not actively attempting to win games in 2019, but they’re not trying to lose either. Player improvement remains the sole goal, not securing the top pick in the 2020 draft.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Sarasota in less than a week, it’s an interesting time in Birdland. The Orioles will play their first game of the season on March 28, and as you may have heard by now, they’re not going to be very good.

Still, spring training will mark the end of an offseason dominated by executive hires, and place an emphasis back on the players. There’s been a lot of talk about how executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will bring Baltimore into the 21st century with analytics, but now we’ll get to see how sabermetrics influence the guys on the field.

The writing already appears to be on the wall for Baltimore this season, and the year will likely go one of two ways. Players on the current roster will continue to struggle, and the Orioles will lose a lot of games. What’s the alternative? Several Orioles benefit from the new staff, take a step forward, and the Orioles still lose a lot of games.

Some have made the case that the former is the best possible outcome for Baltimore. If the Orioles are not competing for a playoff spot, why should they compete at all? Shouldn’t the club do everything they can to ensure another top pick in the 2020 MLB draft?

There’s certainly value in the number one pick, and it would be advantageous to have the top selection every year, but that pick will not make or break the Orioles rebuild. There’s no Zion Williamson or franchise quarterback awaiting Baltimore on June 3, and no player will come into the organization wearing a cape.

Players playing well is still the best possible outcome for the Orioles. Some will drum up trade offers (at a higher value than they currently hold), some may reestablish themselves as a part of Baltimore’s future, and some may just be good for team chemistry.

A few extra wins would not come in vain this season. While its nice to have the top pick, the player chosen is never a lock. The Orioles will inevitably end up with a top five selection, and Elias may still pluck the best player from the pool. If you’re so set on the top pick being a difference maker, think about this— Are you truly convinced the Orioles will come away with the best player with the first pick this year?

The Orioles long term goal is steady improvement over the next several seasons. Players establishing themselves as difference makers this year would put Baltimore ahead of schedule.

The 2019 roster can essentially be broken up into three categories. Trade chips, players auditioning to be apart of the next winning team in Baltimore, and guys you fear are a lost cause.

Every member of the Orioles organization should be available. There’s no untouchable prospect, and any player could be let go for the right price. That being said, a few players are earmarked for deals.

Mark Trumbo has resumed taking batting practice and still hopes to be ready for opening day. The first baseman/designated hitter will enter the season in a contract year and should be highly motivated to produce. Despite his emergence as a clubhouse leader, the Orioles would love to lighten their load of power hitters that can’t play the outfield. A few Trumbo-Jumbo walk off home runs would improve the Orioles record, probably would not result in a pie to the face, but could bring a better prospect to Baltimore at the trade deadline.

The Orioles do not have five Major League starting pitchers, but anyone on the staff can go for the right price. Baltimore would be selling low on Dylan Bundy, and will likely hold onto the righty in hopes of increasing his value. Alex Cobb has three years left on a four year, $57 million deal, and his contract will likely scare suitors off, but he’ll have a full spring to build upon an impressive second half from a year ago.

Andrew Cashner winning games early would go a long way for a guy with an expiring contract. There’s absolutely nothing appealing about a 4-15 record with a 5.29 ERA, but Cashner just needs to pitch well enough to attract a pitching-starved team at the deadline. Maybe Mychal Givens can save a few Cashner wins and build back up his own value.

The Orioles are filled with players that could be around long enough to play meaningful games. Tyler Young took a look at reliever Tanner Scott earlier in the week, and Ben Hansford wondered if Miguel Castro will contribute as a starter or a reliever.

Chance Sisco could take a step forward this year. Renato Nunez is only 24-years-old and could reclaim the hot corner. There’s a plethora of young outfielders looking to stake their claim at Camden Yards.

If half of these things happen, the Orioles will win more games than last year. There’s a chance that they don’t end up with the worst record. The Kansas City Royals lost 104 games last year, and a few teams will be in contention for the century mark in 2019. The Orioles are not actively attempting to win games right now, but fans don’t have to root against the black and orange. Its a rebuild, not a tank, and hopefully at least a few Orioles players will improve this season.