Before we get all doom and gloom about the Orioles season that starts today, let’s look back at the team’s recent fortunes and try to put things in perspective.
When the Orioles won 93 games in 2012, they set a high bar for competitive expectations that would last arguably six more years. Even though the last two years of that time span — 2017 and 2018 — included winning percentages below .500, there were still reasonably realistic competitive aspirations at the outset of those seasons.
That Buck Showalter-led upturn was preceded by 14 straight losing seasons. Those were dark days, and we find ourselves mired in another dark period now. Hopefully this one won’t last nearly as long.
As Harvey Dent said right before he turned himself in to the police in the Dark Knight, “the night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.” Granted the dawn won’t be coming this year for the O’s, so to speak. But with the new leadership in place there is a dawn to look forward to eventually.
To embark on a true rebuild requires stripping an organization down and building it up from the bottom. And that’s what Mike Elias and Sig Mejdel are doing. They are addressing longstanding organizational deficiencies by incorporating analytics and actively participating in the international market, among other things.
It may not look pretty right now, but it’s a plan that keeps the long view in mind. The club could have thrown a bunch of money around this offseason and tried to reload instead of rebuild. But that would have been a high risk attempt at being competitive for what, a year? Maybe two?
What the Orioles are really trying to do is build something that is sustainable for not just a year or two, but more like a decade. For that to succeed, the organization, and the minor leagues specifically, need a makeover. And that takes time.
But this season can’t be worse than last year, right?
Looking at roster turnover from Opening Day 2018 to this year, there are only nine returning players. And after a year like last year, new faces are welcome. It would be harder to see the same nine guys trot onto the field who lost 115 games last season.
It’s refreshing to see new players wearing the orange and black, because you never know who may establish themselves as the next great Oriole. Not to mention, there is a lot of youth on the roster.
The Orioles have three Rule 5 players on the Opening Day roster. But it’s ok. With no pressure to win right now, the team has the chance to carry and evaluate players like this with an eye on the next few years down the road.
In the case of the Birds this season, change can be good. It will come with growing pains, but at least we know the right intentions are there. And like any good story, some of the most interesting parts come during the journey, the buildup, the rising action, if you will.
There are a lot of things to keep your eye on as an O’s fan in 2019 other than the win/loss column, as sad as it sounds.
The O’s have a new, young manager that we’ll get the chance to know better. Spring training television broadcasts, although infrequent, offered us a glimpse of in-game Brandon Hyde. But the regular season is a whole different animal and it will be interesting to see his demeanor in the dugout during the good times and the bad. It will also be interesting to observe his interactions with the players on a nightly basis and how he handles media interviews and press conferences when the games count.
The O’s had a very quiet winter, with only one major league contract handed out (Nate Karns). But they have tinkered with the roster in spring training, adding Dwight Smith Jr. and Pedro Severino, both of whom made the Opening Day roster. And the roster adjustments are bound to continue throughout the season. Mike Elias’ main goal this year has been to increase the talent base across all levels of the organization and that process is ongoing.
The minor leagues deserve attention too. There are several players in the high minors right now who could be with the big league club at some point this summer. Baltimore also holds the first overall pick in the amateur draft this year, and it seems like the choice is down to Adley Rutschman or Bobby Witt Jr. Who will they select?
On the big league roster, who will take a leap forward this year and establish themselves as a key cog for the future? A big part of this journey will be about finding the proverbial diamond in the rough, or two.