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Struggling Orioles starting next step of rebuild

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The Orioles began the year attempting to acquire and evaluate talent. Now, they’re starting to make decisions on some of those players.

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

Anyone that has watched the Orioles lately may find it difficult to identify any progress. With the club’s current record no better than it was this time last year, there’s certainly not a lot of hard data that suggests it. The pitching staff boasts the highest ERA in the league, and the lineup has been been filled with mismatches and misfits for the majority of the season.

The Orioles did not enter this season attempting to win games. It wasn’t strategically relevant when the season began, and it’s not going to suddenly become relevant in July, August or September. The Orioles are going to continue to lose games for the remainder of the year, and possibly well after that.

With the team struggling at this level, it’s difficult to see growth. Everyone knows that the Orioles are rebuilding, and that winning is still pretty far down the road. Adley Rutschman isn’t walking through the clubhouse door anytime soon, and neither is Grayson Rodriguez or DL Hall. And yet, just this past month, the Orioles took a step forward in their rebuild.

The Orioles began the year with two main goals: acquire and evaluate talent. The club has acquired talent via the waiver wire, trades and the MLB draft. Management and team executives have been evaluating every player on the roster and taking note of whether they can contribute in the future.

So what’s the next step? The Orioles have started to answer those questions. Joey Rickard, a former Rule-5 selection and holdover from the Dan Duquette era, was designated for assignment on Monday.

Apparently, Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde had seen enough of Rickard to make a decision. After an 80-game evaluation period, the Orioles decided what many on this site have felt for a while: that Joey Rickard is a slightly glorified fourth outfielder who has struggled to contribute after a tremendous first two weeks of his Major League career.

Rickard, now 28 years old, did not have a place on the next winning club in Baltimore. While that may seem like a given now, Elias and Co. had to find that out for themselves. The Orioles evaluated Rickard, and determined they could find a better use for his roster spot. In this case, they selected reliever Sean Gilmartin. Will Gilmartin have a place on the next winning club? Probably not. But the Orioles are going to find out for sure.

The Orioles also determined, at least for now, that David Hess is not a Major League quality pitcher. Hess had flashed potential in the past, and the Orioles desperately wanted him to show more consistency on the mound. Unfortunately for Hess, and the club, he consistently performed below even the lowest standards for an MLB starter.

After a long, long look at Hess this season, it was clear that something needed to change. Despite a desperate lack of pitching depth, the Orioles still decided enough was enough. Hess needed a change, or he never would. Not only did the Orioles option Hess back to Triple-A, but the righty will be pitching out of the bullpen at Norfolk. It’s unknown whether the shift to the ‘pen will last, but it could spark true improvement for the 25-year-old. He certainly wouldn’t be the first failed starter to make it as a reliever.

The evaluation period will continue for the rest of the season. Our own Nick Cicere isn’t the only one trying to make sense of Hanser Alberto’s strong batting average. How does a guy hitting .312 through 57 games, but with only five walks, fit into the future? It’s going to take a little more time to figure that one out.

Can Dwight Smith Jr. keep turning around fastballs? Will Renato Núñez continue to hit for power? If so, they both could stick around for a while. The same goes for Pedro Severino behind the plate, and obviously John Means on the mound. No one expected much from any of these guys at the beginning of the year, but Elias may have stumbled onto his own crop of hidden gems. There’s a decent chance that at least one of these players stick around. Every day they stay on the roster is another chance to evaluate them.

For the Orioles to continue with this step, they’ll need to free up a few more roster spots. Dan Straily might not see September call ups, and the same could be said of Keon Broxton and others.

While it’s always sad to see guys like Rickard go, it’s a great sign that the Orioles aren’t stalling the inevitable. Once the club makes a decision, they should move on from a player right away. More players to evaluate does not necessarily mean more success stories, but it means the Birds are doing their due diligence. With the team dwelling in the basement of the AL East, we can all take comfort in that.