One of the astounding things about the 2019 Orioles is the way that they manage to blow past even the worst expectations that a pessimist might have had for them on a nightly basis. After last year’s disaster led to a new front office, there were no illusions that this was going to be anything resembling a good baseball team. It is the plan to be bad. In the long run, that is the only plan that could lead to success.
In the short run, for any fan who cares daily even in the middle of a nine game losing streak and even though the team is now two games worse than it was at this point last season, it sucks. The Orioles are in that place not unlike when you’e been sick for a few days, when it’s a challenge to envision feeling better or even what feeling well was like. Or maybe I’m just feeling extra grumpy about it all since I had to stay up late to recap Thursday’s latest loss.
There is still the guiding star of hope shining in the night sky of Birdland: GM Mike Elias has been down this road before with the Astros. You know the story by now. The Astros lost 100+ games a year from 2011-13, with a new front office that included Elias being hired before the 2012 season. They went on to ascend from the depths and make the playoffs in the 2015 season, and then win the World Series in 2017. Elias is here to make that same transformation, or at least a similar one.
What stands out to me in this miserable time to be an Orioles fan is that you can look at the 2012 Astros and find just three players who were eventually on their World Series-winning club. Jose Altuve, then age 22, performed the best with a .290/.340/.399 batting line that placed him as squarely league average as a rookie. Future superb utility man Marwin Gonzalez, then 23, was not superb with his .607 OPS. There was no sign of the future Cy Young Award winner in 24-year-old Dallas Keuchel and his 5.27 ERA, with more walks than strikeouts.
There were not very many additional players waiting in the wings down in the minors at that point who would ultimately contribute to the 2017 title. The Jeff Luhnow-run (with Elias as scouting director) Astros used their first two draft picks in 2012 on Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers. George Springer, the most recent first round pick from the last front office, was crushing his way up through the minors. Reliever Chris Devenski turned from an August 2012 trade where he was the player to be named later into 100 strikeouts in 80.1 innings for the 2017 Astros.
It’s a tough thing to imagine the Orioles following this path exactly. While many position players are getting chances, none are as young as Altuve and Gonzalez were. Neither are any of the players who are being shuffled through the rotation as young as Keuchel was. The best Orioles hitter is Trey Mancini, who’s 27 and a free agent after the 2022 season. Next best is Pedro Severino, who happens to play the same position as Adley Rutschman, just drafted #1 overall by the O’s.
Maybe that’s what makes the 2019 season such a slog. You can’t even really watch these games and tell yourself that you’re seeing the very rough beginnings of the next good Orioles team. A lot of these guys are just the ones who happen to be here right now. It’s nice that Renato Nunez has 16 home runs and that Hanser Alberto continues to fascinate with his batting average remaining above .300 despite a lot of weak contact. They are not very likely to be the future.
The Astros path from 2012 to 2017 would also mean that out of the plethora of players who an O’s fan might currently have hopes for in the minor leagues, only one will eventually emerge onto a quality player as the O’s make a title run some year down the road.
Whoever you have hopes for out of this group, imagine just one of them really succeeding as an Oriole: Grayson Rodriguez, Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Hunter Harvey, Adam Hall, Alex Wells, Drew Rom. Getting invested in prospects is hard because the reality is that most of them won’t make it for whatever reason. Still, having just one prospect holdover from the Dan Duquette days eventually contributing to a good Orioles team would feel like quite a disappointing outcome.
If the Orioles do revive themselves, what will probably be similar to the Astros is the way that you cannot right now predict what will be going on in five years. While Sports Illustrated did famously envision the eventual Astros 2017 title during the 2014 season, that was three years out, not five years. More of the parts of a better future were in place, though even then there were a lot of developments no one could have guessed between then and winning it all.
“Two years from now the Orioles might start showing signs of being better eventually” is not a slogan that’s going to sell many tickets for the rest of this year or next, nor is it going to get many people tuning in to watch a team that’s already given up 467 runs, has been outscored in every inning except the first inning, and is on pace to easily break the existing record of home runs allowed in a season.
This is the plan and right now it sucks to see how it is playing out at the MLB level. Maybe if we’re lucky, next year will be a little bit more interesting than this as some more prospects who O’s fans have been invested in for a little while start to get their chances instead of a bunch of waiver wire fodder.