If you have spent any time on this site in the last week or so you may have noticed a theme. We are bored. There hasn’t been a whole lot of Orioles-related news to write about here at Camden Chat or elsewhere on the internet because, well, the Orioles haven’t been terribly busy since concluding their regular season over three months ago.
That’s not to say the team has done nothing. In early December, the O’s dealt away two of their most familiar faces, infielder Jonathan Villar and pitcher Dylan Bundy, in exchange for a gaggle of minor league pitchers. Later in the month, they added two more young arms via the Rule 5 draft. Most recently, right hander Kohl Stewart agreed to a split contract that earns him a spot on the Orioles 40-man roster, but not necessarily a place in their big league squad.
The lack of impact moves is not a surprise. After all, the Orioles front office has made their intentions during this rebuild quite clear. They have no interest in chasing a 70-win season and would rather bottom out at the big league level while adding younger talent and depth to the organization. But this off-season still feels exceptionally boring, even by rebuilding standards.
With a little over a month until spring training, the Orioles have yet to add to their major league roster. Sure, both of the Rule 5 picks plus Stewart may make the 26-man team to begin the season, but that’s not guaranteed.
They found themselves in a similar situation at this point last winter. By January 6, 2019 the only somewhat significant moves made by the Orioles all took place during they winter meetings. First, they claimed infielder Rio Ruiz from the Braves, and then they added two Rule 5 picks, Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. That’s it.
The difference between then and now has been the movement in both the front office and the dugout. Last off-season was dominated by the additions of general manager Mike Elias and his entire staff plus manager Brandon Hyde and his coaches. Those were two moves made with the explicit objective of improving the Orioles for both the present and the future, and they overshadowed anything done regarding roster construction.
One could make the argument that the Orioles have actually been more active overall this year than they were in Elias’s first off-season at the helm. After all, they have added seven young pitchers to the minor league ranks, two of which (Brandon Bailey and Kyle Bradish) now find themselves among the organization’s top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. And while the trading away of Villar and Bundy won’t help the Orioles get better in 2020, both moves were far more noteworthy than any swaps made by the team a year ago.
If the 2018-19 off-season is any indication of the Orioles plans for the remainder of the 2019-20 off-season then there could still be a flurry of changes to come. It wasn’t until mid-January that the O’s added Hanser Alberto (for the first time). They brought in catcher Jesus Sucre in early February. Nate Karns, their lone big league free agent from last year, didn’t sign until February 7. And both Dwight Smith Jr. and Pedro Severino joined up in March, with spring training in full swing.
There is time for the Orioles to add all of the depth players for which they are looking. The veteran catcher, the middle infielders and the mob of pitchers are all sure to make their way to Baltimore in the coming weeks, although their identities remain unknown. And while there has been no talk of any trades as of late, there remains the possibility that both reliever Mychal Givens and slugger Trey Mancini could be dealt.
These are the types of off-season that we, as Orioles fans, should expect until the front office believes their homegrown talent is ready for the big leagues and needs support via free agent signings or blockbuster trades.
Look no further than the moves made by the Houston Astros in their rebuild when compared to once they became more competitive. Prior to a 51-win 2013 season, Houston dealt away one of their few quality players, infielder Jed Lowrie, and added no one of note, taking a couple of low-cost fliers on over-the-hill players like Rick Ankiel and Erik Bedard. Fast forward to the winter before a World Series winning 2017 campaign and the ‘Stros are adding the likes of Charlie Morton, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick to flesh out a young roster brimming with emerging talent.
Of course, the promise of a brighter future does not change the bleak reality of the present. This off-season has been boring in Birdland and equally frustrating. Clear areas of need remain unaddressed on the big league roster. Martin seems to be, at this moment, an inadequate shortstop, and yet he is set to be the starter once again in 2020. Asher Wojciechowski is 31 and yet to pitch an entire MLB season, but he enters the year as the third-best starting pitcher on the team. The Orioles fan base understands that the end goal of the rebuild extends far beyond 2020, but adding a little excitement to their winter, and perhaps a few wins to their summer, would be welcome although unexpected.