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Friday Bird Droppings: Wondering what the Opening Day Orioles will look like

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The O’s have cast off four of last year’s Opening Day starters, and they might not be done yet.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Pictured: Two guys who, as of Wednesday, are no longer Orioles.
Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

If things take a turn for the better in the world and the 2021 MLB season starts on time, the Birds will be taking the field on Opening Day just under four months from now. What that team will look like, though, is anybody’s guess.

For the third straight year, the Orioles are shaping up to field an Opening Day lineup that looks significantly different from that of the previous season. In 2019, the first year of the Mike Elias administration, the O’s returned only two Opening Day starters — Chris Davis and Trey Mancini — from the year before. In 2020, Davis and Rio Ruiz were the only returning starters from the 2019 opener.

And now, even months before the 2021 opener, we already know the O’s will be missing four of this year’s Opening Day starters: second baseman Hanser Alberto, shortstop Jose Iglesias, designated hitter Renato Nunez, and pitcher Tommy Milone. (That is, barring an unexpected reunion with Alberto, Nunez, and Milone, who are all free agents.) It’s probably a safe bet that Davis won’t be starting the opening game, either, if he’s even on the roster. The other 2020 Opening Day starters — Ruiz, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Pedro Severino, and DJ Stewart — have a decent shot of repeating the feat next year, though you never know when Elias will swing another unexpected trade.

These kinds of drastic changes are certainly a far cry from the glory-year Orioles of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The 1970 Opening Day Birds used exactly the same nine starters, pitcher included, as the 1969 opener. (Can you name them all?) Only two were different in 1971, and only two again in 1972. Rarely was there a total overhaul from one year to the next.

But this is where the Orioles are as an organization right now. Expect this kind of turnover to continue at least for a while longer, as the O’s mix and match a few placeholders until they have a viable young core of mainstays who will be around for the long haul. Maybe someday they can replicate those glory-year Orioles again.

Links

Connolly: Trade and a non-tender again show Orioles that rebuilding’s not pretty – The Athletic
The headline says it all. With the way Orioles players come and go these days, you might want to rethink buying any player-specific O’s replica jerseys for the holidays.

Eshelman elects free agency - School of Roch
“Eh, it’s just Thomas Eshelman,” you say. But what if I told you he was the Orioles’ co-leader in wins this year? Would that change your attitude? ...No? OK then, carry on.

How John Denver became an Orioles staple - Orioles.com
Joe Trezza recaps how “Thank God I'm a Country Boy” became a seventh-inning tradition in Baltimore, and it is a pretty fun story. Still don't like the song, though.

Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Two ex-Orioles were born on this day: Hall of Famer Lee Smith (63), who spent one All-Star season in Baltimore in 1994, and outfielder Stan Jefferson (58).

If you like trades, December 4 is for you. The Orioles have made seven deals on this day in history, including two of the best in franchise history and one of the worst.

  • On the positive side of the ledger, it was on this date in 1968 that the Birds traded former Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary to the Astros for 31-year-old journeyman left-hander Mike Cuellar. The deal was a stroke of genius. Cuellar found new life in Baltimore, winning 20 or more games in each of his first three years with the club, earning a Cy Young award in 1969, and being an integral part of a stellar O’s rotation for nearly a decade (ranking him as Camden Chat’s 22nd-greatest Oriole of all time). Blefary, meanwhile, lasted just one year in Houston and his playing days were finished by age 28.
  • On this day in 1974, the Orioles traded away one of their best pitchers in franchise history, lefty Dave McNally (our 15th-greatest Oriole)...but still decisively won the trade, because in exchange they received outfielder Ken Singleton, ranked as our 14th-greatest Oriole for what became a sensational 10-year O’s career, including three All-Star campaigns. McNally pitched just 12 games for Montreal after the trade before calling it a career.
  • Now for the ugly one: on this day in 1988, the O’s severed ties with Orioles legend Eddie Murray, trading the eight-time All-Star to the Dodgers for a pathetic package of infielder Juan Bell and pitchers Ken Howell and Brian Holton. Bell and Holton combined for a -1.5 WAR for the Birds and Howell never played for them, while Murray continued his Hall of Fame career for nine more years. Eddie did, at least, return to Baltimore in 1996 to mend fences with the organization.
  • And in the too-soon-to-tell department, on this day last year the Orioles traded Dylan Bundy to the Angels for four minor league pitchers. As often seems to happen when the Birds trade a homegrown pitcher, Bundy had immediate success with his new team, setting career bests in ERA, FIP, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9...well, basically every category. None of the four prospects has pitched yet for the Orioles, though righty Isaac Mattson was added to the 40-man roster this winter.