Right now is not the most fun that it has ever been to be an Orioles fan. For a demonstration of this, we don’t have to look any farther than the general manager, Mike Elias, who, when talking about the latest moves in the rebuilding project last week, told reporters, “This is not fun to subtract from your major league team.”
This did not stop Elias from his Wednesday evening moves, trading shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Angels for two pitching prospects, and declining to tender a 2021 contract to Hanser Alberto. They seemed like nice guys who had some fun moments with the team, and as the 2020 season ended you could probably look ahead and assume that both would be around on Opening Day 2021. We now know this will not be the case.
In talking about the state of the team while addressing the moves, Elias also said, “There will come a time when we flip the switch to maximizing wins in the upcoming season, but we’re not there yet.”
Outside of Birdland, this comment by Elias was not received positively. One writer whose criticism of it reflects an attitude that I think a lot of writers and fans out there share is Craig Calcaterra:
Most other GMs at least try to avoid saying “we have no interest in winning but, rather, want to save as much money as possible.” How bold of Elias to be honest and say that the point is to be cheap. Or maybe it’s not boldness. Maybe it’s hubris. Elias, after all, is a Houston Astros-trained execubot, and those sorts seem to think that everyone around them is dumber than they are and that businesspeak about the point of running a baseball team being to cut costs as much as possible is somehow compelling.
As a person who has watched the vast majority of Orioles baseball games over the last decade, and more significantly over the last few seasons of crummy baseball, there is nothing about Elias’s statement that seems like it warrants this sort of response.
There is probably not anything that any new GM could have done to set up the franchise for sustained MLB success beginning as soon as next season. Perhaps I am an Elias fanboy or an Orioles homer in thinking so.
The Orioles were an exceptionally bad baseball team when Elias took over baseball operations just about two years ago. The upper levels of the farm system weren’t stocked to immediately replenish the big league team and there was not a lot that could be done about this in the short term.
Having watched the 2018 Orioles stink their way to 115 losses, seeing the state of the prospect lists, and how little those prospect lists were improved by the belated sell-off trades of July 2018, I think that the Orioles were unfortunately locked into failure for a while.
The only question was whether they would make their next GM someone who would try to pursue a quick fix strategy - the same sort of thing that Dan Duquette had been failing at doing since about the end of the 2014 season - or someone who would take the longer and more arduous path of trying to build something that could last.
If you care enough about the Orioles to be reading about them on a place like Camden Chat, you are probably already familiar with the litany of the ways that they were failing to build a successful organization under Duquette.
There was minimal international presence and investment. A lot of people in scouting and player development seemed to, based on reporting, have little engagement with modern analytics and thinking. Minor league players were not given information that might help them, and in some cases were actively discouraged from finding that information on their own.
The stories were out there, especially after those fire sale trades. You had Zack Britton being surprised how much data the Yankees were able to give him after he was traded there. Manny Machado’s defensive numbers suddenly improved once he was traded to Los Angeles, because they were able to position him better. It remains difficult to believe it, but this stuff really happened. These things led the Orioles to where they had little choice but to try to pursue the sort of path they are on now.
For a little while, the 2020 Orioles were able to have some fun times at the MLB level in the present. They were 12-8 after 20 games, with some fun, Orioles Magic kind of wins under their belt. But they went 13-27 the rest of the way, a record that I think more reflects the talent level on the team than the 12-8 start.
In that poor stretch, we got to see fun prospects debut, with Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, and Ryan Mountcastle all punching up to the bigs. I feel a bit better about the future of the Orioles because of what I’ve seen of those guys. I am looking forward to seeing who is able to join them some time during the 2021 season. We also got to see a lot of guys who would only be playing on an MLB team that lost 100+ games the last two seasons.
To me, there’s not a combination of prospect promotions and free agent signings that results in a good Orioles team for the whole of 2021. I would be happy to be wrong, but won’t get my hopes up for anything positive in the standings. That gets us into Elias’s not fun territory. The trade of Iglesias is a bummer, because it would have been nice to see what he could do when healthy. But maybe he won’t be healthy, so maybe it was shrewd to get something for him while the Orioles could do so.
As for Alberto, he just had a .698 OPS in 2020. There is not much justification needed to defend the decision to non-tender him, especially considering the Orioles seem to already have his replacement lined up. That’s recent waiver claim Yolmer Sanchez, the 2019 Gold Glove winner at second base in the AL. Sanchez and Alberto have the same career OPS+: 81.
Alberto surely was not helped out by the fact that he was going to make about $1.1 million more than Sanchez. He had been projected for a 2021 salary of a bit more than $2 million. Through these orange-tinted lenses, it seems like a stretch to point to this move as the thing that is broken with baseball transactions and roster decisions right now.
For an Orioles fan out there who might have hoped that the 2021 Orioles were going to be the point where the team started to move itself out of “legendarily bad” territory into the kind of bad baseball team that wins 72-74 games, some disappointment would be entirely understandable, no matter how many positive quotes Elias provides about the state of the starting rotation depth in the Orioles minor league system.
If we find ourselves sitting around next offseason listening to how the Orioles have to trade the next wave of “too expensive” arbitration guys in the form of Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander, or for that matter if those players are swapped for Low-A-or-below minor leaguers in July, I might be a bit grumpier than I am right now. But for now, I don’t have any reason to be losing patience with the direction of the franchise.
What do you think about last week’s moves and the trajectory of the Orioles in general? Vote in the poll and let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below.
What best matches your current opinion about the Orioles rebuilding project?
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Already printing 2024 World Series tickets
I feel good overall, just not about next season
I’m starting to wonder if another 1998-2011-style losing streak is coming
Ready to grab a pitchfork and storm the B&O Warehouse