There's nowhere to go but up.
That's the rally cry in Baltimore, where the Orioles suffered through their worst season since 1939, when they were the lowly St. Louis Browns, a perennial league doormat. If you can name even one player on the team's current projected 25-man roster who figures to be part of the next winning team in Baltimore, you are a savant witch soothsayer.
The good news is that change has already begun. Mike Elias is the team's new general manager, coming over from the Astros after helping Houston go from the worst team in baseball to world champs in his role as scouting director and assistant GM.
His predecessor Dan Duquette had already started the teardown process in earnest five months ago, trading Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach, and Darren O'Day for 15 minor leaguers, plus international bonus pool slot money. The Gausman deal looks like a terrible giveaway given Gausman's combination of youth, talent, controllable service time and his results after the trade, combined with the middling pedigree of the prospects the O's got in return. At any rate, the Orioles will hope that what's past is the prologue to a winning era of baseball in Charm City.
- 2018 Result: 47-115, fifth place in AL East
- Key free agents: Adam Jones, Tim Beckham, Colby Rasmus, Caleb Joseph
- Needs: EVERYTHING
With the winter meetings underway, Elias faces the dual challenges of filling major- and minor-league rosters. He filled one major vacancy this week byas the O's new manager. Hyde was the last of six new managers hired this offseason, and an encouraging step starting to happen industry-wide is the hiring of managers who can communicate fluently in both English and Spanish.
Alex Cora won universal praise for everything from his on-field acumen to his ability to process and relay complex statistical concepts. But Cora's biggest strength might be his ability to lead a clubhouse. His calm demeanor, his ability to be both business-like and loose at the same time, and especially his ability to connect with players all work heavily in his favor. Nearly one-third of MLB players on last season's Opening Day rosters were born outside the United States, most of those hailing from Latin American countries; Cora's ability to speak those players' native tongue plays a big role in his leadership skills. Likewise, it's no coincidence that the Blue Jays made bilingualism a key prerequisite in their recent managerial search, landing on bilingual former Rays minor-league manager and major-league coach Charlie Montoyo for the gig.
Hyde brings plenty of experience in multiple organizational roles, having served as the Cubs' director of player development and first base coach, as well as a coach and manager at multiple levels of the minor leagues for the Marlins, before taking over as Joe Maddon's second-in-command. If Hyde chooses to bone up on his Spanish to boot, all the better.
With the managerial search wrapped up, the question for the Orioles now becomes how to build a major-league roster, knowing that it won't be until some time next decade when the big club could even begin to approach contending in the rugged AL East.
The first step is to keep selling; at this point, any and all useful veterans should be marketed heavily to other teams. Hard-throwing right-hander Mychal Givens could be a useful alternative for teams not looking to dole out multi-year deals to relievers in free agency. Jonathan Villar smashed 19 homers and swiped an eye-popping 62 bases just two years ago, and could be attractive as a superutility player for a contender. If Dylan Bundy starts to fulfill the potential that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, work the phones hard, and try to do better than the 57 cents on the dollar the O's got for Gausman.
Beyond that, the Orioles should aim for a problem most teams only dream of having: Amassing too many promising young players, such that decisions for the 40-man roster become legitimately challenging. That means pursuing even more international bonus pool money, so that the 16-year-old Dominican prospect of today could be the starting second baseman at Camden Yards in 2025. And yes, it means leaning into more losing. Hyde will need to pull off the nearly impossible trick of instilling a winning culture, even as the O's continue losing, and hopefully collecting a passel of high draft picks.
The Orioles went 15 years between playoff berths before Buck Showalter shepherded them back to relevance. The hope is that this rebuild won't take quite that long. Given how far Baltimore has to climb, though, it's almost certainly going to be a while.