Maybe it’s just the season, but I get the feeling a majority of Baltimore Orioles fans have adopted a warm and fuzzy attitude about the drastic overhaul the club has made with its front office, infusing an overdose of youthful energy under the direction of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.
You almost get the feeling that 47-115 record is already lost in the rear view mirror, like it served as the last step before the rebuild shifted into gear. The key word here should be “almost,” because at the risk of playing the role of Mr. Grinch, it needs to be said that the 2018 season was merely step one of the process.
Because the Houston Astros have had a nice run of success recently under the direction of general manager Jeff Luhnow, with some help from Elias, the feeling is that it’s only a matter of a short time before the Orioles turn the corner. The reality is that while the Luhnow, Elias and friends regime produced a winner in its fourth year and a World Series champion in its sixth, the teardown of the Astros actually started in 2009.
The result was a turbulent six-year period that produced a staggering 590 losses — 310 of which came during the first three years after the Astros’ most recent overhaul (2012-2014). During his debut news conference in Baltimore, Elias noted he brought with him experience gained not only from success, but also mistakes.
The Astros had the first pick in the draft for three successive years from 2012-2014. They went against the grain and hit it big time with infielder Carlos Correa that first year, but the next two were near-disasters, saved only because they got a blue-chip compensation pick when they didn’t sign their 2014 selection, left-handed pitcher Brady Aiken.
After Aiken had agreed to a signing bonus ($6.5 million) that was below slot value ($7.92 million), the Astros saw something in his physical examination they didn’t like. The offer was rescinded and when the two sides didn’t reach an agreement, the team was awarded a compensation pick (second overall) the following year.
With what amounted to the equivalent of a fourth straight No. 1 pick, the Astros took infielder Alex Bregman, who was in the big leagues within a year, was probably the team’s MVP last year and deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to talking about the best players in the game.
As it turns out, stage one of the Orioles’ rebuild took place last summer, when Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, cleaned house. There aren’t many, if any, trade chips in the closet for Elias, though that may change depending on the development of some players in positions where the team has some depth.
The Orioles’ minor league system is in better shape now than it was when former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail started the last rebuild following the 2007 season. Ironically, one of the key trades then was one the Astros hoped would return them to contending status. After a 73-89 season in 2007, Houston acquired infielder Miguel Tejada from the Orioles. But after an 86-75 season in 2008, the Astros quickly fell off, leading to the six-year rebuild that succeeded only after an overhaul of the front office.
The Orioles already have a 115-loss deposit on this rebuild, which many may think accounts for more than one year — and maybe it will. But the odds are heavy that after this year the Orioles are going to have at least one more opportunity to pick first in the amateur draft.
It’s surely not the ideal situation, but it will be the actual first step in this makeover. A lot of the preliminary work has been done. This is not a first rodeo for Elias, but despite other reasonably successful attempts in the past, there are no guarantees.
There will be growing pains — and the Orioles can only hope the likes of infielder Ryan Mountcastle, left-handed pitcher DL Hall and some of the prospects culled in last summer’s fire sale can be the kind of building blocks the Astros had in players such as second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer and lefty Dallas Keuchel.
The big hope is the last two years were not just the end of an era, but also a kick-start for the rebuild. The answer won’t come soon enough.
Not being as hip to the social media world as others, I’m indebted to my friend Bill Madden of the Daily News for this gem, noting a recent tweet from retired ballplayer Alex Rodriguez:
“Congrats to @MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on his unanimous, and well-deserved, contract extension. Continue to take our great game to new heights around the world!”
If that doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will.
As a reminder, back in 2013 it was then-deputy commissioner Manfred who torched A-Rod for a tarnished career that included the “use of PEDs longer and more pervasive than any other player.” His “our great game” quote has become a standard trademark from A-Rod’s rather expansive podium. He seems to regard himself as a self-styled representative of MLB and the New York Yankees, both targets of his lawsuits back when the game apparently wasn’t so great.
Now it’s just one big happy family, so we’ll leave you with that warm and fuzzy feeling.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Issue 250: December 2018 / January 2019