SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles team that left here March 25, is headed for baseball territory that has been uncharted for more than a half-century.
In many ways the expectations are lower than they’ve been for any team since the first days of expansion and the Casey Stengel “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” New York Mets.
Coming off the losingest year in the organization’s 65-year history, the Orioles are not only without any Hall of Fame candidates, they’re expected to be hard-pressed to deliver, as dictated, a legitimate candidate for the All-Star Game. You will not find any members of the 2019 squad on many, if any, fantasy league teams.
The “rebuild” that began last year and continued even as the Orioles were piecing together an Opening Day roster has already turned the team into a media pinata.
And with the opener in New York this year, the punsters are having a field day already, with one facetious suggestion that the Yankees need a giveaway to assure a sellout. Given the fact that a mote of empty seats surrounding the infield at Yankee Stadium is usually empty anyhow, the same might also be said for the other 80 dates.
Some of the descriptive adjectives used to describe the current edition of the Orioles are cringeworthy — with “downtrodden,” “inept” and “lousy” among the more gentle terms used to describe a team universally expected to lose more than 100 games while finishing last in the American League East for a second straight year.
The ultimate insult is expected to come in the next few hours from an unlikely source — the Yankees themselves. CC Sabathia, who was scheduled to open the season on the injured list, will instead serve a five-game suspension that is a carryover from last year — unless the Commissioner’s office decides there’s something fishy about an injured player serving a suspension and then going on the injured list.
The fact that the Orioles have already become the overwhelming favorite to serve as baseball’s laughing stock for 2019 would only be emphasized by the Yankees, who play the Orioles six times in the first nine games, choosing to play one player short, with only 24 eligible for the opening series.
You can be sure that the ultimate insult will not go unnoticed if the Yankees opt to spot the Orioles (and the Detroit Tigers for the next two games) one player in those first three games. But this is destined to be the year that Rodney Dangerfield could be the most respected comic around in comparison to the barbs the Orioles can expect this year.
Don’t think it will go unnoticed. From all accounts the level of disrespect already being lobbed at the Orioles has served as something of a binding element for what appears to be a close-knit, if unrecognized, group of mostly untested players.
It’s hard to predict how that might play out in the won-loss column, but there is a level of intrigue about this team of “nobodies” that could prove entertaining as the Orioles head into uncharted territory. There have been down years in the past, but never before have the Orioles gone through a total “rebuild” — not even in the “why not?” year of 1989, which followed the worst back-to-back years in team history, an unwanted distinction this year’s team is expected to inherit.
This year will not even be compared to the “build” that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s during the early years of the club’s history, because that basically was a “startup” operation. It was, however, the result of a good scouting system that produced the best minor league system in baseball.
If that sounds familiar to the plan new general manager Mike Elias plans to have in place then be aware that it took five years to build what was considered the best organization in baseball — about the same amount of time it took the Houston Astros to become contenders, though only the last three under the regime that included Elias, whose stated mission is to build an elite pipeline of talent throughout the system.
That clock started ticking with the 115 losses last year. The next stage of the journey starts in New York March 28.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox