About two weeks before the Orioles’ season came to a close, I was sent an email by Orioles PR requesting my vote for Orioles MVP. It was pretty hard to come up with a clear third-place vote, but outfielder Anthony Santander and shortstop Jose Iglesias were pretty darn easy to peg as 1-2.
Santander, the former Rule 5 pick, was the clear-cut winner at the end of the day.
But for the purposes of full disclosure, the person I would have loved to have been able to vote for, had he been eligible, was the guy who has worn No. 18 for the past two seasons — skipper Brandon Hyde.
Let’s be honest — despite the fact that three years ago Yankees GM Brian Cashman handed the keys to one of baseball’s best teams to Aaron Boone without Boone so much as having managed one game at any level, the reality for most first-time skippers is much different.
Teams hiring a new manager tend not to be the elite or near-elite teams. And for a first-time manager, the job comes with a time clock that tends to read: TO BE TERMINATED AFTER TWO OR THREE SEASONS.
I have liked Hyde since the day he was introduced as the Orioles’ new manager. There is something so humble and sincere in his manner of speaking that I invested myself in wanting him to be the rare guy who inherits a rebuild, survives it and is still the captain of the ship when it reaches the harbor flying a championship flag.
I am not naive to the process of a rebuild. During the past 25 years in Baltimore, we have seen plenty of them. Some were not “all-in” rebuilds. Some were actually more like ownership trying to convince fans they were not rebuilding (see Sammy Sosa in an O’s uniform circa 2005).
To be clear, a rebuild is all about drafting and developing a cadre of young players, and that takes multiple seasons. Multi-year rebuilds wear on fans, and that makes them wear on ownership. It puts the GM of a rebuilding team on a perpetual hot seat, and that in turn means that his manager is on an even hotter seat, particularly if he’s a first-time big-league skipper.
Think there isn’t pressure on the GM to pick a winner as a skipper? Think again. Within the industry, it’s known that very few general managers are around to hire a third manager. So, they better get it right with No. 1 or 2.
Thus, it’s jarring when Hyde goes through a first season like he did in 2019, with his club losing 108 times. It’s not as if John Angelos or GM Mike Elias were thinking the club would contend, finish at or near .500 or win even 70 games. But the number of losses by five or more runs (41) was also jarring.
And what that leads to is a 2020 season that included only one modest free-agent pickup in Iglesias. Of course, we saw Elias try to sprinkle a little stability into the rotation with Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc. You get the picture. The rebuild at the major-league level was not going to reach its conclusion in 2020.
The pandemic made the rebuild more challenging as well. It changed what management could or would be able to do in the June draft and the next international signing period. And with no minor-league system, the lifeblood of the rebuild was removed from the equation. It all put a bit of a bull’s-eye on the back of Hyde’s No. 18 jersey.
Prior to the pandemic, oddsmakers picked the Orioles to win fewer than 60 games. When baseball came back with a 60-game schedule, the Orioles’ over-under for wins was about 20.
But Hyde didn’t bury his head in the sand. Despite losing his best two players from that 108-loss team of 2019 — Jonathan Villar (traded) and Trey Mancini (colon cancer treatment) — Hyde didn’t take on a woe-is-me attitude.
All he did was dive in with a great determination to teach, communicate and then do it again tomorrow and the next day. His message to the media is generally very upbeat without being Pollyannaish at all.
With no minor-league season, the performance of the big-league club was the only tangible result fans could look to for progress. While 25 wins in a 60-game season isn’t cause for celebration, the way that the young players arrived and played this season certainly was heartening. Keegan Akin, Hunter Harvey, Dean Kremer, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart and Dillon Tate all showed signs of what may be to come in the future.
We don’t know how 2021 will look in terms of fans attending games at Camden Yards, but this young crop of players has certainly served the early purpose of piquing interest from the Birdland fan base.
But as exciting as some of the players are, I think the Orioles’ true MVP in 2020 was Brandon Hyde. He did himself a lot of good these past 3-4 months. And that’s good for the future of the Orioles.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox