The Baltimore Orioles enter the 2021 season with minimal fanfare, as they are expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball and to rely on the development of their younger players to enhance their long-term outlook.
FanGraphs gives the Orioles a 0.0 percent chance of winning their division or making the playoffs, one of only two teams in the league with that distinction. Fans and pundits have classified the Orioles as a team that is “tanking” — the term used for teams angling for high draft picks in an effort to rebuild.
“I don’t think this is an Orioles problem at all and I don’t blame Orioles fans who are on board with this because this is a plan,” Joe Posnanski, who writes about baseball at The Athletic, said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 24. “I don’t blame the Orioles one bit.”
While that approach may be extremely frustrating for fans in Baltimore, the team’s current management has a plan to rebuild the franchise to its old glory.
In the shortened 2020 season, some of the Orioles’ young talent began to show its potential. Left fielder Ryan Mountcastle hit .333/.386/.492 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. Dean Kremer also impressed with 22 strikeouts in 18.2 innings, proving to be someone that can become a key part of the team’s rotation in the future.
“There’s at least a plan, if they do it right,” Posnanski said. “They have very smart people running things now and if they do it right, this is a team that could be pretty successful over the next few years.”
It’s a difficult situation for the Orioles, who have the challenge of playing in one of baseball’s best divisions. The New York Yankees are perennially one of the best teams in the league, while the Toronto Blue Jays have an impressive young group that they can build on moving forward.
The Tampa Bay Rays have long found success at the forefront of the analytics movement, while the Boston Red Sox could have a bounce-back season in 2021.
“You also have to consider the division in which you’re in,” ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian said on GCR Feb. 25. “That’s part of the thought process, ‘Well, we’re not going to the playoffs for three years in this division so let’s strip it, bring some young kids up and start to move.'”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Orioles’ rebuild is how long it will take. GM Mike Elias was hired in November 2018, and initial impressions were that the team would experience significant growing pains and three or four years of losing. However, with the vastly improved AL East and the cancellation of the minor-league season in 2020, the timetable for competitive baseball may be growing.
“It’s hard to put a timeline on it,” Kurkjian said of the rebuild. “Six or seven years is more likely than three or four at this point. My biggest concern is the gap between the really good teams now and the really bad teams now is a wider gap than I’ve ever seen in the 40 years that I’ve covered.”
Despite all of the negatives that have surrounded the Orioles these past few seasons, their struggles granted them the opportunity to select Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft. In the 2020 draft, the Orioles chose Arkansas right fielder Heston Kjerstad No. 2 overall. The team is also scheduled to select fifth in the 2021 MLB Draft in July.
Both Rutschman and Kjerstad are expected to be key parts of the organization’s future, but Rutschman appears destined to be the team’s starting catcher long term. Rutschman has become the face of the Orioles’ rebuild and was rated the No. 2 overall prospect entering this season by Baseball America.
“Adley Rutschman is going to be a great player,” Kurkjian said. “He’s a great kid.”
Although the Orioles rebuild isn’t solely tied to Rutschman’s success, his development into a top-tier talent would go a long way in helping the team regain relevance in the AL East. It would also bring some much-needed joy and excitement for a fan base that has been starving for great baseball at Camden Yards for several seasons.
“Baltimore is such a great baseball town,” Posnanski said. “Baseball is better when the Orioles are good, when there is that love affair between the city and the team.”
For more from Posnanski, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Kurkjian, listen to the full interview here:
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