A few remarks, pertinent or not, while wondering how long it takes for the foundation to settle before construction actually starts for the average Major League Baseball “rebuild”…
Since it seems to be the No. 1 topic for those few who still identify as Orioles fans these days now that the Chris Davis situation has been resolved, the time has come to address the fate of manager Brandon Hyde. General manager Mike Elias has consistently said that wins and losses this year will have no bearing on whether the club picks up the option for a fourth year with Hyde as manager, but the longer the torture goes on, the more reason to wonder.
The time has come to either prove that point or move on — time to say “we’re all in this together and Brandon is our man going forward,” or say the team is headed in another direction and remove the suspense. With all that he’s been through in a rebuild hampered by a pandemic that’s affected two seasons, Hyde deserves at least that much.
If he’s already been told he’ll be back, then it’s time to break the news to the fans, whether they like it or not. And if Hyde is still twisting in the wind, then the time has come to either give him the security of knowing he’ll be around for what should be the first year of the actual “rebuild” — or a month to go off and try to reset after what has to have been three agonizing years.
The longer this goes on, the more wins and losses appear to come into play. Waiting until after the season to announce a decision that almost certainly has already been made serves no purpose. There would appear to be no rational reason for the Orioles to play the last month of the season without a clear indication of the direction the team is taking.
In addressing this season, Elias noted the mission was an “historical challenge.” A significant part of that challenge is the losing streak that is approaching historical proportions and now, more than ever, is a time to look ahead, not behind.
I don’t think anybody with even the slightest understanding of the complex situation would pin the O’s pitiful record on Hyde. It is no worse, no better, than what we were led to believe and constantly reminded to expect. Personally, I can’t think of any rational reason why Hyde shouldn’t return. And if he should have to go after next year, chances are he won’t be the only one out the door.
During an informal but somewhat revealing presser Aug. 20, Elias indicated there were prospects on the radar for 2022 and beyond. That will be the next, and some will suggest most important, step in this turnaround, which begs the question: Who will be their on-field leader?
The Orioles have already announced their exhibition and regular schedules for next year. It’s time to reveal whether or not Hyde will be writing the lineup cards.
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For those wondering just how painful a rebuild can be, here are some numbers comparable to what the Orioles are going through right now. The Houston Astros, the team most often referred to because that’s where Elias and much of his staff came from, never had two losing streaks in excess of 14 games in the same season — as the Orioles already have done.
But the Astros did lose 12 in a row in 2012, the first year of the “official” rebuild, and also the last 15 games in 2013 — plus 14 of the first 19 in 2014, when they finished 70-92, the first time in four years with fewer than 100 losses. Looking ahead, that 2014 season is the one Orioles fans will most optimistically be able to compare to the 2022 season.
The Astros lost 324 games in their three most dreadful seasons, 218 of them in the first two years of the makeover. Starting with the abysmal 47-115 record in 2018 (the year before Elias took over), and with the current team on pace to lose approximately 111 games this year, and discounting last year’s 25-35 nightmare, the O’s losses in the first three years of their “rebuild” figure to be in the 330-335 range. With approximately 220 coming in the first two “official” years, the numbers are remarkably similar to what Elias, and the Houston fans, endured during the early years of the Astros makeover.
In other words, it’s every bit as painful as advertised. And that might not even be the worst part. There’s no comparison between Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city with a metro area of more than 7 million people and city population (2.3 million) as large as the Greater Baltimore area, but attendance numbers are still revealing.
Since opening what is now Minute Maid Park in 2000, the Astros averaged between 2.5 and 3 million fans a year, topping out at a little more than 3 million in 2004 and still reaching 2.3 million in 2010. It quickly dropped to the vicinity of 1.6 million, and despite reaching the World Series twice and winning once, the Astros have not been able to get back to the 3 million mark.
Those numbers dwarf the potential in Baltimore, but more than anything are an indication of how severe the drop in level of interest can be. The Orioles are feeling it now, probably more than any time since the late 1970s.
That’s when Edward Bennett Williams bought the team and, coupled with the fear factor of a possible move to Washington, the fan base responded, reenergized by a colorful and likeable team that would win the American League pennant in 1979 and World Series in 1983 and eventually started the process that led to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
That’s a long time ago. OPACY will be 30 years old next year and has weathered the journey better than the team that plays there. They built the park and the people came. The question now, and it’s a big one — if they can “rebuild” the team, will they come again?
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As much as I’d like to end with the previous thought, I can’t leave without an observation about two contracts that made recent headlines — one that didn’t end as hoped … or planned … and another that never really progressed beyond the planning stage.
The first, of course, was the inevitable ending of the Chris Davis saga that has tormented the Orioles through three seasons of what promises to be an exhausting rebuild. Putting the final touches on the seven-year, $161 million deal negotiated after the 2015 season probably won’t entirely satisfy a fan base that didn’t understand why 1) Davis didn’t just retire or 2) the team didn’t release him a long time ago.
Door No. 1, of course, wouldn’t be an option for any sane person, and No. 2 wasn’t practical as long as there was a possibility of salary relief. And that was a distinct possibility with MLB’s collective bargaining agreement due to expire at the end of the year, meaning any labor dispute would lead to lost wages, just as the pandemic did during the abbreviated 2020 season.
The so-called “settlement” is protection of sorts for both sides. The club gets some cash relief in the event the season goes on as scheduled, and the player is guaranteed all his money, albeit at a reduced rate, in the event of a labor dispute. Plus, the fans are happy, which makes it a win-win-win situation.
There are no winners in the other contract in question. Kumar Rocker, who at one time was thought to be the top amateur player eligible for the 2021 draft, fell 10 spots down the ladder, but appeared to come out of it OK, agreeing to an over-slot $6 million bonus from the Mets — pending the dreaded physical.
The Mets didn’t like what they saw and withdrew the offer, leaving Rocker with an empty wallet. Because Rocker didn’t agree to a pre-draft physical, like many of the other 50 pitchers who were asked, the Mets got off the hook on a technicality.
Near as I, or anybody I’ve talked to, can tell, Rocker doesn’t appear to have any option other than to sign with an independent league team, one in Japan or Korea — or return to college, where he has nothing left to prove. None of those doors provides as much of a guarantee as the one Alabama’s quarterback has ($1 million) for endorsements, under the new NCAA rules/allowances.
The fact that the Mets will now get a compensatory draft pick next year (11th overall) because they didn’t make an offer makes this even tougher to understand, let alone accept.
The irony between the Davis and Rocker situations? Funny you should ask. Both have been represented by Scott Boras, who has a well-deserved reputation as being the toughest and most successful agent around. It’s not often he elicits much sympathy, but in this case it’s hard for me to believe Boras doesn’t have a lawsuit up his sleeve that might make Rocker a free agent, which would make them both winners rather than big-time losers.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox