The Baltimore Orioles entered this 2021 season perceived by everyone as one of the worst teams in baseball. The initial 13 games of this season certainly haven’t challenged those perceptions.
If you as a fan entered this season not caring about the record, and are only focused on the development of the players who could comprise the next quality Oriole team; then you likely aren’t worked up about the team’s 5-8 record and how flawed they’ve looked overall.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
If you as a fan entered this season still depressed by the horrors we saw in the ’18 and ’19 seasons; and apathetic about the Major League product as the Mike Elias era entered Year 3 – then your blood pressure might be running high by the ineptness we’ve seen so far.
My beliefs have not changed.
I went into this year expecting 68 wins in this ’21 season, and I remain excited about the next era of Orioles baseball which I believe is on the immediate horizon.
I’ve written about it before, and I’ve talked about it on our podcasts; what I disliked most about the 1998 to 2011 Orioles was I felt they they wasted time. They wasted time by trying to build teams where if everything fell right, they might finish with a .500 record. (Spoiler, things never fell completely right.) They put teams on the field which had no chance of ever winning anything that mattered, and didn’t do what was necessary to best position themselves for the future. You went into each season knowing the Orioles had no chance, and also spent each Summer wondering what exactly were they trying to accomplish?
For me, that frustration had me banging my head against the wall and made me question the sanity of maintaining my Oriole fandom.
You might think that everyone has the same definition of what rebuilding is. In the 20 years of participating on message boards elsewhere, and running our own here on BSL – what I’ve seen over and over are differing distinctions of what rebuilding is. I broke down my thoughts on what rebuilding is and is not here. You can agree or disagree. It doesn’t matter. The bottom-line is we’re all fans of this franchise, and we all want to see the Orioles ultimately become World Champions for the first time since ’83.
Many of you don’t care how the team is built, you just want to see a product you actually enjoy watching, and know this ’21 team isn’t it.
I can understand the sentiment to a degree.
Life is short. Fandom should be a fun diversion from other aspects of life. Tuning in every night and watching a team that isn’t built to win can be a brutally tough sell.
Delayed gratification isn’t for everyone.
To further the analogy, I’m having a house built right now. I can tell the difference between a Flat-head and Phillips screwdriver, and I could swing a sledge hammer; but that not-existent knowledge of tools is unfortunately the sum knowledge I have of tools. I have zero knowledge of anything necessary in-terms of building a house. The builders like to provide weekly updates. They gave us a recent walk through, and their telling me about bearing points, and sub floors.
I don’t care.
I can’t pretend to care.
I have no knowledge of what you are doing.
Their information to me is not much different than if I had to convey what the internet was to someone in the Middle Ages.
Me just wanting to hear when the house is done, and when I can move in; is not really any different than Joe Oriole Fan wanting to know when this building process is going to be over and the Orioles will be good again.
Well, I’m here to tell you when.
This ’21 season is generally going to be rough. By the end of this year, the house will look more like a house. There will be more kids up, and you’ll see things coming together.
If you want to stop with the house analogy, think about a puzzle.
By the end of this year, you’ll look at the roster, and have an idea of what’s being put together.
In ’22, the timeline will accelerate and the Orioles will make a turn towards actually being good. I’m expecting a .500 or better season next year.
In ’23, I believe things fully come together, and the Orioles will be legitimate contenders.
What I express here will be seen by many of you as unfathomable optimism. I can hear you now saying, “The Orioles are horrible here in April ’21, how are they going to go from this to contention in two short years?”
It’s certainly a fair question.
Here is what I envision, and why I’m optimistic of the relatively near future.
To go back to the house analogy once more, I think Elias made the right decision to tear-down and build up, vs. trying to make over the kitchen, and tidy up the front-yard and thinking that solved all the issues.
Elias inherited a team that won 47 games in 2018.
It wasn’t a completely barren system he inherited, but it was ranked no better than middle-of-the-pack by anyone.
The ’18 Orioles spent nearly $150M on their ML salaries to win those 47 games.
The International Operations were nearly non-existent.
The Analytics were significantly behind their peers.
Basically it was a broken-down termite infested rat-trap with asbestos in the walls, in the middle of a swanky neighborhood (the American League East).
Completely tearing down, and committing to a vision down the road is not easy. Your neighbors in their McMansions are staring at you with eyebrows raised as you have literal dumpsters in your yard, and you swing away at the crumbling walls.
The active 26 man roster, and the larger 40 man roster is reaching an inflection point where there are more guys that could be part of the next quality Oriole team vs. guys that have zero chance.
Things are not perfect, in-fact they are still messy.
My builder wrote today and told us they put up the wrong stone.
Jorge Lopez is starting for the Orioles tonight.
But that will change.
We will get the right stone up.
Starts and time to a guy like Lopez will cease, and soon will give way to starts to guys who could be parts of that next quality team.
Again, you think I’m stalling.
Tell us Chris, how do the ’22 Orioles get to .500?
In-generalities, this is what I see:
I think in Diaz, Hays, Mullins, and Santander; the Orioles can put together a productive OF. How the playing time ultimately works out is to-be-determined. But there is depth and talent, and who you move forward with will ultimately be determined by who takes advantage of the opportunities they get. Competition is a good thing.
I think in Mancini, Mountcastle, and Stewart; the Orioles have 1st and DH covered. If they want to extend Mancini, fine. If they want to trade him, fine. Mountcastle is going to hit, and while he costs nothing, he’s going to be absolutely fine at DH for me. If you believe he should remain in the LF mix, I don’t agree, but that will sort itself out. Stewart’s ability to take a walk, and hit for power, coupled with his team control makes him valuable. If the O’s do trade Mancini in the near-term, part of that equation would be the Front Office saying they have confidence in Stewart’s ability to provide production. And if they ultimately decide to extend Mancini, as we said, that’s fine too.
Ruiz isn’t an answer at 2nd. We know that. I think the Orioles have done well to add Jahmai Jones, and Terrin Vavra to the organization. We will see what they do in the Minors this year, and who earns a trip up to Baltimore; but both players have a chance to help the Orioles at 2nd. There is a good chance neither is a long-term option, but both have the skill-set where they could be.
Former Orioles Manager Dave Trembley once called Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Brad Bergeson the Calvary.
I think ‘The Calvary’ was significantly more talented then the aforementioned ‘Group of 7’, but I’m still excited by what the Group of 7 can provide the Orioles in the near-term.
I’m bit on an Island with this, but I think it’s reasonable to look at that group and believe the Orioles can find two league average back-end starters, and two usable relievers. If you get four usable arms out of that group – especially while they are costing nothing – you have something.
I would rank those guys as Kremer, Akin, Baumann, Lowther, Zimmermann, Wells, Smith. These guys have mostly backend rotation upside, with the first three having slightly more upside.
Kremer if healthy, I’m giving him 30 ML starts. Because I believe in him (command is definitely an issue right now), and I want to evaluate him over the course of a season.
I don’t really believe in Zimmermann as a long-term starter. He has an opportunity now. Every successful start he makes, he earns another opportunity.
I would be trying to give Akin 25 ML starts this year. I’m not sure I believe in him long-term, but there are things to like. I also don’t think he has much to prove at the MiL level.
Baumann and Lowther, I’d be looking to give them 10-15 AAA starts, and 10-15 ML starts this year. What they do at AAA matters. What they would do in their would be ML starts matter. Ideally one of them is in the ML rotation to begin ’22.
Wells and Smith would spend most of ’21 at AAA for me. I’m not optimistic about either as ML starters, but think both have a chance to help the pen. They have the chance to take the ball regularly in the Minors and earn an opportunity.
In the bullpen, I like Scott, Tate, and Harvey. (With shoutout to Plutko for his performance so far this year.) I’ll like more of the bullpen when some of these Group of 7 guys are adding depth. Also someone like Lopez – who I don’t want starting – could potentially thrive in relief.
Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco are not the answer at C. Luckily you have the best Catching prospect in the game in Adley Rutschman.
DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez have yet to throw an inning at the AA level, but I’m of the opinion that Rutschman, Hall, and Rodriguez will all be in an Oriole uniform by June 2022.
If the Orioles are going to be a legitimate contender in ’23, Hall and Rodriguez are going to have to be productive. If I’m right, and they join the Orioles by June ’22, then ’23 will be their first full seasons in the Majors. I wouldn’t expect them to be dominant. I wouldn’t be asking for them to be immediate front-end starters in ’23. I would be expecting them to be productive ML starters, who flash their talent.
The Orioles 2021 Opening Day payroll was estimated at $57M by COTS.
You can look at the ’22 commitments, and those who will be in the arbitration process and give them whatever raises you deem appropriate. The only conclusion necessary here is that the Orioles have an abundance of payroll flexibility going forward.
Will they use it? That’s a question that will remain unanswered until we see it. If you are skeptical of the Orioles spending significant money at the top of the market; I don’t blame you. We haven’t seen the Orioles do that previously. I think one of the benefits of building as the Orioles have, is that they have the flexibility to add a significant contract or two to augment what they are able to build on their own. That could be in Free Agency. That could be via Trade.
I didn’t mention SS or 3rd above. Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story could all hit the market this Winter as available SS’s. Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson could be available the following year. Kris Bryant will be available for 3rd. Jose Ramirez could be.
Between need, availability, and the Orioles payroll flexibility; I would hope to see the Orioles have success with one of those guys. That would certainly add to the core you are building internally.
Of course, I’m also excited (to varying degrees) about Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson, Coby Mayo, and Anthony Servideo. Depending on just how much they produce in their initial professional seasons, it’s not outrageous to believe Westburg, and Servideo have chances to join the Orioles sometime in ’22. If Kjerstad finds his health, he has a bat that could move quick as well.
The coming draft and forthcoming International seasons will additional opportunities to add talent and depth to the system. With that increasing depth, you could go and pursue trades (and also again use the payroll flexibility) to fortify weaknesses.
Why am I optimistic about what Elias and the Orioles are building?
Certainly I know that not everything is going to work out.
Certainly I know that plenty of these players are going to flame, and provide little.
Primarily I’m optimistic, because I don’t think everything has to go right for things to work out.
If you want to wait until you actually see the Orioles turn the corner, to believe they will; I don’t blame you. Once bitten, twice shy. I just personally think the Orioles built differently this time, and that it’s going to come together quicker than many think – even if the current view here in ’21 remains difficult to look at.
Here’s my question to you my fellow Orioles fans. Do you believe in the guy building the house or not?
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.