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Are the National Writers Right to Pile On O’s?

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The last week has been very interesting in Birdland. The team is in the midst of an 12-game losing streak, a streak that has seen their run differential go below -200. We have seen both local and national media attack the Orioles for being so bad and then, we got “good news” that Baseball America has ranked the minor league system #2. Upon hearing that news, many O’s fans on social media have come to the defense of how the Orioles are doing business and are attacking those national writers who are unhappy with the team.

This all started with Ken Rosenthal, from The Athletic, writing an article comparing what the Giants and O’s have done. A few days later, Buster Olney of ESPN came out with some disparaging tweets about the O’s. Just the other day, former O’s writer Britt Ghiroli joined in on the “fun” of bashing the team and even Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun wrote an article about how the team shouldn’t be this bad.

These articles and tweets have been met with a lot of vitriol from the Baltimore fan base. I wanted to dive a little more into this and see if either side is right. Should these writers be this disparaging about the team?  Should they be commenting at all? Should O’s fans be this up in arms about the comments?

The overall themes are the same and that is really what is worth discussing, so I don’t think we need to get into every little detail of what each side is saying. I know some think there are some personal vendettas at play here but I don’t personally buy that and don’t feel it’s very productive to talk about it.

I had my own back and forth with Olney on Twitter and I tweeted at Rosenthal as well. The thing is, I think this is a multi-layered discussion but it’s not being portrayed that way by either side. First of all, the Rosenthal article compares the San Francisco GM, Zaidi, and Mike Elias and the jobs they are doing. Rosenthal wrote multiple times in the article that it’s not a fair comparison for a multitude of reasons and yet, he wrote it anyway. Olney talked about the team tanking as far back as 2018, yet the team entered that year with good intentions of winning. So, what is the real issue here? To me, it’s just pure laziness by two respected writers who have been around this game and this organization for years.

It is completely fair game to take these guys to task for this. You can’t portray yourself as some expert but leave off very important pieces of info or write it up to fit your narrative when what you are writing isn’t factually correct in some ways. To me, calling them out for that stuff is fair and I was more than happy to do it, as were many others.

That being said, the general theme and point to what they are saying is correct, unfortunately. The team is an embarrassment. Rosenthal did a poor job of expressing things; however, he could have easily just said, “I am doing an Elias and Zaidi comp to show that Zaidi is finding surplus value with readily available MLB-caliber talent and Elias has failed at doing that.” That would be fair and accurate. 

Elias’ inability to find his Rodrigo Lopez, Jeremy Guthrie, Wei Yin Chen and/or Miguel Gonzalez (using those names as examples) has been an issue. That has nothing to do with rebuilding or whether or not the team is spending money or anything like that. He just has failed to target the right, cheap talent that turns into a piece. And no, I am not including the small sample size of what Jose Iglesias last year, or Freddy Galvis this year, did as this type of talent. He traded them when he should have and got good deals for them. That’s great and was happy to see it but I am talking about more long-term, surplus value guys like the ones I listed a moment ago.

When you have a team that doesn’t have an unlimited payroll, finding these guys is pretty vital to the success of the team. Elias must get better at this and find some players that provide a lot of surplus value.

Olney bringing up 2018 as part of his rant was just dumb. However, the general point of the team not needing to be this bad is correct. But again, there are layers to this. It’s not as black and white as he makes it out to be.  First of all, the reason the Birds are so bad (or at least the main reason) is the failure of the young players, especially the pitchers, to be good or, at the very least, a lot better than awful. There are a lot of reasons for this but some of it is at the feet of Elias and his hand-picked guy, Chris Holt. If you look at 2020, the staff was far better under Doug Brocail. Of course, that was in 60 games, so we don’t know if that trend would have kept up. Still, if you want to bash the Orioles for 2021, don’t be lazy about it. List the who, what, where and why. Failure to develop pitching at this level is a main problem.

Another problem was the failure of the Orioles to use their payroll advantage to make trades in the offseason, even some netting prospects in return for taking on a contract. Last offseason, we kept hearing about teams being “poor” because of the pandemic and shortened season. The Orioles, a team that can and has spent a lot more on payroll than they have this year, could have taken advantage of that. Now, where you run the risk here is that you do something stupid with the money. I would have liked to have seen more short-term moves that help for a year or two but don’t affect the long term plan the team has started to build.

It was also lazy of Olney not recognizing the disaster of an organization that Elias took over. There was a lot to do here to get things moving in a positive direction. Personally, I don’t like the idea of rebuilding for 4+ years but I am ok with it for one or two. Get your high picks, get rid of your long term payroll commitments, trade guys, play young kids and then start your ascent back up. Elias did those things and had them done pretty quickly. The problem is, the players he has traded for aren’t up here and ready yet and he has failed to bring in MLB talent to make things better.

Still, a guy like Olney should be able to phrase things in a way that are both factual and put the broad strokes on the job that had to be done. Now, in his defense, sending out 240 character tweets makes it harder to do that. On the other hand, he went on an ESPN podcast and apparently (from what I heard) didn’t make these adjustments to his tweets. Again, that is lazy on his part.

All of that being said, the Baltimore fan base, local bloggers, etc. are also being lazy and way too sensitive in my opinion. They all pointed to the Baseball America ranking as some sort of proof that Elias is doing great things. I think that is wrong too. Sure, it’s great to see the farm ranked highly and yes, it’s a good sign for the future but let’s be honest with ourselves: how many of these guys are really going to be impact guys? 

I think we can all agree that Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez should be vital pieces to this team long term. But who else? I like Michael Baumann and feel he could/should be a solid piece in the rotation and that should start as soon as next year. I can’t sit here and honestly tell you I have faith in anyone else. DL Hall obviously has a high ceiling but the injury is a concern and with the lack of IP this year, he basically is pushed back at least one more year. This is a guy who has a potential reliever profile anyway, due to the up and down command and control he displays. Other guys like Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith and the group of young starters we have seen in the majors and AAA this year have all been bad or up and down as they got into AAA and the majors and started using the different ball. I am not sure how much weight I put into that but I wouldn’t totally discount it until I see these guys pitching at the level they were in the lower minors.

There is also some good and intriguing pitching in the lower minors but we need to see how these guys do as they move up the ladder. Some of them are much older than the average competition, so we have to consider that as well in the evaluations.

As for the positional talent, there are some positive signs. I am glad to see Westburg and Mundy in AA. They both should have been there a month ago. I am glad to see Stowers playing well but the high K rate is a concern.  We will see with Mayo, Cowser and the rest of this year’s draft class but they aren’t on the radar any time soon. Obviously, Heston Kjerstad continues to be a mystery.  If things were normal with him, he would likely be in Bowie right now, at the very least and we may be seeing the looks of a powerful right fielder that is ready to play in the majors soon.

In other words, let’s stop treating the BA ranking as some guarantee that the O’s are winning a World Series soon. It’s a positive thing but its driven by two outstanding prospects who, when they come up next year, will be difference makers on the team but still far from the remedy of losing. 

For me, my real judgement of Elias and his plan (for the MLB team) starts this offseason. They have plenty of money to spend, pieces they can trade and a lot of holes to fill. I am not expecting the payroll to get close to the mid 2010s but there’s no reason it can’t be in the $80-100M range if you add the right players to the team. Do that and bring up the young guys and you really start to have something. I have been of the opinion that 2022 should be a .500-ish year and 2023 should be a contending year. Right now, I look like a moron for thinking that and maybe I am just because that means I believe in ownership to invest in the team but the Orioles are starting to enter into the “Lamar Jackson rookie contract” territory.  That is, you have significant young players making no money that provide a lot of value to your team and because of that, you can go out and spend money that you normally wouldn’t.

This is part of the idea of rebuilding, that it gives you that flexibility financially long term. It’s time to start doing that. It’s time to figure out if Elias is more than just a glorified scouting director. We know he can build a minor league system. We know he can scout. We don’t know that he can build a major league roster that can be competitive and contend for the playoffs.

When we are all having these discussions, I think all sides need to remember that there is a lot to discuss here. The way social media works nowadays, it’s all about getting an opinion out there and getting as much click bait material as possible. That’s why social media is so bad. These writers aren’t out to get the O’s. They don’t sit back and say, “I am picking on that fan base today.” I mean, let’s face it, no one cares about the Orioles outside of Baltimore, so it’s not like this is selling them advertising or whatever to discuss them. They are doing it because they see an embarrassing product and don’t feel that is how the game should be played. I don’t see anything wrong with thinking that way. 

I just want to see these critics do it in a way that presents the whole picture, because we should absolutely be holding the Orioles organization as a whole to a higher standard.

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