This is a counterpoint article to my colleague Rob Shileds’ piece earlier today, Let the Kids Play.
It was former Oriole World Champion General Manager and Baltimorean Frank Cashen who said, “We in management are united by our problems and divided by our solutions.” One of the architects of the original Oriole Way was just as correct decades ago as he is today. Modern Orioles Nation can agree that the losing that defines our recent history is horrible. But O’s fans feel rather divided about the progress of the rebuild and how to grade it primarily because there’s never been an undertaking like this before.
Like Cashen said so many seasons ago, it’s a matter of which way you choose.
A few seasons ago the Orioles dealt away homegrown superstar Manny Machado thus initiating a multi-season rebuild that has yet to influence the club’s winning percentage. However, the progress beneath the surface has been consistent and monumental.
Orange & black supporters are lining up in mostly two camps, either seeing the 2021 season as a blessing with drastically improved minor leagues and player development or simply wanting those MLB results in some form or fashion as soon as possible. The second group grew appropriately feistier during a recent 14-game losing streak.
There’s nobody who feels like having a feeder system for bigger spending teams and developing talent only to see it bloom on other rosters is a path towards winning. Refusing to back up your own players with free agents and specialists from around the league is another gripe of this ‘I want to see wins now’ crowd and although I’m not in it, I see their point.
However, I’d wonder if this year’s crop of short-term deals really stands in the way of anyone in particular. Maybe Mason McCoy is improving to the point where he’s better than Pat Valaika or Freddy Galvis at certain aspects of infield play. I don’t see it, but would listen to a case being made. Either way, is that a 5th-to-1st place type of move? That’s the type of difference we get in 2021, not too impactful. Plus, moves like that are likely to happen weeks from now after July’s trade deadline. Think less Maikel Franco and more Rylan Bannon. A run to the pennant is not coming between then and now. Sure, the Orioles outfield group has shown their holes with a lack of health and performance, aside from future All-Star Cedric Mullins.
But does that mean that Yusniel Diaz has earned a big league job? Those two things may be somewhat related, but not directly, and Diaz has not ‘mastered his level’ like the O’s front office would prefer. At this point in his career, I’d prefer to see him stay active for a handful of series in a row so he can help his team. If he was playing well and showing any semblance of health, I’m confident the team would challenge him in an attempt to bring out his skills at the plate and in the field. Until then, it looks like quick-fix fans are simply trying to justify a long ago trade made by a different management group. His job is to stay in baseball shape and he can’t do that job very well as of yet. Not a criticism, just a realistic observation.
Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann are all on track to be better pitchers now and going forward than Matt Harvey and Jorge Lopez are. One group represents the future and one a band-aid. It’s easy to tell that come 2022 and beyond the lumps that these guys are taking today will be of immense benefit as they learn from mistakes. Developing their catalogs on hitters and situations is exactly what I want to see this year, whether it’s Norfolk and AAA or battling the Rays and the Yanks at Camden Yards. Besting Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan and the rest of Durham’s prospect loaded lineup was big for Kyle Bradish this past Sunday.
The thought that these young arms could carry a team at the big league level is laughable. Having them get their feet wet is one thing, but eschewing any veteran at all and having this new kiddie corps of pitchers get their ass handed to them every night is not a proven way of learning anything. There has to be some peaks to go with the valleys for guys like Kremer or they’ll get passed by the likes of Michael Baumann or Bradish. Or maybe the revolutionary no. 1 in waiting Grayson Rodriguez. Or electric DL Hall. Or the improving Blaine Knight. Or the spin rate specialist Conner Gillespie with the wonderful stats. Or the talented strikeout artist Kyle Brnovich. Or bounceback candidate Alexander Wells. You get the point.
I like to think I know the process a bit, but I want there to be some variation of majors and minors on all of these players’ respective resumés and I do trust the new regime to know when the time is right to promote. If I’m wrong, which is highly often, it’s ok because there are teams that are better than the Orioles today and no wave of young talent is changing that for a while. The club getting to that level is dependent on failing today and learning from it. How can any logical fan want to trade what looks like a productive future for a handful of wins in a worthless 2021? We each measure progress differently.
Everybody sees a player doing well in the minors and the call is to promote them or wonder why they’re so low or when they’ll be in the bigs. Hall and Oates’ ‘Can’t Go For That’ comes to mind. I just don’t see it that way. The time and the reps are so vital. Development and maximizing players’ skills is simply not something that Orioles fans are used to and doing it a new and different way is understandably requiring some adjustments for certain fans. It’s almost like losing is all they see (or expect) because that’s how it’s been. Long-term solutions require non-traditional measures to break familiar patterns. If you want to put all your hopes for the entire future in the current 40-man and be mad that it isn’t leading a team to first place you have that right. If you want to trade Tanner Scott and grumble that the O’s don’t have an official closer do it. But that doesn’t mean winning divisions year after year. What does in today’s MLB? Projectable and controllable maximized talent. Who knows what’ll happen when it’s time to spend money and buy players, but the Orioles are filling holes, not competing in that tier of market. Why criticize Mike Elias today for something he hasn’t done yet because the team doesn’t require it? Who is the free agent difference maker that the Orioles are without? That’s not rebuilding.
As usual, I’d tell you to check the box scores on the farm and support the guys who are absolutely forcing their way upwards like Joey Ortiz or Jordan Westburg. The level of instruction is so much better and effective than it has been. Results ARE coming fast. Slumps are short, performances are markedly high. Mistakes are identified and eliminated.
Look at the last two drafts and how those players have started their careers. I’d say it’s thrilling on its own, but then look at some of the Dan Duquette drafts and the new way is like night and day different than the old. The quality of player in the new Orioles minor leagues is of a standard that’s much higher than the past. Enjoy those crucial aspects of success before that late season Red Sox sweep that we all want so bad, because one doesn’t happen without the other.