When I was growing up, back when we still read newspapers, one of my favorite columns to read was John Eisenberg’s Fact and Opinion column. So, with apologies/thanks to the former Sun writer and current Ravens.com writer, as well as author of multiple books, I present my version of facts and opinions on the Orioles
Fact: On May 5, John Means threw a no hitter and the Orioles record at that time was 15-16. They were in 5th place in the division but only three games out of first. They had a road record of 11-6. At that time, they had the most road wins of any team in MLB and only two teams had a better win percentage on the road. Since that game, the Orioles have 7-30 and they are currently on a 19-game road losing streak.
Opinion: You are never as good as you look in a winning streak and never as bad as you look in a losing streak. The Orioles are suffering/have suffered from injuries, bad luck and just outright poor play. Still, I don’t feel this streak of 7-30 accurately reflects where the organization is and is going. The Orioles could finish with 55 wins this year and I still will have faith that they are heading in the right direction. The problem I will have is if they do win only 55 games, what does that say for the development of the young players who will have played in the majors in 2021?
Fact: Since becoming the manager of the Orioles, Brandon Hyde has seen his team put up a record of 101-189. That is a winning percentage of about 35%, which is tied for the worst ever by a full time O’s manager since the team moved here in 1954 (Jimmy Dykes, the manager the first year the Orioles moved to Baltimore also had a winning % of 35% albeit in a smaller sample size than Hyde). Orioles GM, Mike Elias, has openly talked about how this is a process and winning games isn’t a priority right now, so this is the situation Hyde signed up for.
Opinion: I like Brandon Hyde and I hope they keep him around. The team plays hard for him, they seem to respect him and the clubhouse, by all accounts, is still loose. The manager for an MLB team isn’t that important when the game is being played. Most have similar thoughts and strategies. Where the difference is made is outside the lines. Buck Showalter was brilliant outside the lines and he brought in a culture that was needed. I believe Hyde is also good outside the lines but you can tell the losses are getting to him during his post-game press conferences. In some ways, this is a great first gig – you have no pressure to win by your bosses. On the other hand, you also wonder if they keep you around once you start bringing up your young, elite talent and actually start to move forward with winning. For me, I hope they give him at least through 2022. Let him manage with guys like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, et al on the team. See if those guys progress under him. If they don’t, you move on… but he deserves the chance.
Fact: MLB has decided to crack down on sticky substances used by pitchers. They feel the spin rates are getting out of control and making it harder for the batters to hit the ball. As a result, any pitcher caught with a substance will be suspended (with pay) for 10 games. It sounds like most pitchers are using something and one guy who has been mentioned a lot and there is some video circulating on twitter about is John Means. Means has yet to be affected by this because he has been on the DL since the news broke.
Opinion:Means has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and it will be interesting to see if this affects him. Tyler Glasgow blamed his injury on how he now has to grip the ball and you wonder if this will affect Means’ shoulder at all. Also, how will Means be viewed by the other teams if the Orioles decide to shop him? If the Orioles do indeed intend to shop him, getting him back for 3-5 starts before the deadline is going to be important.
Fact: In the 2020 MLB draft, the Orioles selected Heston Kjerstad. Kjerstad signed an under slot deal. He has yet to play in a game because of a bout of myocarditis. He had been working himself back and he just recently had a setback and now he has to rest again and wait for his heart issue to subside.
Opinion: Kjerstad has become a source of contention for O’s fans. He is being called a bust and a wasted pick. To me, those saying that couldn’t be saying anything more uneducated. First of all, the kid hasn’t played yet and unless this condition forces an early retirement or something like that, we should see him back on the field. Until that happens, we can’t label him as anything, including a bust. Secondly, the idea that the O’s wasted the pick is absurd.
A lot of people point to the idea the O’s went under slot and picked a lesser talent.While it is true that they went under slot, I don’t think it’s fair to say they took a lesser talent. If you buy into the theory that the Orioles were never going to take a pitcher, that means they were likely down to Austin Martin, Nick Gonzalez, Zach Veen and Kjerstad.
For me, I would have taken Veen because I felt he represented the highest upside; however, the player most people thought they should take was Martin. While I can’t say I would have been upset by the Martin pick, there were some issues with him. There were some scouts who had questions that he could stick at SS and there are questions about him developing enough power. There is basically total agreement that Martin has a good hit tool and will be a good on base guy but if he doesn’t hit for power, the major leaguers will challenge him more and that could affect his walk rate and his hit tool some.
So far, in the small sample size of this year, he is hitting for a good average and getting on base well. However, the slugging% is barely over 400. That can, of course, change very quickly but the early questions about his power are at least showing that there could be some validity there. Kjerstad was said to have the second best power in the draft, after #1 pick Spencer Torkelson. The Orioles seemed to believe that if they played all year in 2020 that Kjerstad would have been higher on people’s boards. As it is, he was ranked anywhere in the 7-10 range but again, some pitchers were in there and the O’s apparently were not going to take one of them.
We will see how this pick works out. The Astros, a team everyone likes to point to as a “correct rebuilding”, missed on two high picks (although one of them involved not getting Brady Aiken signed and that turned into Alex Bregman). If this heart condition essentially ends his career, that will be a shame. If he does come back and just isn’t as good as Martin, Elias will be held accountable. However, I think his reasoning for passing on Martin was sound and justified and we have to remember that the draft is an inexact science and sometimes you will get things wrong.
Fact: In 2019, Adley Rutschman, an advanced college bat out of college baseball powerhouse Oregon State, was the #1 pick in the draft. He played sparingly in 2019 and obviously there was no minor league season in 2020. This year, the Orioles started him with the Bowie Baysox, their AA affiliate. He is currently recognized by most people as the #2 prospect in the sport. He currently has a slash line of 287/421/544. He has 10 homers and one of the highest BB rates in the minors.
Some fans are absolutely opposed to this idea because “why bring him up and waste his service time in a year where the team sucks?” I get that and there is validity to that point. Let’s remember a few things though. First of all, I have seen some people say to bring him up in September. Well, why wait? His year is gained for this season. Whether you bring him up tonight or on Sept 1, that doesn’t change the service time in terms of how long you get to keep him here.
Secondly, I believe that you can develop in the majors. This idea that you have to make every minor league stop and that you have to check off every single box is crazy to me. He is regarded as arguably the best college prospect in a decade. He is playing at a high level, is 23 years old and played for a major college program and yes, playing and developing in college does matter.
At some point, this team has to start to win games and get fans interested. Also, you have to start to show potential trade targets and free agents why they should sign here. Showing them MiLB stats and organizational rankings are one thing but actually getting the players here to show everyone what they can do is important as well.
I believe that 2022 should be a year where the Orioles are a 500-ish team. I think to do that, you will obviously need outside help but you will also need help from your young talent and I would like to see some of these kids, led by Rutschman, start to get their feet wet this year. He is going to need a time for adjusting to the league. I would bet on him being a top 10 MLB catcher immediately, so his talent and his performance will dictate him being here.
The only reason anyone wants to hold him back really comes down to gaming a service time rule that is archaic in many ways. If you bring him up now, you have him through his age 29 season, assuming you don’t sign him to an early extension. If you wait another year, you have him through his age 30 season. The rationale from most fans is that it is far more likely we are contender in his age 30 season than right now. Obviously, that is true BUT we also don’t how good he will be by then, if we want to have him on the team at that age or if the team will be contending. For me, it’s a lot of what ifs either way and I would personally rather see him start his MLB career now as opposed to waiting until late April/early May of 2022.
Fact: The trade deadline this year has been moved up one day, to July 30th.
Fact: Matt Harvey, since his first start against the Mets, has been struggling in a big way. His ERA currently over 7. Jorge Lopez, who had a solid month of May ERA wise, has struggled this month and overall, hasn’t been a good starter in the majors throughout his career.
Opinion: There will likely be a lot of teams in the race still, so it will be a seller’s market in many ways. The Orioles have some intriguing pieces that they could shop. You have AS caliber players in Cedric Mullins, John Means and Trey Mancini. You also have some potential solid role players like Tanner Scott, Anthony Santander, Freddy Galvis and Paul Fry. All of these guys represent potential targets for other teams, with the returns obviously varying greatly.
As I mentioned before, Elias has been very consistent on the idea that the focus isn’t on winning and it’s about building a pipeline of talent. However, if you believe in what Mullins and Means are doing, they represent long term pieces that could be major contributors to a contender. Scott and Santander could also be solid contributors but to a lesser extent. Mancini is a tough case. A fan favorite and clubhouse leader who just went through cancer is a tough guy to trade. OTOH, he is a FA after next year and he doesn’t really have a skill set that screams “extension” as he gets into his 30s. People will argue that it’s wrong to trade a guy who just went through cancer. I would argue it’s wrong to make him stay on the Titanic. I can see the argument either way. For me, I trade any of these guys if the return is there. None of them are guys that I have to be completely blown away to trade. In other words, I don’t need multiple top 50 prospects to deal Mullins, for example. I am not sure any of these guys are truly elite guys that are must keeps, so I would be shopping all of them but obviously, if the returns aren’t there, especially for Mullins and Means, I am not trading them.
Opinion: It’s time to get them out of the rotation. I feel Lopez could be a good reliever and perhaps he could even be a good high leverage reliever. I would like to see him get his chance in the pen now. I want to see him in those situations and see if he is someone we can go into the offseason with as a guy we feel relatively comfortable with as one of the better BP arms on the team. I think there is an argument for letting Harvey get a chance out of the pen too. Maybe his stuff can play up for an inning or two. On the other hand, spots start to become limited out in the pen and if there is no room for him, so be it. Just release him. I would like to see Zac Lowther or Kyle Bradish brought up and the rotation, once Means comes back, have it be Means, Zimmerman, Akin, Kremer, Lowther/Bradish.
Give these kids a shot. They are all experienced enough, old enough and mature enough to get the chance.