If you haven’t heard, the Orioles are rebuilding. In fact they’ve been rebuilding for the past three and a half seasons. Within that window the baseball in Baltimore has been pretty terrible, and people have seemed to notice. The club has taken its fair share of public shots and hit-tweets from the national media while the subject of “tanking” has been bemoaned so systematically that it’s found itself on the negotiating table during the ongoing lockout between MLB and the players association.
But for a small market team like Baltimore, was there ever really any other viable approach to a full organizational rebuild? The team has not only made changes to its major league roster but has completely reinvented itself in the international market, overhauled its talent pipeline and restructured its minor league organizations from the ground up. It’s even made a few minor adjustments in field dimensions you might have heard about. This wasn’t a remodeling, it was a complete tear down and rebuild. Those take either an abundance of financial resources or an abundance of creativity and patience. There wasn’t really ever a choice to make.
Now I can understand the necessity for tanking at the organizational level. I’m not talking about Mike Elias intentionally hoping to lose games. But his acceptance of major league losses as a byproduct of the team’s attempt to maximize financial efficiency by allocating investments where they’re likely to see the most return, makes total sense. At this stage, a million dollars spent in development is probably worth more than a million dollars spent on a developed big leaguer.
What I won’t be able to understand is if these type of concessions become the cyclical norm in Baltimore. In other words if this rebuild is done correctly, and I believe that so far it has been, fans shouldn’t expect this level of sacrifice again for a very long time, if ever. Granted, the club will never be able to hold onto multiple premium stars or compete with large market teams in free agency under the current financial environment. But with this newfound strategical foundation, and ongoing analytically driven investments in maintaining a healthy pipeline, the most Oriole fans should be expected to endure in the future is periodic retooling, not a cycle of full rebuilds.
Look the AL East is always going to be a beast. Even after they’ve built this thing and clawed their way back into competitive regularity the Orioles will likely see last place seasons again. But the days of one-hundred loss seasons and most importantly the necessity for big league neglect should quickly become a thing of the past. This should be the floor. This should be Baltimore’s rock bottom. And the expectation moving forward should be that we never see this hell hole again.