It’s still cold and the Super Bowl has yet to be played, but Spring Training is right around the corner. Now I’m peeking out from around a different corner to see if this thing still works the way it used to. It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. It’s probably been even longer since you’ve read any of it. Toward the end of last baseball season, interest in the Orioles seemed to dwindle. Losing 108 games will do that to a fanbase. But the O’s are still a thing and they’ll continue to be throughout the summer. While 2020 surely won’t bring a lot of wins, it will hopefully provide a clearer vision into what is to come for the franchise in the next few seasons.
Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports
Let’s touch on a few things that are tangentially related to the Orioles, as I do regularly in this column.
1. Firstly, the Houston Astros have shunned former O’s skipper Buck Showalter for their open managerial role, instead choosing to hire Dusty Baker. This isn’t all that shocking of a decision to me. While those of us who are Baltimore fans would love to see Showalter get another shot at leading a ballclub, especially one with as much talent as Houston, he’s probably not their type.
It seems the Astros, when they aren’t banging on trash cans to tip pitches, are still way more analytically inclined than many other teams. While Baker isn’t the most analytical manager out there, neither is Showalter. My hunch is that the Astros are also a team that likes things to run from the top down, meaning the front office makes a lot of the calls and the manager has to deal with it. That’s also not Showalter’s style. Baker seems more like the type of manager, now 70 years old, who is willing to sit back and focus on managing from the dugout rather than from the front office.
Showalter always had his hand in a lot of decisions while in Baltimore, which is likely the source of many of his reported run-ins with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.
2. Separate from the Astros’ managerial search is the scandal that led to it in the first place. As the whole thing unfolded this winter, eventually touching the Red Sox and Mets, I couldn’t help but think where else it might reach as it evolves.
Like, perhaps if the Astros had some members of their front office leave a few years ago and join a different team to take over a rebuilding project.
Maybe perhaps, in Baltimore?
No, it’s not like I think Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal were directly involved in this large scale scheme to steal signs in Houston. But I can’t prove they weren’t at least in the know. The revelations that continued to develop over the last few months weren’t shocking, but they did continue to unmask a program that is likely deeper within the game than we realize.
Jokes can be had about how the Orioles weren’t doing any of this sign stealing over the last two seasons, but don’t think these things aren’t thought about throughout the game. The Elias-Mejdal connection to the Astros is one that we all embraced when they were both brought to Baltimore. Has that changed now? Certainly there is still faith in what they are trying to build at Camden Yards, but does it ding your confidence at all? It’s something I don’t really have a great gauge for as of yet.
We’ll know our feelings more as results either come or don’t over the next few seasons.
3. The Orioles did not have their annual FanFest this month, and have instead planned a “caravan” for early February. These caravans are pretty common throughout the game, even if they aren’t familiar in Baltimore. Many teams do them prior to Spring Training. Some even call them the “Winter Warmup” or some other cute alliterative name (which the O’s had their own version of on Eutaw Street in December).
The caravan will run February 7-9 and hit 12 different cities and towns in the region, including York, Pennsylvania. York has long been Orioles territory in the same way that Washington, DC down into Northern Virginia once was. Things have changed. But the Orioles are doing their best to maintain their regional foothold, and a caravan is one way to do it.
I wonder if eliminating FanFest in favor of this caravan is an effort by the franchise to reach out and allow fans shorter distances to travel to see players and get a taste of baseball in the winter months. It could also be a concession that getting into downtown Baltimore to the convention center is not appealing to many. Parking is difficult and costly. It’s a one day thing. And for many reasons that are well above my knowledge and pay grade, there isn’t much desire for people to go into Baltimore City when they don’t have to.
As for the caravan itself, the team is bringing a good mix of players, prospects, coaches and legends along for the events. There seems to be a real embrace of getting prospects out into the community and recognizing that during this rebuild, fans are going to be super focused on those players. Might as well get them out in front of the public as much as possible. It’s also unclear, and likely extremely undecided, as to whether or not this caravan will be a long-term thing.
FanFest may eventually return, or the caravan could replace it in the long run. Feedback from the fans will likely determine the future of all such events.
4. The big signing for the Orioles this offseason was…Jose Iglesias? The 30-year-old Cuban was an All-Star back in 2015, but let’s not pretend this signing was a big deal. Let’s also not pretend that it was important for the Birds to make a big signing. This is going to be a very bad season, and a very long one. I think it’s important to keep reminding fans that this is Year 2 of what is likely a five-year rebuild.
It didn’t start in 2018 when the team went in the tank and traded the likes of Manny Machado and others. It started when they brought in a new regime last winter and came up with a plan. If the Orioles are still losing 90+ games in 2022 or 2023, we’ve got issues. Until then, embrace the suck. Enjoy the free agents like Iglesias, who I hope does wonderful things in the black and orange this season. I’ll root for him to be incredible. But let’s not pretend that we are ready for this team to call up it’s prospects and start winning games any time soon.
Iglesias likely won’t even be around when that happens.