When will the rebuild be over? That is the question on the mind of almost every Oriole fan. I think before we answer when it will be over, we have to ask what rebuilding even is. It seems like that is an easily tossed-around word but one that people don’t truly grasp the meaning.
When you look at the best franchises in sports, you see a common theme. That theme is that they do a great job of developing from within. It’s a constant conveyor belt of developing young talent that is able to come up and produce at early ages. The peak season for a baseball player historically is about 27 years old.
When you consider that most players don’t become eligible for free agency until after they are 27, it’s not hard to see why free agency is a poor way to build a team. This is true in all sports. You can’t beat father time and while the advances in medicine, training and technology help players to be better at advanced ages, they aren’t a cure for aging and they don’t magically bring back those peak skills.
This, along with cost-controlled contracts, is why it’s imperative to build from within. The Orioles have largely been an awful franchise since 1998. We had the nice run from 2012-2016 but other than that, they have been a laughing stock. When you ask the casual O’s fan about rebuilding, they will tell you that they are sick of rebuilding and that the team has been doing it for 20+ years. That is actually false.
Just because they have been bad doesn’t mean they were trying to build properly.
When you rebuild, you have a few objectives (in no particular order). First of all, you want to rid yourself of as many bad/veteran contracts as possible. By doing this, it allows you to hopefully get back useful long-term pieces in those trades, as well as get rid of current and future payroll. Now, as an Oriole fan, I think we would all be naïve to think the Angelos family has some kind of bank account stashed away where they have the money the team has saved for guys like Alex Cobb, Jose Iglesias, et al…however, it does allow them to be able to spend more later and it does give them flexibility.
Another thing you want to accomplish with a rebuild is strengthening your farm system. Most teams that are going through a rebuild normally have a poor farm system when it starts. It is imperative to build your system up and not only build it up but sustain it through coaching, scouting, consistency and intelligence.
Another aspect of a rebuild is that you start to play more and more young players. You are able to give these guys looks a lot easier when winning isn’t your goal and when you don’t have vets blocking the positions.
There is a problem to all of this though. None of what I just wrote are things that you have to lose a lot of games to do. Yes, if your goal is the #1 pick, you need to lose a lot of games, but you can still build a good farm system, trade players and play young players whether you are winning or not. We see that with teams like Tampa and the Dodgers, for example. So, why do we believe that we must lose/rebuild for four or five years when it’s not necessary to do so?
The answer is relatively simple and that is because that is what teams have told us needs to happen…and we believe it. It’s a thought process we have all bought into and is likely just a way for teams to save money for a number of years.
Yet they dress it up, put a nice bow on it and feed us the “rebuilding” line.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for rebuilding (or tanking if you prefer) for a year or two. The Orioles of 2019 and 2020 had zero chance at contention. Trading off young assets, spending money poorly and things of that nature to improve your chances from no chance to very little chance would be foolish. It was smart to trade contracts, get high picks, etc.…however, you don’t need to do this for several more years beyond that especially when you consider that the cupboard wasn’t totally bare when Mike Elias got here anyway.
A lot of the better prospects the team has were here when Elias got here and Adley Rutschman was sitting on a platter for him because of the failures of 2018. I am just not a believer in doing this for three or more years. I understand the team isn’t contending in 2021 even with additions but I do think having a more watchable product does start to become important for a lot of fans. I am sure fans would rather watch a 75-win team than a 65-win team.
I know I would – provided that the 75-win team was still full of guys who could/should be part of the long-term plan. I have zero desire to watch a 75-win team that is going nowhere in the long term (see much of ~1999-2009). I would much rather watch a team full of hungry young players win 60 games than a team like that.
So, when does this end? When does the winning start? When does the team start to spend real money and bring in real players to help augment the roster? When do we start not having to discuss the merits of AAAA players like Cedric Mullins, Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika, et al?
For me, 2022 has been the year I have believed the team would start to ascend. The reason for that is that I do believe in the young talent in this organization and I think that talent starts to pay dividends in a big way in 2022. I am not predicting playoffs from the 2022 roster but I am predicting a run at or above 500 and meaningful August & September games.
In the shortened 2020 season, we started to see glimpses of potential with some of our young guys. I think we will see a lot more of that in 2021. I believe guys like Michael Baumann, Bruce Zimmermann, Yusniel Diaz, Adley Rutschman, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells will start seeing action in the majors. I believe we see progress from guys like DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez that make us very excited about their 2022 seasons.
Make no mistake about it: the Orioles will not contend for anything in the near future unless the existing major and minor league core guys develop. Without it, it doesn’t matter what they spend. The fate of the future of this team is in those players’ hands. It is in the hands of the coaches to coach those players. Of course, not all of these guys will develop and become future pieces but some will and if any of them can become core or even elite pieces, the team should be in good shape going forward.
On top of that, 2022 is a year where the Orioles should have a lot of money to spend. While I don’t believe in building a team through free agency, I do believe in augmenting your roster with select free agents that can help put your team over the top. The problem is, can you sell free agents on this roster, this organization and this plan? That is part of the reason I feel 2021 is so important in terms of not only being more competitive but showing potential free agents that there is talent here and that they can come here and be a part of something special.
I am excited for the 2021 season. I am excited to see the future of this club on full display, both in Baltimore and in the minor leagues. It’s time we start seeing the Elias plan come together and give us hope for the long term.