The Orioles are changing everything. They’ve traded away six longtime players, acknowledged they’re rebuilding and spending money on international scouting, technology, analytics and minor league development instead of the major league roster.
Amid all these changes, there’s one thing that shouldn’t change: Buck Showalter.
Unnoticed in all the tumult of the week just past was the eighth anniversary of Showalter’s hiring as manager. He and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette don’t have contracts for next season. While Duquette was in the news for the roster remake, Showalter suddenly seemed to be irrelevant to the rebuild.
However, Showalter is hardly irrelevant. If he’s allowed to continue, he could be extremely relevant in the next chapter of Orioles history.
He was the manager who oversaw the makeover of the team that led to three postseason appearances from 2012-16.
As a new, lesser-known group takes the place of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day and Jonathan Schoop, Showalter can play a vital role in their development.
He’s always been a stickler for fundamentals, and watching the deterioration of his team’s defense has eaten at him.
Showalter has acknowledged that many young players are rushed to the majors these days and need remedial instruction in fundamentals.
He’s always been great at getting along with star players, but he shines at working with players who have been overlooked—players like he was a generation ago—and finding a way for them to be useful.
That’s what the Orioles need now.
It wasn’t Showalter who insisted on flooding the roster with Rule 5 draft choices, nor did he think it wise that the team abandon Latin America.
He’s fully on board with the team’s new direction, and the team ought to be on board with him.
Showalter can teach a young team—as he did the Orioles when he took over in August 2010. The Orioles had a few pieces — Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters—and little else. Yet, the team went 34-23 after he took over.
After his 2011 team was 30 games under .500 and heading for 100 losses in late August, the Orioles finished 22-16 and knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs. A year later, the Orioles began to win.
It showed that Showalter has the patience to work with less-than-skilled teams. With his guidance and input — and an influx of young talent — the Orioles can win again.
Throughout his time with the Orioles, Showalter has had a global view of the organization, and the sport. He knows about every player in the organization. When a few of the players recently acquired in trades visited his office, one came away impressed with his knowledge of him as a player, and the Orioles’ minor league teams.
Showalter is adaptable. Although he often reminds people that analytics don’t tell the whole story, he’ll listen to anything that would help the team.
He’s a keen observer of baseball trends, too. That’s why commissioner Rob Manfred has him on the game’s Competition Committee. That knowledge helps him in managing the club.
In recent years, the game has gone away from big personality managers. In their place are younger former players, some of whom have never managed at any level. There aren’t many managers who learned the game in the minor leagues as Showalter did.
It would be a shame if that type of experience was underestimated by the Orioles.
For many years, managers like Bobby Cox, Dusty Baker and Joe Torre talked endlessly with the press about anything, and that’s what Showalter does. It’s a way of communicating your thoughts with the fans.
Today, many managers are well spoken without saying much. Managers are often asked to do less and rely on decisions made at levels above them.
That’s not Showalter, and just because many other teams function that way, doesn’t mean the Orioles should.
The Orioles should embrace analytics. Anything that can teach you how to win more games should be a useful tool. The foray into international scouting is long overdue, and so is spending money on player development.
Those are all industry trends, and good ones, but replacing an ultra-experienced manager with someone new doesn’t strike me as wise.
This year has been difficult on Showalter. His team almost assuredly will finish with 100 losses for the first time in two decades of major league managing.
Next year is likely to be challenging, too, but Showalter can work through that. A less experienced manager could be traumatized by a 95 or 100-loss season.
In 2019, the Orioles are likely to be without Adam Jones, who is the only player on the team left from when Showalter took over. Jones has been the franchise’s face during the good years.
Who will represent the Orioles as they rebuild?
During the 14 losing seasons, the Orioles almost always had a player fans could rally around, whether it was Cal Ripken Jr. during his final years or Brian Roberts, who’ll enter the team’s Hall of Fame this weekend.
Next year, the team isn’t likely to have a player fans can identify with, though as the public gets comfortable with younger players, that could change.
In the absence of a dynamic personality like Jones, who better to represent the Orioles than Showalter?
At 62, he’s in good health and has lots of energy and passion for his job. He’s embraced challenges before, whether it was managing the Yankees at 35, building an expansion team in Arizona or awakening a franchise in Baltimore.
A knock on Showalter in the past was that he was never able to stick with a job beyond four seasons. That’s been dismissed with his nine seasons here.
Some fans say they’re tired of Buck. If the Orioles were winning, they wouldn’t be tired of him. What they don’t get is that his steady hand can be just as useful with Keegan Akin, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart and Steve Wilkerson as it was with Britton, Jones, Machado and Schoop.
The season still has nearly two months left, but the best move the Orioles can make in its final weeks is to bring back Buck Showalter for 2019—and beyond.