Orioles watch championship teams as they enter Year 2 of rebuild - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles watch championship teams as they enter Year 2 of rebuild

Anibal Sanchez
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan - USA Today

Before Game 7 had even begun, two oddsmakers were already setting lines on the 2020 season. Both SportsBetting.ag and BetOnline reported that the Houston Astros were 5/1 favorites to win next season’s World Series with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees next at 8/1.

The Orioles had the longest odds, 250/1. Of course, the Orioles aren’t going to win the World Series next year, but if you lay down $100, you can win $25,000 if Trey Mancini is holding the trophy a year from now.

It wasn’t that long ago that the odds of an Astros-Nationals World Series were high. From 2008-2013, Washington and Houston had the worst records in the majors in five of six years, and the No. 1 draft choice that goes with it.

Only two of the five top choices played in the World Series. There was Stephen Strasburg, who earned the World Series Most Valuable Player award, and Houston shortstop Carlos Correa.

The two other first-round Astros picks –pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken — never played for Houston. However, because Aiken didn’t sign in 2014, the Astros were able to draft Alex Bregman with the second overall pick in 2015.

Besides Strasburg, who was chosen in 2009, the Nationals picked Bryce Harper in 2010. The top pick in 2011, the year after neither Washington nor Houston had the game’s worst record, was Gerrit Cole, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was also a key figure in this year’s Series.

When Harper left to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training, many Nationals fans were aghast, but because the Phillies didn’t meet his demands, some of that money went to free-agent pitcher Patrick Corbin, a key contributor to Washington’s winning season and its Game 7 victory.

The Nationals also had money to pick up a number of relief pitchers at the trading deadline, including Daniel Hudson, who was vital in shoring up the Nats’ bullpen.

Houston and Washington are instructive in how to build a club. Orioles general manager Mike Elias saw up close how the Astros built their teams, with top picks, trades and some free-agent signings.

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The Nationals had some excellent picks. Besides Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman was the Nationals first pick in 2005, and Anthony Rendon was the sixth overall pick the year after Harper was selected.

While Strasburg and Harper were considered obvious choices, hitting on Rendon showed the talent acumen of Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.

Rizzo is a shrewd trader. He picked up shortstop Trea Turner as part of a complex trade in 2015 that also brought Joe Ross to the Nationals.

International scouting also brought in outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles. Both were signed out of the Dominican Republic as 16-year-olds and rocketed to the majors in four years. Soto, who turned 21 last Friday, is already considered one of the game’s best players.

Corbin and Max Scherzer were big-ticket free agents. Smaller trades and free-agent signings brought the Nationals their primary catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes.

Rizzo was a longtime scout, and talent evaluation has always been his strength. Washington uses analytics, but they also employ scouts. The Nationals had multiple advance scouts studying each of their potential playoff opponents.

While the Nationals and Astros piled up solid draft picks after poor records, that’s not the only way to build a winner.

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, who combined to win four of this decade’s 10 World Series, have never had the overall first pick in the draft.

As Elias completes his first year as GM, it’s far too early to measure his success or assess whehter he’ll try to copy any of the winners’ models. It’s natural to think that he’ll try to pattern the Orioles after Houston, but the American League East is far more competitive with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees than the AL West.

Many old school baseball professionals are rejoicing that the Nationals won, thinking it’s a victory for scouting and player development and a slight turn against analytics.

Repeating as World Series champs has grown more difficult with the extra rounds of playoffs. There hasn’t been a repeat champ since the New York Yankees from 1998-2000.

It’s possible for outliers to win in this environment. In the first two decades of the 21st century, World Series have been won by Arizona (2001), Miami (2003), Chicago White Sox (2005) and Kansas City (2015). It’s just harder for those teams to sustain excellence.

The Nationals will face challenges with a possible opt-out by Strasburg, and a free-agent bonanza awaiting Rendon.

While the Nationals celebrate, the Orioles enter Year 2 of the rebuild, hoping that someday teams will try to copy their success.

Williams becomes free agent: Outfielder Mason Williams refused his outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and elected free agency. Williams, who batted .267 in 11 games, had his season truncated when he sustained knee and shoulder injuries when he hit the left-field wall in Baltimore.

Dustin Hughes, who was an Orioles bullpen catcher last season, has joined the Oakland Athletics in the same capacity.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    November 1, 2019 at 7:15 am

    When the Nationals went after free-agent pitchers, they were willing to spend to get the best available in Scherzer and Corbin. When the O’s were in a competitive phase, they Ignored the top tier and signed “bargains” such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. If Duquette had upped the ante during that 2012-16 period, things might have been different. I don’t care much for the Nats, but kudos to Rizzo for employing all the avenues available to bring in talent, and for trusting his “viejos” to bring home a championship.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      November 1, 2019 at 9:18 am

      My gosh what’s with the Duquette haters?

      F89’er …. do you really believe that it was Duquette that pulled back on the money reigns when he was courting the free agent pitchers? Do you really think Duquette was that concerned with the Angelos family’s bottom line?

      The difference between the money that Duquette had to spend vs. the money that Rizzo played with is the ownership. The Lerners have money and were/are willing to spend it …. Peter Angelos has money and his boys are making sure they get their cut when the day comes.

      • Fareastern89

        November 1, 2019 at 9:44 am

        Not a Duquette hater. Nor am I an Angelos hater, as you appear to be. I did not say it was Duquette’s fault the O’s didn’t sign better pitchers. It may have been Angelos’ call — I have no way of knowing. However, Duquette did seem to pride himself on discovering inexpensive solutions to the O’s problems, so perhaps his penchant for bargains coincided with Angelos’ wishes, although we need to acknowledge that the O’s payroll certainly expanded significantly under their watch. In any case, Duquette was the one publicly offering the contracts, and that’s why I used his name.

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          November 1, 2019 at 10:06 am

          My bad F89. Evidently, I read too much into your post. I apologize.

          • Fareastern89

            November 1, 2019 at 10:12 am

            No problem. I should have been clearer.

      • Orial

        November 1, 2019 at 7:51 pm

        Boog you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m sure if Duquette had it he would have LOVED to spend it. A little cynical about the Sons wanting their cut but ya never know. More the reason to sell the team.

        • Phil770

          November 4, 2019 at 9:56 am

          BTW, the Lerners created issues too. Boras did not negotiate with Rizzo on Free Agents. Nats ownership did not believe in paying managers their market value, so you get Matt Williams and Dave Martinez, and many others. Their previous post season failures were associated with getting outmanaged.

  2. In The Triangle

    November 1, 2019 at 9:02 am

    I like the Adam Eaton trade too.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      November 1, 2019 at 9:20 am

      Roger that.

      • Fareastern89

        November 1, 2019 at 9:47 am

        Let’s see how Giolito does for the rest of his career.

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          November 1, 2019 at 10:05 am

          I thought the same thing … still do to degree … but regardless, Eaton was a key player and contributor to this championship, so I’ll never have a problem with the trade from the Nats point of view.

          • Fareastern89

            November 1, 2019 at 10:13 am

            Good point. They did get what they needed out of it.

  3. Bancells Moustache

    November 1, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Interesting that the old saw ‘grow the arms, buy the bats” is on it’s head here. Houston relied on three hired guns at the top of their rotation, while their closer came via trade. Washington rolled out one homegrown starter, albeit a very good one, while it’s ace and number 3 were both high dollar free agents. The closer also arrived via trade. Both teams lineups were largely homegrown, particular at the elite level (Bregman, Altuve, Springer, Soto, Rendon). I am curious about Washington’s ability to sustain this, but hey, flags fly forever. I haven’t the foggiest memory about the Orioles in 84 and 85. Nor should I. 1983 is all that matters.

    • bv22

      November 1, 2019 at 11:53 am

      The Cubs also had hired guns (Lester and Lackey), two top guns that were acquired by trade (Arrieta, Hendricks), and another gun I don’t remember how they acquired (Hammel). They drafted their lineup which also puts the “grow the arms, buy the bats” axiom on it’s head. Maybe that’s why MacPhail hasn’t put together a World Series Champion since the early ’90s while these other teams are winning championships and are perennial playoff contenders? For the record, I’m a fan of MacPhail and how he turned the O’s around, but his philosophy for constructing a roster may not be relevant any longer.

      • Bancells Moustache

        November 1, 2019 at 12:11 pm

        Boston’s rotation last year was a high dollar mix of superstars bought on the open market as well. I think the moral of the story is you gotta pony up the dough for elite pitching. The Orioles method of looking at the list of available arms and immediately scanning halfway down to the least mediocre option (Gallardo, Jimenez) is a half measure and won’t cut the mustard.

        Just as an academic exercise since it’s so far-fetched, let’s just imagine this Orioles team actually made it to the ALDS this year and got whooped by the Astros. They desperately need starters to get over. Going into the hot stove, I guarantee you every fan reading this would not even consider them making a run at a Gerrit Cole or Madison Bumgarner, we’ve been so conditioned to believe the Orioles “can’t afford it” we would automatically be scouring the League for guys who are just above average.

  4. whiterose

    November 1, 2019 at 11:56 am

    This APP is going bananas.
    I emailed Steve and am awaiting response. Last time it took weeks.

    • willmiranda

      November 1, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      I’m not Steve or using a Banana APP; but if I see him, I’ll tell him you called.

    • whiterose

      November 2, 2019 at 10:38 pm

      will, if you are here you are using banana app

  5. Bhoffman1

    November 1, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Mason Wiliiams who hit great and held his own defensively in difficult CF in Norfolk just was never given a chance . He’s only 28 but I guess that’s old in baseball theses days. If I see Stevie Wilkerson in the outfield next year it will be a joke.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 1, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      Bruce, he was given a chance, but he got hurt. Austin Hays is the future in center field.

    • Bhoffman1

      November 1, 2019 at 7:01 pm

      I’ll take him anyway as a corner outfielder over Dwight Smith Jr

    • ClayDal

      November 1, 2019 at 7:37 pm

      Dwight Smith Jr was actually having a decent year until he crashed into the wall. He finished with 13HR’s and 53 RBI’s in only 101 games. He’s younger (1year) than Williams and I believe still has an option left. Williams is out of options, so the Orioles would have had to DFA him to send him to Norfolk. Odds are still good that Williams winds up back here. Sign a minor league deal, invite to Spring Training. Opt out date if they don’t promote him. And hey they may even find a replacement for DSJ. Don’t think Elias is attached to anyone on the roster

      • Jbigle1

        November 3, 2019 at 11:58 am

        Dwight does not have an option. Doesn’t really matter though. Doubt either Williams or Smith is a big leaguer for very long. Both are placeholder types.

    • Orial

      November 1, 2019 at 7:53 pm

      Agree. Seeing Stevie in the OF would not be a good sign.

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