Thanks to those who responded and sent in questions for our first mailbag.
Question: “How long do you reasonably think it will take to make another playoff push?” @ballhawkdog
Answer: Orioles Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias hasn’t put a timetable on the rebuild, but if everything works out, I think the team could become reasonably competitive in 2022 or 2023.
By then, some of the pitchers that were already in the farm system when Elias took over should be contributing, and players from Elias’ first draft, specifically Adley Rutschman, should be established major leaguers.
Next season probably won’t be much better than last season was, but by 2021, there should be some improvement, and by a year after that, the Orioles could be competitive.
Q-“What dictates what the major league player salary budget will be, and will it increase as the rebuild progresses?” Vince Celano
A-The experience of the major league players is the major factor. The Orioles have a young, inexperienced roster, and only two players, Alex Cobb and Chris Davis, have guaranteed money owed them through 2021. Davis’ contract runs through 2022.
As the team gains experience, the payroll will rise. The most inexperienced players, Hunter Harvey, Austin Hays, Dillon Tate, are the cheapest and won’t be eligible for arbitration for several more years. Among the newest crop of players, Anthony Santander will be arbitration eligible after the 2020 season, and his salary will rise.
As the team grows more competitive, then perhaps they’ll be in the market for accomplished free agents, and that would move the payroll up, too.
Q-“Is the ownership and management dedicated in their heart, mind and soul to finding the best and most talented baseball players from around the world and in the USA to play for the Orioles? Is the ownership and management dedicated to having the best scouts find the best players and having a winning record?: Scott Hollenbeck
A-Elias and his staff have worked tirelessly to scout the best players, nationally and internationally. He’s turned over the existing infrastructure in order to implement his plan.
It will take several years before his efforts can be adequately measured, but his dedication shouldn’t be questioned.
Q- “Why would the Orioles not offer a buyout deal to Chris Davis instead of wasting a roster spot on him for another year ? Waiting for him to return to form is a fool’s errand.”-Glenn Fuller
A-Davis has three seasons left on his contract, and his agent, Scott Boras, is a relentless advocate for players and their rights. I can’t imagine Davis acceding to a buyout that would pay him less than the full amount owed to him.
If the Orioles want to release Davis before his contract expires, he’d be owed the full amount, including deferred money. It would be unlikely he’d settle for less.
Q- “What do you hear about replacing the deposed scouts. What is Elias looking for differently in scouts?” –Vincent Fiduccia
A-The Orioles have hired some scouts to replace those let go, but Elias has said that the team is reorganizing its staff and won’t necessarily hire people for the same positions that were vacated. They’ll also add some new job descriptions. The scouts and others he’s hired or hiring will tend to be younger than those he inherited.
Q-“Which free agent pitcher(s) will we sign?” @PhilBrownridge
A-I doubt that the Orioles will be in the market for any high-profile free agent pitchers. If they sign any pitchers to major league contracts, I think they’ll be lower cost, perhaps coming back from bad seasons or have an injury history.
I expect them to sign a number of pitchers to minor league contracts to compete for jobs both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.
Q-“What makes you so sure that we will get a bad return for Villar? People thought we got a bad return for Cashner and it was one of the best trades this team has ever made.”-AJ Mukherjee
A-I think if the Orioles trade Jonathan Villar, they’ll get a return similar to what they got for Andrew Cashner last July. They received two young players, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelberth Romero, who played in the Dominican Summer League this past season.
Prado will be 18 later this month, and hit .298 with a .405 on-base percentage and .372 slugging percentage. Romero turns 18 next month and hit .279/.336/.317.
The Orioles are looking for young talent, and if they trade Villar, they’ll most likely get players who’ve performed in the Summer League or Short Season ball in the States in return.
While they traded Cashner at the peak of his value, there’s no way to gauge if it was a good trade until we see if either of these players make it to the majors.
Q-“Rich, it seems like MLB is evaluating the state of the game. Attendance is down overall, etc. My questions: is there an appetite for realignment? I read that it is under consideration.”-Chico Salmon
A-Possible realignment is probably several years away. The players relationship with the owners seems to be at a generational low, and until a collective bargaining agreement is settled on, and the current CBA still has two more years, that can’t be considered.
Besides a new CBA, the unsettled stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay have to be resolved. Oakland seems to be ahead of Tampa Bay in this area.
Baseball hasn’t expanded since 1998, and adding two teams to make it 32 would make scheduling easier, and then realignment could be discussed. Until Oakland and Tampa Bay have new stadiums under way, expansion won’t be considered.
Q-“Aside from managing to a budget and filling up the low minors with new players, does Elias have an actual documented plan for reconnecting with O’s fans and growing the base?”—TxBirdFan
A-The best way to reconnect with Orioles fans is to construct a winning team. It’s not the GM’s job to conjure up fan-friendly promotions. That’s for the business side of the club.
If Elias is able to assemble a winning ballclub, attendance will rise. In the meantime, the onus is on the club to come up with promotions that entice and entertain the fans while the team is being built.
Q-“Knowing what you know today who do you think will make up the five-man rotation in 2020? With FanFast canceled, how will the Orioles engage with fans during the off season to keep them interested in the upcoming season? Who will be the starting centerfielder opening day? With rosters expanding to 26 next year, what position do you anticipate occupying that extra spot for the Orioles? Pitcher or fielder?”-Kevin Flynn
A-Those are a lot of questions, but good ones, and I’ll answer them quickly, Kevin. The guess here is that the starting rotation will consist of Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, John Means, Asher Wojciechowski and a pitcher not currently on the team.
I don’t know the Orioles’ plans for replacing FanFest. You’re one of a number of fans curious about a substitute.
I think Austin Hays will be the starting centerfielder on Opening Day.
With the roster expanding to 26, the number of pitchers will be capped. I’m thinking they’ll be limited to 13 with a minimum of 13 position players. For much of the 2019 season, the Orioles went with 13 pitchers and 12 position players as did most other teams.
Q-“Is Mike Elias easy to approach with a tough question?”-Jim Considine
A-Yes, Elias has been regularly available whenever unexpected issues come up –Davis’ argument with manager Brandon Hyde, the Orioles firing front office, scouts and minor league people — and he answers questions fully and directly.
He’s also made himself available around important baseball dates — before and after the draft, the trading deadline and the end of the season.
Elias has actually been more accessible than I expected, and I feel I can ask him anything and get a complete answer.
Q-“What am I really like?”- Steve Melewski
A-I have known @masnsteve for more than 20 years, and I know he really likes a few things — minor league baseball, Towson University football and Vegas Golden Knights hockey.