Last week’s Winter Meetings served to re-emphasize what every Oriole fan should already know. Next season isn’t going to be much different than 2019.
The departures of starting pitcher Dylan Bundy and infielder Jonathan Villar could make 2020 every bit as challenging as the 2019 season, but next year might be more entertaining.
The low point of the 54-108 season came in late June when the Orioles had a 10-game losing streak and dropped 13 of 14.
That skid put them at 22-58, one game shy of the mathematical halfway point. The rest of the season was slightly better, and the Orioles finished 32-50, a pace that would have put them just under 100 losses.
In the second half of the season, the Orioles played largely without Andrew Cashner, their best pitcher in the first half, who was traded July 13 to the Boston Red Sox for two promising 17-year-olds.
They played with power-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander and power pitcher Hunter Harvey down the stretch. The play of centerfielder Austin Hays was a September highlight.
Presumably, Harvey, Hays and Santander will all be healthy for Opening Day. Hays should be the centerfielder, and outfielder/infielder Ryan Mountcastle could add his strong bat to the lineup sometime around June 1. Others will come later on.
There are a handful of positions already set, if additional trades aren’t made. Hays, Santander and Trey Mancini should comprise the starting outfield, although Mancini also should get time at first base. Cedric Mullins, Dwight Smith Jr. and Mason Williams should compete for backup positions, although another outfielder could be added on a minor league contract.
Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns are the catching candidates, and a fourth catcher is likely be added on a minor league contract.
General manager Mike Elias said last week that even though fans would see catcher and top draft pick Adley Rutschman in spring training, he wouldn’t play for the Orioles in 2020.
Rio Ruiz, who was claimed on waivers during the 2018 Winter Meetings, did a creditable job at third base. Perhaps we’ll see more of Hanser Alberto there, but manager Brandon Hyde said that he was wary of overusing Alberto, who hit nearly .400 against left-handers in 2019.
“I thought I wore out Hanser last year, to be honest with you,” Hyde said last Wednesday. “He played so much. I don’t think he was used to the innings and the at-bats. He hadn’t played like that in a long time.”
Alberto finished with a .305 average in 139 games, but in the last two weeks of the season, he hit just .182. He played both second and third base, and although he has played some shortstop, he didn’t play there at all in 2019.
“I think you’re going to see a guy that’s a little more light on his feet this year,” Hyde said. “There is going to be a possibility of being able to stick him at shortstop, like we did in the spring or like they have done in the past. But I think there is a possibility of that happening. Really all depends on our roster.”
The Orioles have lost Villar, who split time between shortstop and second, and seem determined to start shortstop Richie Martin, who hit .208, in the minor leagues after his Rule 5 year. They’re going to need additional infielders.
They’ve added two utility players — Pat Valaika, who came from Colorado on waivers, and Dilson Herrera, signed to a minor league contract.
José Peraza, who was not offered a contract by Cincinnati, signed with Boston instead of the Orioles. Adeiny Hechevarría, who played for the Mets and Braves last season, continues to be linked to the Orioles. They first considered the shortstop/second baseman in 2017, but traded for Tim Beckham. Other names will surface.
The Orioles did add two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, both of whom could be considered candidates for the starting rotation — Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker. Bailey hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and Rucker has just four innings of Triple-A experience.
Hyde said that he would like eight starting candidates come February 11 when spring training begins. The Orioles have John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Bailey and Rucker.
Besides sifting through Ty Blach, Tom Eshelman, Luis Ortiz, Chandler Shepherd, who started and were outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, a few signings, both of the major league and minor league variety, are likely.
The Orioles have some interesting young pitchers coming to spring training for the first time — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmerman, but all could start the season at Norfolk.
Elias is nearly through tearing down what he inherited. His front office, manager, coaching, scouting and minor league staff are largely new hires.
The hardest part is constructing a roster. Just under a third of the 40-man roster (13) are new to the organization since Elias took over — Alberto, Bailey, Martin, Rucker, Ruiz, Severino, Smith, Valaika, Wojciechowski pitchers Shawn Armstrong, Marcos Diplan, who was claimed on waivers from Detroit last week, Eric Hanhold and Cole Sulser, both waiver claims yet to pitch for the team.
There will be new players added and some players from the old regime will go before Opening Day, but Elias is building the team methodically.
Despite his protestations, fans still care about the win/loss record. Even if the Orioles somehow improve by 10 wins, that’s still 98 losses, an unacceptably high total.
The Orioles have another high draft pick, the second overall, and can exercise the second claim on players put on waivers.
By this time next year, another difficult season will be over, and perhaps by then, the team can begin to be judged by its record.