2020 was the most challenging year of our lifetimes. It was a rotten year for everyone, and a particularly difficult one for optimists.
When spring training abruptly ended on March 12th, and I left Florida two days later, I was convinced I’d return in a month.
Not only have I not been back, but I haven’t been on an airplane since.
New Year’s is traditionally the beginning of the end to the offseason. It means that spring training is about six weeks away, and it’s time to get ready for 2021.
As we end 2020, it would be hard to find many in baseball who think that spring training will begin on time in mid-February. The Orioles are scheduled to begin camp in Sarasota on February 16th. They’ve been advertising ticket packages for spring training games.
I’m sure there will be a spring training. I’m just not sure when it will be.
Unless the owners insist on playing a full 162-game season, which seems unlikely, there’s certain to be another nasty fight between players and owners on finances.
If the owners want to play fewer than 162 games, then players will want to be paid for a full season. Eventually, it will sort itself out.
The guess here is that spring training will begin around the time the regular season is scheduled to start, April 1st, and that the 2021 season will be roughly double the length of the 60 games we saw in 2020.
I think there will be no repeat of games without fans, and that the owners want to be able to have at least some fans in the stands to begin 2021.
If the Orioles can begin the season at even 10 percent of capacity, say between 4,000 and 5,000, that’s a beginning. As health conditions improve, then that number can increase.
For those of us who cover the team, we’ll begin with Zoom interviews, just as in 2020. It’s not ideal, but it’s the reality for now. Perhaps by the time the season nears its end, we’ll be able to revert to our normal access.
The third year of the Orioles’ rebuild, which many hope will be the last, will be another fascinating one, no matter the season’s length.
Can young pitchers, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann pitch well enough to contribute to an improvement next season?
Will Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann be joined by Michael Baumann and Zac Lowther later in the season?
Can Austin Hays remain healthy for a full season and produce as a major league regular?
Will Trey Mancini make it back from cancer and be the productive team leader he was in 2019?
That is an easy one for me. I’m confident that Mancini will return and star again.
There are many other questions to be answered in 2021.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has said that 2019’s overall No. 1 pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, will begin 2021 at Double-A Bowie.
We just don’t know when the minor league season will begin, and the composition of the leagues.
High-A Aberdeen, which replaces Frederick, is the only major change in the Orioles’ system.
Frederick is where Rutschman would have begun 2020 had there been a minor league season. We know he wouldn’t have played in the major leagues last year, but will he make his debut in 2021?
The minor leagues have four affiliates — Triple-A Norfolk and Low-A Delmarva return along with Bowie and Aberdeen.
In the weeks before spring training begins, the Orioles probably will sign a starting pitcher or two. There are so many to choose from and, because the market is slow, they could get by with signing them to minor league contracts.
A major question is who the Orioles’ starting shortstop will be? One name that has interested the Orioles for several years, Adeiny Hechevarria, has fallen off the board. Hechevarria signed a contract to play for the Chiba Lotta Marines in Japan over the holidays.
According to MLBTradeRumors.com, there are 11 free-agent shortstops available. A popular name is Freddy Galvis, a 31-year-old who played for Cincinnati last season.
Galvis’ 2020 salary was $5.5 million, and he’d have to settle for a much lower number. However, after hitting .220 with a .712 OPS last year, that shouldn’t be a major issue.
Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons are the biggest names on the list, but they’re presumably out of the Orioles’ price range.
While the team has Richie Martin, Yolmer Sánchez, Ramón Urias and Pat Valaika on the 40-man roster, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be someone else joining them in Sarasota.
The signing of Nick Ciuffio to a minor league contract adds to the Orioles’ catching depth, but there are many more catchers available than shortstops. Another veteran addition seems plausible, perhaps one who could mentor Rutschman.
As 2021 is set to begin, this optimist hopes for a much better year, though the realist knows that our problems won’t disappear quickly.
A longer season means more storylines, and that’s good for everyone. My hope is that your storylines in 2021 will be far more promising than the were in the year that we’re so eager to wave off.