At Mike Elias’ final media session for the 2021 season, the Orioles’ executive vice president expressed optimism that the 2022 team would be better than the 2021 version, which lost 110 games.
“We think that this team will continuously get better from this point forward,” Elias said on September 30th. “We have a lot of young talent. Young talent tends to get better. We know we’re far away form the other competitors in our division.”
In the last three complete seasons, 2018, the year before Elias arrived, 2019 and 2021, the Orioles have lost 333 games.
Before 2018’s franchise-record 115 losses, the Orioles had lost 100 games only twice — in 1954, their first year in Baltimore, when they were 54-100, and in 1988, when they began the season with 21 straight losses and finished 54-107.
A seven-game improvement, from 47-115 in 2018 to 54-108 in 2019, the first season for Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, wasn’t anything to get excited about.
There was some sense an upswing in the pandemic-shortened 60-game 2020 season when the Orioles were 10 games under .500 at 25-35. That extrapolated to a 95-loss season, but the Orioles’ 2021 record was much worse than that, including losing streaks of 14 and 19 games.
Because of the Major League Baseball lockout, which has reached a month, the Orioles and other teams can’t add players on major league contracts. In his previous years, Elias has added players in the weeks just before spring training and even as spring training began.
Assuming the lockout doesn’t end until at least the end of this month, Elias’ work will have to be done more quickly. The Rule 5 draft, in which the Orioles have the first pick, will be held when it ends. The arbitration-eligible players — first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini, left-handers John Means and Tanner Scott , and outfielder Anthony Santander — must agree on salaries.
Left-handed starter Jordan Lyles’ signing needs to be made official, and additional players could be signed..
There’s still no catcher on the 40-man roster. Anthony Bemboom and Jacob Nottingham were signed to minor league contracts last month.
Catcher and top prospect Adley Rutschman doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until he’s ready to make his Orioles’ debut.
Rougned Odor was signed just before the lockout as a candidate to play second base. More infielders and perhaps an outfielder could be signed.
Assuming Rutschman and top pitching prospect right-hander Grayson Rodriguez make their debuts this season, how much difference will it make? If there’s a 15-game improvement, that still means 95 losses. Would that be enough to show that things are finally getting better?
Even though the farm system is considerably better, an improvement of 20 games, 72-90, seems unlikely.
In 1989, the year after the Orioles were 54-107, they contended for the American League East with an 87-75 record.
Ten years ago, in 2012, the Orioles ended their string of 14 straight losing seasons, improving from 69-93 in 2011 to a 93-69, and earning a wild-card spot.
That improvement came after the Orioles were 22-16 in the final weeks of 2011 and knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the postseason in a dramatic final game.
The Orioles appeared on the upswing, but .500 was an optimistic forecast. The 24-game improvement was nearly as stunning as the 33 additional wins in 1989.
The 2012 team had veterans: J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters, and a promising rookie added in August, Manny Machado. This team has Mancini, Santander, outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins and first baseman/designated hitter Ryan Mountcastle with Rodriguez, Rutschman and perhaps starters Kyle Bradish, DL Hall and Kevin Smith to come later in the season.
Last season, the four other American League East teams won between 91 and 100 games. The Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays return formidable lineups and accomplished pitching, which the Orioles can’t realistically hope to compete with yet.
When the lockout ends, it will be a scramble to complete the roster. Perhaps then a more realistic forecast for 2022 can be made.