The Orioles’ rebuild has begun, and the team’s players and staff realize that things are going to start looking a little different now.
The remainder of the season will focus on setting a foundation for the future as the Orioles reach for their “next competitive window,” as Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said.
The Orioles have long fought this moment, entering this season trying to make one more run at the postseason. But everything that made recent Orioles teams successful — top-to-bottom power in the batting order, a seamless defense and an unmeasurable mojo to do the little things that won close games — didn’t show.
“It’s reality,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Saturday. “I could sit here and put my head in the sand, but it’s reality. It’s sad because they’ve had a connection with some really great times here, but we’re preparing for great times in the future. Especially with a club in our situation, things are kind of cyclical. You need to prepare yourself to be good enough to have another good cycle and ride it for as long as you can. I stand accused, all of us, of trying to get another year out of the cycle.”
The trade of shortstop Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers was the first domino to officially spur the rebuild. Other trades of pending free agents will follow, with closer Zach Britton likely the next to go, possibly followed by center fielder Adam Jones and reliever Brad Brach. The Orioles have begun to cut ties with veterans who don’t seem to be a part of the puzzle.
Friday’s move to designate right-hander Chris Tillman is a part of that direction, as the club decided it was best served using his rotation spot to continue to audition young starters such as right-handers Yefry Ramírez and Jimmy Yacabonis.
The team recalled infielder Renato Núñez to start at third base, wanting to see first-hand whether his intriguing bat will play, but most importantly whether his work to become better defensively at third base will make him an asset. Similar moves to access the organization’s inventory of potential big leaguers will continue throughout the second half.
The five players the Orioles received in the Machado trade are just a phone call away from the majors. Infielder Breyvic Valera is at Triple-A Norfolk and already on the 40-man roster, so he’s an easy player to call up and likely will be at some point this season.
The other four players the Orioles acquired in the Machado trade — centerpiece outfielder Yusniel Díaz, right-handed reliever Zach Pop, right-handed starter Dean Kremer and third baseman/second baseman Rylan Bannon — are at Double-A Bowie. While they could see big league promotions during the second half — getting a look at Díaz would be especially intriguing — they are more likely to compete for big league roster spots next spring, Duquette said.
“I always talk about out-opportunity-ing people and that’s what we’re going to do,” Showalter said. “I know if I was one of those five players traded over here, I’d be on cloud nine. But not only them, the other people. We’ve got a lot of good prospects in this organization. Guys who I’ve had a lot of fun watching them develop with the reports and everything everyday and now a lot of that, the opportunity will be there for them. They control it now, like they always have. Not many people stand in their way, so from a morale standpoint, it’s really high throughout the organization. Think about the impact of the scouts and the player development people and the players, everybody knows what they’re doing is going to be very impactful in the near future.”
Duquette, whose future along with Showalter’s is still in question beyond this year because they are in the final year of their contracts, said this week that the organization will invest more in scouting, analytics and international signings, especially the Latin American market that the Orioles have long ignored.
While the Orioles’ farm system has more intriguing prospects than years past, there’s no next version of Machado.
Cleaning house will continue. Britton will likely be the next to move, and after he and Brach are dealt, the team will audition the next wave of late-inning arms, with right-hander Mychal Givens and left-hander Tanner Scott most likely to receive the opportunity to close out games.
The Orioles must again place a priority on defense, which was critical to their success in their playoff seasons. During the Orioles’ division-winning season in 2014, they posted 57 defensive runs saved, the third best mark in baseball. This year, the Orioles’ minus-90 defensive runs saved makes them the worst defensive team in baseball.
Moving Jones, the team’s longest-tenured player, would free up the possibility of Cedric Mullins in center field. Former first-rounder DJ Stewart could follow. Forty-man roster space must be made for both, but trades should allow that space to naturally open up.
“We knew that the run that we had made — and continued to try to make at some point — was going to have to be a different direction,” Showalter said. “That’s the way the industry is and the way things work for certain clubs. We’re got plenty of resources to complete and we just have to stay true to ho we’re going to do it, much like we did when we first got here.”
The Orioles officially began their rebuild this weekend in Toronto, the same place where they played the American League wild-card game 1 ½ seasons ago. They’ve gone on a much different trajectory since that game ended with Edwin Encarnacion’s walkoff homer off Ubaldo Jimenez with Britton unused in the bullpen. Now, they are winding up for a fresh start.
“Some of these guys have been here a long time and have done some great things,” Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini said. “So after you’ve been around that, you want to have that success and make the playoffs. The wild card game here two years ago was by far the coolest experience I’ve been a part of. You always want that, but you realize you have to rebuild and kind of restock your minor league system. It takes some time for guys to develop. It takes some adjustment when you get up here. It can be seen as an exciting time for sure. And it can definitely take a couple of years, and hopefully we’re all here. We’re still going to keep trying to win every day.”