SARASOTA, FLA. — It has been obvious since July that this spring would be all about the kids, but new Orioles general manager Mike Elias and rookie manager Brandon Hyde made it clear Tuesday that the handful of veterans on the roster still can have a big impact on the organization’s budding rebuilding effort.
We’re not talking about a scenario in which an Alex Cobb or an Andrew Cashner or a Mark Trumbo could bring more prospects in a midseason deal, though that’s also a possibility in a year when competitive concerns will be suspended in favor of developmental progress.
This was more about the contribution players with long track records could make to aid in the development of the baby birds, particularly when it comes to the wide-open pitching staff.
“That's one of the big benefits of having them on the team,” Elias said, “because not every pitcher in our rotation is going to be a grizzled veteran this year. We just don't have enough to go around, and having Andrew Cashner, Cobb and Dylan Bundy help these guys out and giving them pointers for acclimating to a major league workload and pitching in the American League East is something that we're relying on, and they know that. They're more than happy to inhabit that role, and they're good guys for it.”
Bundy isn’t exactly grizzled, of course. He’s 26, but Elias lumped him in with the older guys because of the amount of experience he has at such a young age. Trey Mancini, who is entering only his third full season at the major league level and turns 27 next month, also will be depended on for leadership, which just shows how young this Orioles roster has become.
The thirty-something guys — a group of six rostered players that also includes first baseman Chris Davis, reliever Richard Bleier and newly signed pitcher Nate Karns — are in a different category. Hyde said he’ll look to them to help keep him apprised of the pulse of the team.
“I'm going to rely on them heavily,’’ Hyde said. “There’s a lot of really good veteran guys. The veteran guys here are unbelievable guys with high character, team first and are egoless that I’m going to rely heavily on. We're going to have meetings — it's collaborative — on what the clubhouse feel is, how the work is going out on the field, just the overall feel of the team. I'm going to rely heavily on them from their standpoint on how they feel about things.”
Trumbo, who has been working out at the Ed Smith Stadium facility for more than a week, already had taken on a mentorship role with some young players last year. He said Tuesday that he’s looking forward to helping many of the position prospects get prepared to compete for a job in a major league environment.
“I think there’s a lot of guys that are ready to work … ready to learn,’’ he said. “I think everybody understands where we’re at as a team and the challenges that are going to be coming, especially for some of these guys who are in the mix for a spot. They’re going to fight it out and you want them to fight it out through the spring and whoever plays the best will get that job and that usually gives you a chance to have a pretty good season, too. It’s a confidence-builder to win a spot out of spring and I think we’re going to be better for it.”
Still, Trumbo is a firm believer in leading and teaching by example, something he benefited from when he came up on a star-studded Los Angeles Angels team a decade ago.
“I think the best thing I can do is play to the best of my ability and fight for a spot just like everyone else,’’ he said. “I think that’s always a good thing. You don’t want anything gift-wrapped to you in this game, at least me personally. I like to always feel like there’s somebody coming up behind you. But I’d like to see a lot of the steps that these guys take, especially the ones that don’t have any experience at the top.
“It’s a fun process to see a guy on his first day and then maybe wrap up his first year or second year. A guy like Trey comes to mind for that and you’re seeing him grow and this spring will be a time for him to start doing his own leadership and helping the guys that are a little bit younger than him.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that any or all of the older players will still be on the roster at the end of the season. It really is about the kids this year and the Orioles might be able to get more of them by trading a productive veteran or two along the way. Elias would not discount that possibility.
“Realistically, every front office in baseball is going to be eyeing every market — the free-agent market, the trade market,’’ Elias said. “That's our job. That's what we're here to do and we will take those things as they come. But they're going to help us right now. I'm glad they're here in the organization. We need their help, and they're good guys and they're good leaders for our guys.”