The Orioles arrived at the All-Star break with one of the worst records in the history of baseball’s 162-game format, so you’re probably thinking that the second half of the season will just be more of the same.
That would certainly be a fair assumption if the won-loss record was really the focus. But the remaining 2 1/2 months of this season have a chance to be a bit more interesting and, just maybe, advance the narrative surrounding the long-term rebuilding effort.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have never hid from the fact that this first full year of the rebuild would be used to evaluate the team’s current inventory and cherrypick the waiver wire to create more of it.
The plan has never been to field a team of promising castoffs and wait for it to grow into a contender, so it would be wise not to get too attached to anyone on the current roster.
The midseason trade deadline is looming and the front office is going to field offers for just about anyone who might fill a hole for a World Series aspirant or a wild-card wannabe.
Elias is still backfilling the minor league system and that process will go on at least through next year’s draft. If Andrew Cashner or Dylan Bundy will bring back a couple legitimate prospects, there’s a real possibility that at least one of them will be wearing a different uniform come August.
No doubt, fans are bracing for the possibility that popular outfielder Trey Mancini will be traded to a contender. It could happen if his value on the midseason market is high enough to remind Elias that Mancini is going to be pushing 30 and closing in on free agency at about the time the Orioles hope the rebuild will be in bloom.
Hope that doesn’t happen because — even in a season of drastically diminished expectations — every franchise needs a face, and Mancini has assumed that role and played it well both on and off the field.
Once the deadline passes, the front office should be in a position to move into a new phase in the inventory evaluation process. If Elias is able to move some players who don’t project beyond next season in his master plan, that will open roster space to audition some of the valued minor leaguers that have yet to get a serious look at the big league level.
Hyde speculated recently that fans might get to see top pitching prospects Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate, though not in the roles they seemed destined for when their minor league seasons began.
The 24-year-old Harvey, the former first-round draft pick whose planned development as a frontline starting pitcher has been undermined by injuries at several junctures, is now pitching out of the bullpen and getting good results. That doesn’t mean he’ll never start a game in the majors, but it could mean he’ll come up soon to help stabilize the Orioles’ relief situation.
Tate, who was considered the centerpiece of the three-pitcher package the Orioles got from the New York Yankees for Zack Britton last July, pitched almost exclusively as a starter in the minors until this season (57 starts in 65 appearances). He was moved into the bullpen this year at his own request and has seen a significant uptick in his velocity.
Though Tate, 25, has never pitched higher than Double-A, the shift to relief gives him a much better chance of making his Camden Yards debut this season.
The Orioles have suffered most from their inability to keep games in reach during the middle innings, which necessitated an almost nonstop roster shuffle during the first half. The “Norfolk Shuttle” will remain in operation, but the chance to see the top arms in the next generation of minor league pitching prospects will add some intrigue for fans who are playing along with the rebuild.
Much depends on what happens over the next three weeks, but a new infusion of organizational talent combined with the club’s recent waiver claims and international slot trades should make the Orioles more watchable down the stretch.