Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was on Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s staff in 2014 when Chicago’s rebuild was starting to turn and a better-known manager in Joe Maddon was brought in to finish their championship quest.
Renteria met a similar fate this fall with the Chicago White Sox, who instead went with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa for that task.
Hyde, who was officially hired two years ago Monday to be the Orioles’ manager for the painful part of their rebuild, said Monday that he’s “in this for the long haul,” even though he knows the fate that can befall managers in his position after years of losing.
“I knew that when I took the job, that it was going to be some bumpy roads especially early because I’ve been through a rebuilding process before and I understand it doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t happen for a couple years,” Hyde said. “It takes a while. It takes a while to draft well, it takes a while to get guys through the system, and I was very, very aware when I took the job what the situation was going to be like.
“But I felt like I was ready to manage in the big leagues in 2019, I feel even more prepared now. I think you learn every single day. You try to get better. I’m just trying to get better, and I think you guys who know me know that I’m pretty low-ego. I just want to improve. I want to see this through, and I think it’s exciting what we have here going forward.”
Hyde’s first two seasons as Orioles manager have been challenging on several fronts. He and his staff had to plan on the fly after he wasn’t hired until the winter meetings in 2018, and the resulting 54-108 record with a roster full of waiver claims yielded little clarity as to who might stick around long-term.
In the shortened 2020 season, the Orioles had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs two-thirds of the way through the season and weren’t eliminated from postseason contention until the last week of the season, but still ended up at 25-35 and with the fifth-worst record in baseball.
Hyde looked at it through the prism of progress, though, with the debuts of well-regarded prospects Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer, and Keegan Akin showing signs that their plan is on course in his mind.
“I did feel like we made big strides as an organization, big strides as a major league club, in a lot of areas,” Hyde said. “We’ve got some of our young players to the big leagues, especially that last half of the 60-game season, you started seeing some guys that are sort of coming through our system. That’s exciting to get some youth, those guys that we like a lot with the Mountcastles, Dean Kremers, Akins, as well as we saw guys really continue to improve from the year before — Tony Santander, a lot of our guys in our bullpen. I think that we’ve just got to continue to keep getting better. This next year is more of that, giving more guys opportunity, continue to get our young guys, our young players better and really creating a core group of players to compete in the American League East going forward.”
Those players, plus the last two Most Outstanding Orioles in Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander and 2019 All-Star John Means, are the most obvious members of that core.
As they emerge, though, veteran players are leaving the club. The Orioles lost Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar in trades last December, and this offseason released Renato Núñez and Hanser Alberto while trading infielder José Iglesias. During the season, longtime bullpen fixtures Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens, and Miguel Castro were dealt.
“We’re losing some good players, and this is just a little bit a part of where we are as an organization and what we are as a team,” Hyde said.
With plenty of uncertainty as to what the 2021 season will look like because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Hyde said all he could do was plan for spring training in February and a full season to follow. The lack of a minor league season in 2020 means that once that season is underway, it’s hard to forecast debuting prospects who can impact the Orioles the way this year’s rookies did.
Former top prospect Yusniel Diaz still hasn’t played above Double-A and is going to be competing for time in a crowded outfield. Rylan Bannon, an infielder who came to the Orioles with Diaz in the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a candidate to win an infield job in camp. Pitchers Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, both left-handers who were added to the 40-man roster last month, are a rung below Kremer and Akin in terms of their promise as prospects.
Top prospects who can truly move the needle for the Orioles, such as catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, are all still technically in the low minors. As far as possible newcomers who can make an impact, they’re largely unfamiliar ones, such as trade acquisitions Terrin Vavra and Tyler Nevin, waiver claim Chris Shaw or Rule 5 pitchers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
All that might conspire to make it hard for the Orioles to show the progress they did in 2020 with a longer, more grueling season in what will presumably be a harder division with the Boston Red Sox healthy and retooling. Progress for the holdover rookies, a return to health and form for Mancini and Santander, and continued bullpen improvements could be enough for Hyde and the Orioles to tout this time next year.
Same will be true if one of their glut of streaky outfielders like Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins or DJ Stewart puts together a full season of production and emerges from that mix.
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Hyde himself showed signs that, with a more consistent team at his disposal and more reliable performances from the bullpen that his decision-making was sound in 2020. All that and more will be in the spotlight in 2021 as the evaluations on every aspect of this Orioles rebuild continue in search of more signs that the project is on course.