When Brandon Hyde became the Orioles’ manager before the 2019 season, he knew what he signed up for: guiding a rebuilding team that would continually have assets stripped from its major league roster and directed elsewhere, in hopes of building what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias once called an “elite talent pipeline” capable of sustaining a competitive team for years.
Hyde saw that process come to fruition firsthand as a member of the front office and coaching staff of the Chicago Cubs, culminating in a World Series title in 2016. The next season, the Houston Astros won a championship three years after picking first overall in the draft for the third straight season, with Elias overseeing those talent-acquisition efforts as amateur scouting director and assistant general manager.
When Hyde and Elias came to Baltimore, both accepted the price of duplicating those paths: a deluge of losses at the major league level.
As the major league manager, Hyde is the one responsible for answering for those defeats, doing so 12 times in the past 12 days. After the latest, a 3-1 loss Saturday to the Chicago White Sox that marked the Orioles’ 19th in 21 games, he admitted the job he accepted — leading a team designed to lose more often than it wins — is not an easy one.
“This is hard,” Hyde said. “There’s no doubt about it. This is very, very challenging. This is very difficult. It’s frustrating, embarrassing at times. We want to be able to compete in the big leagues.”
As it’s currently built, the roster Hyde oversees simply can’t do that. There are exceptions — Trey Mancini, John Means and Cedric Mullins have offered bright spots — but the Orioles are doing what they were designed to until that “elite talent pipeline” actually reaches Baltimore.
It appears to be getting closer. The organization’s top three prospects — catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall — are all in Double-A, with many of the young players Elias’ front office has acquired thriving at the lower levels of the minors.
But until Hyde can actually write their names on a lineup card, they do nothing to ease the nightly challenge he faces.
“I knew taking the job that it was going to be a lot of work and it was going to be a rebuilding process,” Hyde said. “I did understand that. I’m frustrated a little bit because you want to give the fans of Baltimore something to look forward to and something to hang their hat on, something to be positive about.”
There have been cases of that. Thriving in his return from colon cancer, Mancini is one of the best stories in baseball. A non-prospect who has developed into Baltimore’s ace, Means pitched the franchise’s first complete game no-hitter in more than 50 years earlier this month. But the Orioles have gone 2-19 since, losing all four of Means’ latest starts even as he’s pitched well.
He did so in what was Baltimore’s 12th straight defeat, completing five innings for the 10th time in his 11 outings. The Orioles have received only 15 such starts in their other 41 games, often leaving Hyde to make difficult decisions with his bullpen, a unit that was one of the league’s best in the season’s early weeks before imploding.
In 2019, he faced the same challenge, with there seemingly being no right decision to be made as the Orioles set the sport’s record for home runs allowed. Collectively, they were more competitive in 2020, mathematically in reach of a playoff spot into the last week of a season shortened to 60 games amid the coronavirus pandemic, but they still ended up with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft.
Hyde said Saturday that last year’s group “just didn’t have the bullets” to stay in contention through the season’s final stretch. If the 2021 Orioles have run out of ammo less than two months into the year, they do so with more than 100 games to play, not a couple of weeks’ worth.
But Hyde says the clubhouse remains a generally positive and encouraging one.
“No matter if you’re rebuilding or you’re trying to win a pennant, it’s hard to lose,” Hyde said. “It does stack up, and from a coaching staff standpoint, we’re honest, but we also need to continue to pat guys on the back, kick guys on the butt, continue to do the things that we’re doing, come to the ballpark the same way every day, and that’s our job, and now it’s their job to perform.”
If the Orioles truly follow the model the Cubs and Astros used to win championships, then that job might not be Hyde’s when the team is ready to contend. Chicago replaced Rick Renteria with Joe Maddon. AJ Hinch took over for Bo Porter in Houston.
At each opportunity, Elias has praised the job Hyde has done. For a night, Hyde wasn’t shy about just how difficult that job is.
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“We look overmatched at times for me,” Hyde said. “Our organization’s got to get better up here, and it’s just going to take a little while.”