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As shortened campaign nears its end, Orioles brace for offseason of uncertainty: ‘We’re just going to take it as it comes’

A day before the finale of a regular season that’s completion, let alone existence, was far from guaranteed, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias looked ahead to another area of uncertainty for his organization and all others: an offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout Major League Baseball, the exact impact of the pandemic, which prevented fans from attending games and thus severely limited a significant revenue source, on teams' spending and free agency efforts remains unknown. But Elias said Saturday during his end-of season media session that he expects it to be an atypical offseason.

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“We’re going into a very uncertain offseason from a number of angles,” Elias said. "Outside of baseball, businesses in general do a lot of planning, budgeting. Baseball teams do a lot of planning, looking ahead, and just all of that is just totally out of the window because of this event that came in and turned the world upside down.

“We can’t estimate our revenue or our attendance. We can’t estimate various things that we look at when we look into a player or a roster budget. It’s just so day-to-day. There’s new info coming out every week. The rules are evolved. There’s been a lack of ability to plan that I expect will persist through this winter, and we’re just going to take it as it comes and navigate it as well as we possibly can, but I don’t have sweeping answers on that front.”

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Tied into that is the ever-looming contract of first baseman Chris Davis, who has two seasons remaining on his seven-year, $161 million deal. Through the first five seasons, he has hit .196/.291/.379, ending 2020 on the injured list with no home runs and a left knee injury.

Given that this year’s shortened season led to the proration of players' salaries — while players who had been released before the pandemic received full pay — it’s possible the Orioles wait until there is more clarity on the 2021 season before making any decision about Davis' future. As he has in the past, Elias emphasized Saturday that Davis is under contract and that the Orioles take that seriously.

“It was not a successful year for Chris on a number of fronts,” Elias said. “It’s a frustration for everyone involved, and it’s a tough situation for everyone involved, and that includes him. We’re taking it as it comes. He is under contract with this team. There’s a lot that goes into that, and we do not have plans to alter that fact.”

For an Orioles organization that remains focused on the development of the players in its minor league system, the lack of clarity in that regard also hampers Elias' planning efforts. He said he hopes the team is able to have some form of offseason instructional league, especially for players who weren’t included in the club’s player pool and were unable to participate in activities at the alternate training site in Bowie.

“We do have a lot of anxiety over what the lack of a real minor league season may cause these guys in terms of development,” Elias said.

That said, he was pleased with the growth of players who were part of the alternate site or major league roster, crediting manager Brandon Hyde and his staff for the latter.

“It’s been an extremely difficult year to be a major league manager, which is one of the hardest jobs in sports to begin with,” Elias said. “Everything that he’s had to deal with, on a day in and day out basis, it’s been crazy. I think he’s handled it with grace and humanity, and he also continues to be a good baseball coach. I think everyone’s impressed with the work that he’s done, and it’s exciting having him as part of the organization.”

Between 2019 Most Valuable Oriole Trey Mancini’s colon cancer diagnosis in March and everything the mid-pandemic shortened season has brought with it, Hyde called it “an educational year.”

“It’s been a wild one,” Hyde said. "There’s been a lot of things thrown my way. I feel like I’ve handled things the best I possibly could. There’s been a lot of non-baseball stuff that’s come into my office and in our clubhouse.

“This is one of those years that you can never prepare for, and there’s no course to take on how to deal with the things that we’ve done on a daily basis, but I am proud of how we have handled everything.”

Elias was especially grateful that the Orioles generally avoided the virus impacting their roster, with a handful of cases discovered during preseason intake testing and no positive tests during the campaign. He praised the efforts of head athletic trainer Brian Ebel, “who has babysat the entire organization day and night through all kinds of issues and work and drama,” and his staff in helping the team follow coronavirus-related protocols.

Elias also expressed excitement for the continued improvement of the Orioles' minor league system, this year boosted through the addition of a collection of prospects in a five-round draft and an untraditional trade deadline. But he recognizes there remains room to grow on the major league roster.

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“On the field, while our record does not reflect where we ultimately strive to be and expect to be, we feel that even despite the circumstances, we managed to make the progress in our plan that we wanted to see, saw a good albeit short draft that has along with other trades and player improvement have helped elevate our farm system firmly into the top 10,” Elias said. “I think it’s very difficult for me to label any season a success where we have a losing record and don’t make the playoffs, but I see enough positive things where we can feel good this year was far from wasted and that there was progress made toward our ultimate goals.”

Around the horn

  • With Mancini completing his chemotherapy treatments this week, Elias said the Orioles are hopeful he’ll be able to rejoin the team in 2021, assuming his efforts to regain strength and perform baseball-related activities go well this offseason.
  • Elias declined to say whether the Orioles will pick up shortstop José Iglesias' $3.5 million option for 2021, but he said of the veteran infielder, who entered Saturday hitting .370/.397/.543 for Baltimore: “His impact on the team has been plain to see this year. He’s really helped us, and we love having him.”
  • Right-hander Mike Baumann, the Orioles' No. 12 prospect according to Baseball America, had his season ended early because of a flexor mass strain in his right elbow, a muscular injury where there was no ligament damage, Elias said. “We fully expect him to be healthy for spring training,” Elias said.

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