The Ravens’ run to the playoffs rightfully garnered plenty of attention on the local sports scene, with quarterback Lamar Jackson symbolizing a seismic shift in both how they play and how they’re perceived.
Their counterparts, the Orioles, don’t necessarily have an on-field avatar to represent all their changes that will be on display when the parking lots along Russell Street are full once again in early April. But that’s not to say the club hasn’t been busy this football season.
With five weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., for spring training to begin the next era of Orioles baseball, here’s a primer on the club’s offseason while football took the city’s attention the past few months.
1. Everyone and everything is going to be new ...
Three days after last season ended, the Orioles started what became a sweeping, franchise-altering set of personnel moves that ended the mostly successful period under executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, and put the organization on a different track.
That era of Orioles baseball was about using every asset the organization had to maximize the talent around what was a very strong major league core, one that made the playoffs three times in five seasons from 2012 to 2016. Once it went sideways, though, the emphasis from John and Louis Angelos was to build the Orioles' player development apparatus by modernizing their personnel and operations.
They ended up selecting Mike Elias, previously the assistant general manager of the Houston Astros, as their new executive vice president and general manager. Elias was responsible for the amateur scouting success in Houston, and he brought along two others who excelled in areas the Astros thrived in — assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal and minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt — to first get the Orioles up to speed in those areas and then bring them forward.
In the dugout, former Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde will be taking over for Showalter. Hyde's player development background makes clear the Orioles' emphasis on growing from within and improving what they have.
For years, the Orioles have been defined by their stars and their manager. The stars are long gone, and the management structure has been flipped upside down. It's going to be a lot of new faces and voices to get used to.
2. ... except for the players
That doesn't mean the players will be much different from the ones who ended last year's 115-loss season, though. Gone are free-agent outfielder Adam Jones, who for the past decade has been the face of the Orioles, as well as catcher Caleb Joseph and infielder Tim Beckham, who weren't tendered contracts for 2019.
Those looking for new faces might have to squint hard. Some of the newcomers from late last season will play prominent roles, including outfielders Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart as well as infielder Jonathan Villar. A pair of onetime top prospects in outfielder Austin Hays and catcher Chance Sisco will get fresh starts to try their luck in the majors again at some point. The rotation will feature a lot more of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb.
Only Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson can be counted as fresh faces, but they could figure prominently in how things play out in 2019.
3. No one is promising much about how good they'll be in 2019, or when they'll be good again
Each new figure in the Orioles’ new leadership has been careful not to assign a timeline to when the team might be ready to win consistently at the major league level again. Elias has said the focus is going to be on drafting and developing a championship-level core before the team starts to "shift gears toward maximizing major league wins."
Hyde said the only mandate for what will be an unproven club will be to improve and compete each night. None of those tasks include actually sending fans home happy from Camden Yards with major league wins, but even as this team was winning in recent years, a large portion of the fan base knew it wasn't enough.
4. People seem pretty fine with it ...
Even stretching back to the 2016 team that spent most of the year in first place and ended up losing the American League wild-card game in Toronto, the previous edition of the Orioles left a lot to be desired for fans. It seems like from the 2014 run to the American League Championship Series until September 2017, when a team that began the month just outside the playoff picture collapsed, this was a team in purgatory, and one without much hope for the future.
It seems like those who held out hope with that bunch and those who long since abandoned it are united in the idea that with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as good as they are at the moment, it's fine to embrace a plan like Elias and company have put forth.
With the first overall draft pick in June, a new international scouting director in Koby Perez tasked with building their efforts in that area and some of the modern data and technological practices coming from Houston, there's plenty for the smart set of fans in Baltimore to latch onto until the wins come.
5. ... except for the players
That might all ring hollow for the actual players on the field, though. Every team that has done what the Orioles hope to do has met some dissent on the field — in Houston, it was former Oriole Bud Norris who took issue with the lack of winning.
Even as it's largely accepted that the Orioles are going in the right direction, the players’ perspective is one that's largely been missing. What's someone like Cobb or Cashner, who signed on as the final pieces of a playoff aspirant a year ago, going to think about a team with no such aspirations in 2019 and beyond? What about the likes of Trey Mancini, Bundy and Mychal Givens, who are under club control for several years but not necessarily for long enough to see things turn around? And what's this all going to mean for Chris Davis, who with four years left on his massive contract is the antithesis of what an operation like this would hope to have on its books?
All that's certain is they won't be using the word rebuild as much as everyone else is. In a few weeks, first at FanFest and later as players report to spring training, we'll find out what they do say about it.