All summer long, the Orioles players were the ones who bore the worst of the club-record 115-loss season. Pitchers played in front of defenses who were being pulled up to major league caliber on the fly. Position players played behind pitchers who were put in situations that their experience level didn't dictate they were ready for.
But now that the season's over, the players and the rest of the baseball world will turn their attention to the pending answers to questions about the club's management structure that were papered over by a half-decade of winning baseball and became untenable this year.
While no players offered their opinions on what should happen with manager Buck Showalter and his coaching staff or executive vice president Dan Duquette, all of whom will be out of contracts at the end of the month, the clear sense among the club's established players — the only ones in a position to speak on such a topic — was that change is expected and needs to happen quickly to take hold.
"The quicker they can answer the questions that are going to be taking place, the overhaul or change in direction or whatever they're deciding to do — whether it's retaining people or letting people go to [figure] out their future — whatever is going to be done needs to happen quickly," pitcher Alex Cobb, who just completed the first year of his four-year contract, said. "That way, you have some kind of sense of direction."
Said right-hander Dylan Bundy: "I think everyone here knows that there's going to be changes. We don't know what they're going to be. But anytime you're at the bottom, as far as losses total in baseball, that's not good, and obviously, something is going to change."
For years, players such as Bundy and Cobb and their predecessors have played under a structure that produced the most wins in the American League from 2012 to 2017. Duquette made countless shrewd acquisitions that helped the team make three playoff appearances in that span, with the smaller moves — such as adding slugger Nelson Cruz in 2014 and Mark Trumbo in 2016, and inexpensively building a rotation in 2012 out of the likes of Miguel González and Wei-Yin Chen in 2012 — proving far better than the bigger ones, like the contracts of Chris Davis and Ubaldo Jiménez. He and Showalter didn't always see eye-to-eye, but it worked until it didn't — and this year's club clearly didn't work.
Cobb signed a week before the season and didn't find his form until after the All-Star break. The Orioles tried to paper over holes in the rotation and right field with the signings of Chris Tillman and Colby Rasmus with disastrous results. There were three Rule 5 draft picks on the roster Opening Day. The farm system couldn't provide necessary replacements, and the resulting team lost more games than all but three teams since 1900.
That brought some of the problems with the organizational structure — including the role of vice president Brady Anderson and the ownership dynamic as the sons of managing partner Peter Angelos, Louis and John, take on more responsibility — to the fore. It was all tenable as the Orioles contend; it just happened to go badly as contracts are set to expire.
"Every organization has its problems and those problems are exposed when you lose, but I think once I came over here and talked to some people, that some of these things had been brewing for a little bit," Cobb said. "But you don't see people's dirty laundry from across the way. You just saw a winning organization since the time I've been up, and you focus on that. You see that, and you see some of the same names that are going to be here. Nobody expected what took place this year to happen."
None of the players would say that had much influence on what the major league roster did this year. For the most part, they have far more significant things to worry about than who's calling the shots. But even throughout the minor leagues, players become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the organization's silo structure. Their major league peers see rectifying that as one of the many factors that can start the club back in the right direction.
"I think if that were to happen, maybe it would kind of hit some people more than right now, but as of right now, nothing too much has happened," outfielder Trey Mancini said. "I don't know exactly what would happen here if things did change up there but obviously, I think a lot of guys in this locker room are hoping to play here for a long time, no matter what happens. Again, you try to start the process of getting things restarted here, and as of right now, I think we're the ones to do it, to start trying to rebuild this organization and get back to winning."
Cobb said that doesn't even need to include changes in personnel above the field level. He came from a Tampa Bay Rays organization that had several different structures over the years, and believes that the players understanding what's happening in the coming weeks and months will be the first step toward moving things in a positive direction.
"I don't think it would send a bad message if you decide to keep things the way they are," Cobb said. "That's fine. But it needs to happen quick. You need to make those decisions quickly, and maybe figure out some of the issues that were causing the problems with that and fix those.
"And if you do that, it shows that we're moving in a direction. But I don't want to ever say anything around those lines because I think all the people here are good people and are good at their jobs. But things weren't run in a way where everyone was on the same page all the time. Everyone here was just focused on what they do. It just needs to be a little bit more structured, maybe. And you can form a path for that, and I think if you give that to the players, show that to the players, talk to the veteran players about it, that this is the direction they're going and we're able to work with it. We just need a direction."