A 115-loss season is as strong an indication as any that change is required, and in removing manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette as their contracts expired this month, the Orioles ensured it's coming in some form.
What's unclear, and won't be known until replacements are hired and staffs are rebuilt, is how significant that change will be. The Orioles are in a tenuous spot from a baseball sense, with prospect depth but not the quality or impact talent to reverse things quickly, and a major league roster with only a handful of assets. There's also the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network litigation looming over the business side of the franchise.
All that conspires to make a situation ripe for vast change. Here are the five questions the Orioles need to answer as they replace the decision-making leaders from their recent renaissance.
Are they going to follow the recent rebuild blueprint?
If the Orioles' full tear-down in July is any indication, they're setting things up for a long-lead rebuild that will take years, not months, to come to fruition. The types of people who have run similar plans, with the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs earlier in the decade and the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies more recently, fit a similar mold.
Save for Theo Epstein and his staff in Chicago, the executives came from successful teams where they were lieutenants to successful general managers and got experience in all facets of team-building, blending the ubiquitous analytics revolution into traditional evaluation and vigorous amateur recruitment to build winners.
Every successful team has someone who fits that mold in their directory. Many come from the Epstein tree, and still more burst onto the scene each year as new playoff teams emerge from the shadows. It's a formula that requires patience and trust, but has a history of working if it's run the right way.
Can they get their man this time?
That caveat isn't unique to Baltimore, though it's never really gone away here. The team's announcement of their management changes emphasized that the outside hire would have final say in baseball decisions, but that's only really required when there's a reputation for that not being the case.
To that end, the Orioles targeted many of these young, modern executives the last time they needed a baseball head. They couldn't land any of them, and instead had to bring in Duquette from a decade in the baseball wilderness to run things.
Such a statement in the team's release about the changes that are coming indicates the Orioles are going back to that well again, and won't take no for an answer — even if it means people at the highest levels of the organization going against their impulses and letting what might be a very lean time for Baltimore baseball proceed according to a lead executive's vision.
What does Brady Anderson do in all this?
Anderson, the Orioles vice president of baseball operations, was mentioned as one of three individuals still under contract through this, along with amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich and director of player development Brian Graham, who is handling day-to-day operations on an interim basis.
Graham and Rajsich have important roles in the organization, but no one has amassed the influence Anderson has with the Angelos family in recent years, and it says something that the team stressed it would be an outside hire, to say nothing of the assurance of final say.
Anderson was considered part of a decision-making trio with Showalter and Duquette, but perhaps the clashing personalities and viewpoints in that dynamic changed what he and the organization see as Anderson's role. He has plenty of fresh ideas on player development and an elite athlete's perspective on how things should be run. It seems there could be a full job description based outside of the highest offices of the organization that could keep Anderson an engaged part of the club's leadership structure while still respecting a new executive's plan and vision.
Does anyone get to stick around?
Absent that, it's hard to know what anyone else's role will be under new management. Graham jumped from a player development role to an interim general manager role in 2007 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but once a hire was made, he was let go. He can't be operating ignorant of that this time. Same goes for the coaches he worked with so closely, though there's at least some comfort there in knowing their contracts run out in October — a change from the January-to-January structure they've been under previously. So, if decisions aren't made soon, they can take their fates into their own hands. The major league coaches are similarly waiting to see if they'll be renewed.
As for the scouting side, it's a bit more complicated. Bringing in an entirely new scouting staff when the team holds the No. 1 overall draft pick — quite frankly the most significant asset and responsibility a new baseball chief will inherit — will complicate things. The Orioles' amateur scouts have increased their hit rates in recent drafts, and there are no surprises at the top of the draft board, but it's an important decision they can't get wrong.
That both Duquette and Showalter are gone means neither man's camp has any significant advantage in sticking around, nor has to worry about the other's playing favorites. The merits of, well, staying on merit, are legitimate.
What are fans supposed to think of all this?
Whoever comes to Baltimore for this undertaking should note how welcome Duquette's remarks after trading Manny Machado were to the fan base. He clearly laid out what the trade meant, and what the Orioles would be doing going forward in cutting major league payroll to invest in international signings, scouting, analytics and player development.
Similarly, Showalter said the fans in Baltimore won't abide being misled and need to be told what's happening with their team. A few years of below-average baseball on the field for an end goal of high draft picks might be tolerated to some extent, and playing homegrown players and giving them a crack in the interim will mitigate that some, but there will be a fine line between blind acceptance of a rebuild and needing to see dividends throughout.