Now that the Orioles have moved into a serious rebuilding period, the focus will be on developing a large group of young players to populate the major league roster for the next decade or more.
The responsibility for that rests largely on the minor and major league coaching staffs, but there is another component that could have a big impact on whether the rebuild is ultimately successful. Since the Orioles traded several of their top players to acquire many of those promising prospects, some of the remaining veterans are already working to fill the leadership gap.
Of course, Adam Jones has long been the de facto captain of the team and he’s still with the club, but he might not be around when the transition ramps up next spring. The pitching staff lost Darren O’Day, who had become almost a father figure to the younger pitchers in the bullpen, and economic realities forced the departures of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, who were growing into influential cornerstone players.
That’s why seemingly quiet veterans Mark Trumbo and Alex Cobb have already started to assume more vocal roles in the clubhouse. They, along with Jones and even some of the younger players with significant major league experience, already are working to build a new leadership infrastructure.
“I think we’re starting to see that here,” Cobb said. “After the trade deadline, we saw the direction the organization is heading in. I think we know we’re going to have so many young guys on this squad that there’s going to need to be some sort of structure and some clarity on the rules and what’s expected of guys around here. That’s starting to form now and we’ll kind of set the guidelines this year and going into the offseason, so we have some structure going into next year.”
Manager Buck Showalter has always preferred it that way. He has said repeatedly over the years that on a successful team, the players police themselves.
What makes this situation unusual is the sudden loss of so many team leaders and the prospect of losing Jones in two months.
Closer Zach Britton was the longest-tenured player in the organization when he was traded to the New York Yankees. O’Day had been a member of the club throughout the Orioles’ five-year renaissance under Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette. Jones has been an Oriole since 2008, when former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail engineered the club’s last rebuilding project.
Trumbo, 32, has only been around for the past 2½ years, though he earned instant credibility in the clubhouse when he won the major league home run title in 2016, his first year with the team. Cobb, 30, has been in the organization for less than five months. They would not be obvious choices to take the reins of leadership if necessity wasn’t tugging so hard on them.
“I think it’s something I should be doing, so the answer is yes,” Trumbo said Friday, “especially with so many guys that, come September, are going to be in their first experience up here. It kind of falls on the guys that have been around a little while to show them how things are done. That’s what was done for me. As somebody in my shoes, that’s kind of your role.”
Trumbo already had been moving in that direction before the flurry of deals leading up to the nonwaiver trade deadline. He has spent a lot of time with young outfielders Trey Mancini and Joey Rickard, helping them navigate an awful season that has put extra pressure on the young hitters to prop up a struggling offense.
Cobb arrived at a time when the longtime leader of the starting rotation, Chris Tillman, was struggling too badly to worry about anybody else. Cobb has himself endured a difficult first season in Baltimore, but his track record as a winning pitcher on what were often young and developing Tampa Bay Rays teams certainly qualifies him to watch over some of the young pitchers coming up this season and next.
“It’s a part of your job description at any point of your career to be a good teammate and help with that,” Cobb said. “If guys do come to me and look for advice, I embrace that. I hope to lead them in the right direction. I think most good comes from doing the right things and making sure they see you’re going about it the right way.”
For Trumbo, it’s a chance to give back after starting his career in an environment where there were a lot of veteran players around to show the way.
“I think it’s important,” he said. “It’s important to have a few guys that have been around for a little while. One of the teams I was on in Arizona didn’t have many veteran players. It wasn’t a bad experience, but I kind of appreciated my time in Anaheim [with the Los Angeles Angels] with all the older guys because they kind of passed down some of the history and things like that that are important to remember when you’re kind of working your way through your own career.”
The Orioles also will have to depend on some younger players who have been thrust into leadership roles. Dylan Bundy is only 25 and he’s already spent a couple of years at the front of the starting rotation. Reliever Mychal Givens, 28, has only been in the major leagues for 3½ years and he hasn’t been pitching professionally much longer than that. But he’s now the most experienced guy in the bullpen and knows he’ll have to fill the leadership void created when All-Star relievers O’Day, Britton and Brad Brach were traded.
“I’ve been grateful to have those guys to influence me and be prepared for situations like this … and how to be a bullpen guy to teach the guys that come in,” he said.
It is almost a natural progression, set in motion years ago when Showalter arrived and created a culture that valued veteran experience, but stressed that everyone in the clubhouse should have a personal interest in the success of every teammate.
“That is the way it’s done,” Trumbo said. “That’s why guys who get traded over here feel comfortable right away. This year it’s been a little more difficult obviously, but in my experience, you come, you know what’s expected of you, you play hard. It’s pretty simple. It’s pretty cut and dried. I think Buck has set that tone and you know what to expect coming in to play for the Orioles.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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