The Orioles will finish the 2019 season, the first chapter of the club's total rebuild under general manager Mike Elias, in the cellar of the American League East.
While attendance has dramatically declined, the Orioles know fans will return to Camden Yards if the end result of this painful era of Orioles baseball is a sustainable, contending team that can compete year in and year out for an 8-10 year cycle.
On the field, there have been some nice pickups by the new management team. The fact that the minor-league cupboard wasn't barren was a huge jumpstart. Better drafting and development and an entry into the international scouting game got the organization off to a nice start in Year One of the rebuild.
John Means and Dylan Bundy should be back at or near the top of the rotation. Means' return to form in mid-August was vitally important. He is a piece. Bundy has lost a lot of the luster from when he was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft. Tommy John surgery and other injuries have robbed him of the high-octane stuff he showed as an amateur.
Alex Cobb is still under contract for two more seasons, and the club simply has to keep its fingers crossed that he can become a part of this rebuild by being healthy enough to chip in and recalibrate his trade value.
At times, Asher Wojciechowski, Aaron Brooks and Ty Blach have looked like they could be future contributors. But while they'll be welcome to compete next spring in Sarasota, Fla., the bar, even during this rebuild, needs to be significantly higher.
I see no starting pitchers ready to make the jump from Triple-A or Double-A. They all need more development.
Considering what the Atlanta Braves gave up for 33-year-old reliever Chris Martin (they dealt former first-round pick Kolby Allard to the Texas Rangers), the unluckiest thing to happen to the Orioles this year was how poorly Mychal Givens started the season. A 22-year-old lefty like Allard would have been a perfect fit in orange and black.
The club will hope they can eventually get true value for Givens. Otherwise, he should be back next season as part of a 'pen that could quickly go from very bad to pretty darned good.
Dillon Tate and Hunter Harvey are two big reasons for optimism in this area. Both were more or less failed minor-league starters with very good stuff. Miscast or not, they now seem like serious pieces in the rebuild of the bullpen.
Tanner Scott and Miguel Castro both have electric arms, and since those don't grow on trees, they should be around. Paul Fry and Richard Bleier have a chance to come back and contribute as well.
Neither Pedro Severino nor Chance Sisco will ever compete for a Gold Glove Award, but the club probably can't do too much better now. Severino looks like he has a bat that can play a bit in the big leagues, but Sisco will end 2019 as much suspect as prospect. His clock is ticking.
The biggest complications are first base and shortstop. I can't see either Chris Davis or Richie Martin back on this roster to start the 2020 season. Martin will be freed from the Rule 5 restrictions. He should go down to Triple-A and develop. It might even be prudent for him to go down to Double-A Bowie for 4-6 weeks to get him off to a really big start before promoting him to Norfolk. His glove plays; the questions are all about offense.
The club owes Chris Davis a ton of money with three long seasons remaining on his contract. That's now a sunk cost. I hate to be cold-blooded about it, but he is blocking the path of the player who should be the club's everyday first baseman: Trey Mancini.
Jonathan Villar is an impact player, and if he comes back, he probably should be the everyday shortstop. He'll cost $7 million or more in his final year of arbitration. I think the club could try to package him and Givens to pick up a solid prospect, perhaps along with a 17- or 18-year-old international lottery ticket.
Hanser Alberto looks like the everyday second baseman to me. Rio Ruiz had trouble producing hard contact early on, but he's hit for more power since a brief stint in the minors. Since I see nobody else ready to take over at third base, Ruiz will probably be back for another season.
In a perfect world, the club could move Renato Nunez from DH to third base, but the world isn't perfect and what really plays is Nunez's bat. He'll see some occasional time at first base and third base again to get another bat in the lineup. The DH spot could also be where Ryan Mountcastle, who spent 2019 in Norfolk, gets many of his first major-league at-bats come June 2020.
Anthony Santander may go down as the best move of Dan Duquette's tenure. But before we anoint Santander a solid 12-year contributor, we need to see him duplicate his 2019 numbers and prove he can be counted on. But he sure looks good. He's probably better in left, but I'd pencil him into right field.
Center field is a problem. They can't play Stevie Wilkerson more than a handful of games out there. While he is a good athlete, he just doesn't understand the nuances the position calls for. Sadly, Cedric Mullins was badly damaged by his early-season struggles and now is a total suspect. This is one spot I could see the Orioles trying to pick up a proven defender in free agency.
Since 2020 is going to be a second season of taking inventory and waiting for the young pitching cavalry to arrive, I think DJ Stewart probably deserves another shot. Mountcastle will get his feet wet as a corner outfielder when his bat fully says it is R-E-A-D-Y for the big leagues.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 257: September 2019
Originally published Sept. 16, 2019