Photo via Keith Allison
While the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays will claw and pry for a World Series title during the 2020 season, the Baltimore Orioles will take a different approach.
Of course, it has to be said the O’s will attempt to remain competitive, even though “embracing the tank” has become the de facto motto for the team as they continue their lengthy rebuild.
A lengthy rebuild that has seen the team already lose 108 games in 2019 and 115 games in 2018.
“Embracing the tank,” though, might be false advertisement; the Orioles have not actively thrown games since the rebuild officially began. Even though “tanking” might be a subjective term, that still holds true. The Orioles will attempt to win games if they can.
Instead of “tanking,” the long-term goals Mike Elias will continue to undertake as the executive vice president and general manager of the Orioles in 2020 will be simple.
Remaining patient and staying persistent.
When beginning with patience, the term does not solely apply to the rebuild in its entirety. It applies to younger players on the team that might be one of the key players in Baltimore’s next eventual playoff run.
Despite having a brief cup of coffee in 2017, 25-year-old Austin Hays slashed .309/.373/.574 in 75 plate appearances (PA’s) through 21 games in 2019. After showing flashes with the bat and defensive prowess with the glove, 2020 will be a year for Hays to put together a healthy season and potentially become the next great center fielder the Orioles have lacked since the departure of Adam Jones. While there could be growing pains for the Jacksonville University alum, the talent is there.
Then, of course, you have the prospects that have not yet seen major league action. Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore’s fourth-ranked prospect and the 94th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline, climbed through the minor league ranks to slash an On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) of .799 through five seasons. The 23-year-old will look to solidify his bat in a lineup that could have openings for production he could potentially muster together. The x-factor for Mountcastle, of course, will be to find a concrete defensive position; will he play first base should Chris Davis falter? Will he play a corner outfield spot? Finding a long-term defensive position will become a growing theme for Mountcastle in the shortened season and in seasons beyond.
Patience, however, could take on an entirely different meaning, as prospects might jump up multiple levels and see the major leagues this season, including that of pitcher DL Hall (Baltimore’s third-ranked prospect) and outfielder Yusniel Diaz (the prospect that was the headliner coming back to the Orioles in the 2018 Manny Machado trade). While both players have yet to play in a AAA game (in Hall’s case, high-A is the highest level he has played in), they could begin to get major league experience from veterans and coaches even if they do not play an inning of baseball at the highest professional level.
The same could apply to Adley Rutschman, Baltimore’s first-overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft and the fourth-rated prospect in MLB Pipeline’s rankings. Potentially, it could even apply to some of Baltimore’s 2020 draft selections. Whether if these players get major league playing time or not, the youth will yearn to learn whatever they can in whatever situation Baltimore finds itself in this season, whether it is on the major league roster or away from it.
While patience will definitely apply to the major league veterans as well, persistence will be the bigger message.
On the pitching side, you have knuckle-curve-throwing Alex Cobb, who will look to put together a healthy season and live up to his four-year, $57 million contract signed in late March of 2018. John Means, who pitched to a 3.60 ERA last season and was Baltimore’s lone All-Star representative, will look to have a more durable season (health-permitting) and utilize his breaking change-up and slider more effectively. Mychal Givens, meanwhile, will look to become a more solidified closer and rebound from a sub-par 2019, where the infielder-turned-side-winding-pitcher will look to regain his 2017 form, where he pitched to a 2.75 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per nine.
For Cobb, staying healthy is the goal. For Means, it is maintaining solid production and building off of a career year. For Givens, it is rebounding from a down year. While all three represent different goals, all three maintain the same core message.
On the position player side of the coin, there is Chris Davis, who, before COVID-19 shut down sports, was bringing a different flavor to the bat that could be attributed to a revamped offseason, as the first baseman added over 25 pounds of muscle. Then there is Hanser Alberto, who struck out in only 9.1% of his plate appearances last season (the lowest among all qualified MLB batters), albeit with a mediocre .329 on-base percentage (OBP) and sub-optimal .422 Slugging Percentage (SLG). Trey Mancini, meanwhile, will sit out the 2020 campaign after recovering from surgery to remove a malignant tumor in March.
For Davis, the season serves as a way to finally prove his $100 million-plus worth when he was given the richest contract in Baltimore’s baseball history. For Alberto, the season serves as a way to improve his power and on-base skills. For Mancini, his season revolves not around what he does on the diamond, but how he continues to improve in health away from it.
On the field, off the field. Proving worth, expanding worth or something else entirely, the message remains the same.
Such is the theme for Brandon Hyde, who goes into his second-ever full season as major league manager. Same thing goes for Elias, who will look to continue the rebuild the roster itself in addition to the scouting, analytics and international departments.
While winning baseball games will be a nice short-term bonus, the Baltimore Orioles will have a more long-term mindset for the 2020 season, shortened or not.
While some pundits will say it is “embracing the tank,” it is in fact much more methodical in scope, yet simplistic nature.
Remaining patient and staying persistent.
That is all there is to it.