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The real test for the Baltimore Orioles: Meeting 2023 expectations

Baltimore OriolesEarly on the morning of Oct. 1, the Baltimore Orioles were eliminated from the postseason when out on the West Coast the Seattle Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics in a walkoff win.

The early late night/early morning disappointment shouldn’t overshadow what the Orioles have accomplished this season, and more important what may lie ahead.

The long Baltimore rebuild finally began to pay off in 2022, with a youth movement contributing to an exciting an unexpected winning season that represented a 30-game plus improvement from 2021.

The season will end short of a playoff berth, but as the best American League team to miss the postseason, while the Orioles have hope for many to come, now comes the hard part.

This stage of the rebuild may be the most fun, but it also may be the most difficult, taking the next step. The next step for this organization is to dive into the “deep” end of the pool with the rest of the AL East superpowers.

The future that at times has been distant, at best, since vice president and general manager Mike Elias inherited a 115-loss team in November 2018 ,is now the present.

This season, many of the club’s top players were products of the Orioles’ draft, trades, and reclamation projects – each, in some way the result of losing, and losing big, the previous five seasons.

Certainly, it needs to be noted that a few Oriole players that significantly contributed this season were homegrown and in the Orioles organization when Elias joined and began the massive teardown and rebuild.

Center fielder Cedric Mullins, a 2021 all-star, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and outfielder Anthony Santander have played a huge part in the 2022 success.

This season, prospects acquired during the rebuild have arrived and have produced. The most notable among them has been catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall selection in the 2019 draft and considered the future face of the organization.

Rutschman, since arriving in mid-May, has not disappointed, living up to those expectations from day one. On Monday, he was named Most Valuable Oriole and is among the top candidates to be the AL Rookie of the Year.

Rutschman wasn’t alone. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Bradish, after struggling early in the season, was a solid member of the starting rotation in the second half of the year. Gunnar Handerson and Kyle Stowers, the Orioles’ two top picks in the 2019 draft behind Rutschman, were impactful after arriving later in the season.

I watched Stowers play in Richmond in early May while he was playing for Double-A Bowie, and he looked Major League-ready then.

When asked what it was like to make the quick jump (Double-A to the Majors), he replied, “It was fun to be in the mix, but it’s even more fun to have contributed.”

More help is on the way for the Orioles. Pitching ace John Means will return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, and the organization still has a stockpile of hitting prospects in the farm system, as well as the No.1 pitching prosect in the minors, Grayson Rodriguez.

Now the Orioles face an interesting and critical offseason.

Elias said he expects the club to be active in free agency this winter. What? The Orioles may spend some money instead of dumpster diving, shopping at Nordstrom instead of Ollies?

“We are going to look at many options, see what our needs are and evaluate the market,” said Elias.

There’s a buzz around Baltimore that some of the winter spending may take place internally. Like what the Seattle Mariners did recently by signing star rookie Julio Rodriguez to a long-term contract extension.

The Orioles could make a bold statement to the fan base by locking up Rutschman and even Henderson to deals that would eliminate the possibility of losing them a few years down the road. It’s a huge gamble; Baltimore did something similar in 2015 with a 10-year deal for Chris Davis, a disaster from day one.

Recently team ownership indicated that a long-term lease extension will be signed with the state of Maryland and the Maryland Stadium Authority. The lease extension could eliminate any possibility of moving the team. In return, Camden Yards will receive $600 million in public funding to reinvest and reimagine the Camden Yards Sports Complex.

The Orioles were not supposed to be in this stage of the rebuilding process this October. They were to take a step, sure, because it’s hard not to improve on a 52-win season. This season’s turnaround has been better than any team since the turn of the 20th century, with the O’s becoming the first team since 1900 to finish .500 or better after losing 110 games or more the previous year.

Now that the Orioles fanbase has gotten a taste of success with the 2021 season, an idle Winter Stove League will not be received well. No one is expecting Aaron Judge to be an Oriole next season, but other than signing Rutschman and Henderson to long extensions, the club should be an active player in the free agent market.

“Birdland “was fun this season. Camden Yards is a jewel.  The stadium has that smell of baseball. Given the right offseason the Orioles may have something cooking.

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.