Scott German: Breaking down the Orioles’ rebuild, which is already paying dividends
In 2019, Baltimore Orioles General Manager Mike Elias surprised most of Orioles Nation with a relatively quiet trade deadline. The Orioles’ only move actually came earlier in July, when he traded the club’s most effective starter in the first half of the season, Andrew Cashner.
During the offseason, Elias got busy, trading infielder Jonathan Villar for a pair of 23-year-old lefthanders. Two days later, Dylan Bundy was traded west to the L.A. Angels for four right-handed pitchers, all under 24.
The revolving door continued Sunday. Elias traded left-handed starter Tommy Milone to Atlanta, and just hours later reliever Michael Givens was moved to Colorado for two top prospects in the Rockies’ organization, Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra. Both players are sons of former big-leaguers and both sleek-fielding infielders.
I have been a fan of the Orioles my entire life. My father took me to my first game at about the age of 4. I had the pleasure of watching the greatest third baseman ever, Brooks Robinson, “the human vacuum cleaner,” blanket the left side of the Memorial Stadium infield.
Later in life, working for the Waynesboro News Virginian, I had the enormous honor of covering both the American League Championship Series (vs. Chicago White Sox) and the World Series in 1983 against Pete Rose and the Philadelphia Phillies.
I was in the Orioles’ locker room after their deciding Game 5 win over the Phillies that gave the birds their third world championship. Heck, after some pleading, I managed to get somewhat of a champaign spraying from non-other than World Series MVP Rick Dempsey.
What the club is going through now is almost to overwhelming even for the most diehard of Oriole fans. Its almost impossible to sit down each night and watch them without scouring the internet to update the newest roster look.
When he was hired to run the Orioles’ baseball operations in November 2018 on the heels of a 112-loss season, Elias said his goal was to construct an elite talent pipeline.
This pipeline is being laid with a total overhaul of the clubs’ minor league system, scouting, player development, player evaluation, international scouting and a heavy dose of analytics.
After two drafts under Elias, the Orioles added catcher Adley Rutschman, the number one pick in the 2019 draft, and shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the number two pick this past June. This season another haul of young talent was the draft goal.
Elias has also loaded up on five other infielders with top picks. Surprising to me, at least, the club has not focused on pitching, which the team is desperately void of. Elias has instead elected to fill the farm system with as many top-quality position players first.
In a video conference with the media Sunday evening, Elias offered up some early analysis of the “state of the organization.”
“Our system has improved a ton,” said Elias. “I think, at this point in our rebuild we have a consensus top 10 farm system in the majors, and it’s getting higher,” praised Elias.
In addressing the Orioles’ recently constructed international scouting department’ Elias minced no words as to where the club started from less than two years ago.
“We were starting where there was no talent coming form outside the U.S., and that continues to require some serious catch-up, and we’ll continue to work on that,” added Elias.
Baltimore was extremely aggressive in July, signing some highly regarded international prospects, but their next opportunity to sign international prospects won’t be until January 2021. The reason: MLB has a cap on the amount any organization can spend over a span of time.
Because the Orioles were catching up, they expended their international signing allotment quickly.
Now comes the hard part for the Orioles: to continually acquire as much talent as possible over the next couple years. Baltimore is considered a mid-market franchise, with somewhat limited revenue streams.
The Orioles compete in arguably the wealthiest division of all of the major leagues (American League East) with the likes of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto, and perhaps the best ran franchise in all of baseball down in Tampa.
Even if the club is highly successful in player scouting and player development, the enviable fact of a no salary cap sport will rear its ugly head. Baltimore simply can’t afford a payroll the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, and will have to trade some of their talent before their free agency arrives. So, it’s imperative to corral as much talent as possible.
Before the season, Elias sent an email to season-ticket holders carefully outlying the process of what is a massive tear down and rebuild.
“Patience in the process” was the crux of the email. COVID-19 shattered the traditional 162-game marathon, reducing it instead to a 60-game sprint. So far this season, the blueprint of what Elias is attempting to build is coming into focus.
Now, I just need to buy into the process-finding some patience along the way.
Story by Scott German