O’s fans will have to trade ex­pec­ta­tions for in­trigue

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck

The Ori­oles are goi ng to open spring train­ing this week and — quite un­der­stand­ably for be­lea­guered O’s fans — work­outs will be­gin at the Ed Smith Sta­dium com­plex un­der a cloud of ap­pre­hen­sion.

Ev­ery­one knows that the or­ga­ni­za­tion had to push the re­set but­ton. No­body could pos­si­bly question that af­ter a 2018 sea­son dur­ing which the Ori­oles lost a record 115 games and watched at­ten­dance drop to a four-decade non­strike-year low.

So, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager Dan Du­quette tore down the team last July and his suc­ces­sor, Mike Elias, ar­rived with a man­date to change ev­ery­thing but the con­ces­sion menu at Cam­den Yards. He’s still in the midst of an or­ga­ni­za­tional over­haul that has had to be con­ducted in a con­densed time frame, but it’s time to break out the bats and balls.

Now, we’re about to get the answer to the question that has been on the minds of just about ev­ery­one who suf­fered through last year’s col­lapse and waved good­bye to al­most

all of the pop­u­lar vet­eran play­ers who car­ried the team dur­ing the salad years of the Du­quette/Buck Showal­ter era:

What’s this go­ing to look like?

It’s ob­vi­ously not go­ing to be very pretty, and I’m cer­tainly not alone in that opin­ion. The PECOTA pro­jec­tion that was re­leased last week by Base­ball Prospec­tus has the O’s los­ing a ma­jor league-high105 games, which seems con­ser­va­tive when you con­sider that last year’s team lost 10 more than that with a lot of qual­ity vet­eran play­ers on the ros­ter for the first four months of the sea­son.

Of course, PECOTA and the other pre­sea­son prog­nos­ti­ca­tors dra­mat­i­cally un­der­rated the Ori­oles from 2012 to 2016 and I took great joy in point­ing that out each year at this time, but you re­ally don’t need a bunch of so­phis­ti­cated an­a­lyt­i­cal tools to see that the Ori­oles are in no po­si­tion to com­pete with the beasts of the Amer­i­can League East this year, or any­one else for that mat­ter.

But the fi­nal num­ber on the right side of the win-loss col­umn isn’t go­ing to mean any­thing at this ini­tial stage of the long-term re­build­ing pro­gram. And it still wouldn’t mean any­thing if the baby Ori­oles over­achieved and lost only 88 games.

The O’s are sup­posed to lose this year which — strangely enough — is the rea­son this sea­son needs to be dis­con­nected from 2018 in the minds of the fans. Last year’s team was be­lieved to be a wild-card con­tender when the sea­son be­gan, so the im­plo­sion of those ex­pec­ta­tions con­trib­uted to a malaise that — along with some other long-term fac­tors — con­trib­uted to the mis­er­able at­ten­dance to­tal.

It might be fair to spec­u­late that this year’s at­ten­dance will be even lower, but the lack of any ex­pec­ta­tion that this young ros­ter, which could get even younger by Open­ing Day, is go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive presents an op­por­tu­nity for dis­en­chanted fans to start over along with the team.

Cam­den Yards still boasts a ball­park ex­pe­ri­ence that ranks among the best any­where and the new course that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is tak­ing with Elias and a more an­a­lyt­ics-based base­ball op­er­a­tion should cre­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of in­trigue for ded­i­cated Ori­oles fans.

When the Ori­oles of­fi­cially open pitcher­catcher work­outs Wed­nes­day, they will do so with an al­most-blank can­vas. There will be com­pe­ti­tion for po­si­tions all over the field and open­ings on a pitch­ing staff that fea­tures just three vet­eran starters (for now) as well as all sorts of op­por­tu­nity in the bullpen.

There will be a few vet­eran sto­ry­lines. Chris Davis will be un­der a mi­cro­scope this spring, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, and it’s pos­si­ble that Elias will try to dump some more pay­roll.

It’s also pos­si­ble that Elias will look for a bar­gain or two in a free-agent mar­ket that still fea­tures dozens of play­ers, many of whom will end up sign­ing one-year deals. A cer­tain for­mer cen­ter fielder is still out there, too, but that ship ap­par­ently has sailed.

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