Offseason reports: Royals, Orioles
Five issues facing the Orioles:
Who will be the manager?
The Orioles named Mike Elias – the 35-yearold former Houston Astros assistant general manager with an analytics background — as their new GM. His first order of business is finding a field skipper, preferably before the winter meetings, which begin next week. “This is an important hire,” he said last month. “It’s not something you rush. We want to get the right person for this time.” That right person is likely a veteran manager, not a first-timer. With the Orioles likely headed for their second consecutive 100-loss season, Elias will want someone with experience guiding the ship. Buck Showalter, a three-time manager of the year, was fired after 8½ seasons with the franchise.
Where to start?
The O’s enter the offseason with many needs, probably more than any other team. After nontendering catcher Caleb Joseph and shortstop Tim Beckham, there are two open spots in the infield. Jonathan Villar will likely shift to shortstop, leaving a hole at second. The outfield doesn’t look much better. While the 40-man roster has several young outfielders, there’s no front-runner to start right field. And the bullpen? The only two reliable pitchers are closer Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier. The rotation is another nightmare unto itself.
Starting the rotation:
It’s no secret the rotation was the team’s weak link in 2018 again. The Orioles started 14 pitchers who combined to lead the major leagues in losses (84) and opponent batting average against (.284). And for the second consecutive season, it led the American League with the worst ERA (5.48). Don’t expect a drastic improvement in 2019. The Orioles will not be able to lure any top free agent starters this offseason; who would want to rebuild with this club? And the farm system has not developed a top pitching talent since Mike Mussina in the 1990s. What remains? The top three returning starters — right-handers Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner — are coming off
career-worst seasons. They combined to go 17-46. David Hess, a homegrown talent, was serviceable in 2018 and could land a spot in the rotation this spring. The Orioles did get promising prospects — left-hander Josh Rogers and righthander Luis Ortiz — in trades, but none who is likely to make an impact in 2019. The good news is it can’t get any worse, can it?
A second 100-loss season?
Yes. After finishing with a franchise-record 115 losses and 61 games back of the first place Boston Red Sox in the American League East, the Orioles began the rebuilding process in July when they traded their franchise player and shortstop Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton, reliever Brad Brach, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and starting pitcher Kevin Gausman for prospects. The Orioles’ offense was stagnant, except in home runs. And the pitching staff finished worst in the major statistical categories. Both are a long way from improving.
An Astros connection:
The Astros had three consecutive 100-loss seasons before winning a World Series championship three years after the third. It takes time, patience and smart moves. Elias, who was part of that Astros’ rebuild, has a plan. “We’re going to do everything in our power to move things in the right direction,” he said. “We’re not going to be perfect with our decision making. Nobody is. But we’re going to add talent in every direction until the wins pile up.”
Orioles executive VP and GM Mike Elias, 35, had been the Astros assistant general manager.