Off­sea­son re­ports: Roy­als, Ori­oles

Five is­sues fac­ing the Ori­oles:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Boeck

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 first or­der of busi­ness is find­ing a field 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 first-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 fired af­ter 8½ sea­sons with the fran­chise.

Where to start?

The O’s en­ter the offsea­son 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 infield. Jonathan Vil­lar will likely shift to short­stop, leav­ing a hole at sec­ond. The outfield doesn’t look much bet­ter. While the 40-man roster has sev­eral young outfiel­ders, there’s no front-run­ner to start right field. 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 offsea­son; 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 finish­ing with a fran­chise-record 115 losses and 61 games back of the first 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’ offense was stag­nant, ex­cept in home runs. And the pitch­ing staff finished 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.”

ROB CARR/GETTY IM­AGES

Ori­oles ex­ec­u­tive VP and GM Mike Elias, 35, had been the Astros as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager.

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