As the 2022 Major League Baseball trade deadline approached, the surprising Baltimore Orioles record was hovering around .500 and only 3 games back for a Wild Card berth. The team, which was the worst during the past 5 years, was experiencing a remarkable and unexpected turnaround. Baseball fans may have forgotten that the Orioles’ miseries were recent; they had the best record in the American League the previous 5 years.
The fan base was understandably excited over the chance the O’s may make it to the postseason despite a string of 100 + game loss seasons. Would General Manager Mike Elias make a big move or two to shore up some holes and provide the team with reinforcements to actually make a run?
No, he continued on a path to what he calls the long-term picture. Instead, he traded fan favorite Trey Mancini, a move in which I was begging he would not do on several levels, and emerging star closer Jorge López—both for minor league prospects.
Despite no help from the cavalry, the 2022 Orioles persisted and finished the season 4 games over .500—with 31more wins than they had amassed in 2021—and only 3 games from a Wild Card spot. If not for a team batting slump for most of September, they most likely would have landed in the post-season.
Following 2022, Elias spoke of—actually promised—increasing the payroll (the O’s have the 2nd lowest of the 30 teams) but as it turned out, did not include large long-term deals for free agents. A few free agents signed for short deals and none of them are in the superstar category.
Elias declared the rebuild is over and said this year’s goal is to make the postseason building on last year’s success. Here’s my problem. Why can’t he simply say that he and team ownership will do whatever it takes to get the team ready for a run deep into October and not just make the Wild Card? After all, most inspirational speakers implore us to “reach for the stars”, “aim high”, etc.
Why doesn’t owner John Angelos commit to a higher payroll
rather than clinging to the default notion that small and mid-market teams
can’t compete for the top dollar stars? Look at the San Diego Padres, a
comparable team in the TV market and what they are spending.
Kyle Stowers greeting Gunnar Henderson
The lack of significant financial commitment is among the reasons the O’s attendance was so dismal in 2022 especially during a playoff-contending run. Fans aren’t convinced the management and ownership believe in the team’s ability to compete at a high level. It’s some form of inferiority complex.
There is a lot more to be excited about in 2023. The emergence of young stars catcher Adley Rutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson, starting pitcher Grayson Rodriguez and other talent like outfielder Kyle Stowers will be mainstays in the solid core line-up. With the acquisition of Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, the starting rotation will be competitive for the few remaining spots with their ace John Means still on the shelf recovering from Tommy John surgery.
And the Orioles boast arguably the best farm system in baseball with a plethora of talent in the pipeline, so the team should be quite entertaining and competitive in the years to come.
Disregard the stat-driven projections, which are ridiculously predicting a fall-off this upcoming season. No wonder there is an inferiority complex. I’ll bet against those projections, especially with the new balanced schedule favoring the O’s.
Team ownership and the front office need to become as excited as the fan base and media and act like the Orioles are a big-time ballclub because they are. Of course, they want to manage expectations. But come on, this is a talented, young squad. They are not the “Why Not?” team of 1989. They’re better, and don’t be shocked that they will prove it by season’s end.