The Orioles' offseason isn't over. But a defensive week doesn't change that it's OK to be frustrated by it so far.
Winter Meetings prompted plenty of passion about how the Orioles should do more than they have this winter. There's nothing wrong with feeling that way.
Look, I’m going to try to make this quick.
Even though the Mike Elias era is only four years old, the last Orioles playoff game was over six years ago and the last time they earnestly tried to win was the spring of 2018 with the Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb signings.
The ensuing period has been, until their midseason surge in 2022, the very definition of ducks feet churning beneath the surface when it feels like nothing is happening to those above it. A holistic, complete, and largely successful overhaul of the baseball operations department occurred that put the team in the position they’re in now.
They’ve drafted incredibly well. They hired the right coaches at every level, major and minor leagues, and are using best practices that already existed around the sport to improve players once they get them.
They also did a lot of losing and a lot of not trying at the major league level as that was happening. So now that everyone accepts that era is over, there’s a strong desire among the team’s fans to accelerate into the part where the Orioles are good, and spend money, and compete on the terms of the team’s they’re trying to compete with.
Anyone holding that notion should not, under any circumstance, let themselves be dissuaded of it. The arguments as to why the Orioles are approaching their progress are valid, but so is the frustration with it.
Which leads us to what Elias told reporters in Las Vegas Wednesday. The extremely online portion of the fanbase spent the week frustratingly quote-tweeting the folks there (a group under this circumstance I’m glad not to be part of anymore), and they in turn seemed to have pressed Elias on this. Here’s what he said.
The process that led to this point was required by a club that spent the better part of a decade trying to, ahem, maximize their playoff odds. They did this largely by mortgaging the future in trades, signing market-rate contracts for pitchers the market had passed by, and neglecting whether intentionally or by virtue of their fractured organizational structure any organic growth of their minor league talent base.
It didn’t work out. Everybody knows that. While not doing any of those things and trying to be good for a long time in the futures is the right reaction to all that, so too is the desire to get back to the playoffs as quickly as possible.
In most cities around the game, that happens by spending money and signing proven players who can take a team to the next level. There’s nothing wrong with expecting that here.
There’s a part of me that thinks the idea of winning with a strictly homegrown core will validate the front office to a level that they’re rightfully intrigued by the idea. At the same time, the Orioles can’t be ignorant to the fact that the level of talent their past payrolls supported hurt the team on the field. Does anyone really think OMAR doesn’t have forecasts where players who command eight-figure salaries would put this team on the level of the teams they’re chasing in the division?
They take pride in what’s happened here, and rightfully so. This administration has excelled at most everything they’ve actually tried to accomplish so far, so even if they haven’t made that effort yet, the evidence shows they’d probably spend wisely and do well once they did. They’d spend every cent they were given to that end now. And they’d probably take even more pride in supplementing this core they’re building with veteran stars, spending wisely, and winning a World Series.
So would the fans. I know there are some who operate like me and are fascinated by development and homegrown players and all that comes with it. There’s another group who have decades of baggage with this organization and ownership, many of them featuring non-competitive six-months stretches of nightly baseball games on their televisions and at Camden Yards, and they still care just as much. Their dreams meet at the center of this stretched Venn diagram reference the same way with who want a lineup full of prospects, and they involve the Orioles winning in October. Everyone wants the same thing.
Only now, it seems like the spend-and-win-already contingent is being presented as unreasonable, if only because the most prominent voice on the matter is being asked to address it and his answer doesn’t exactly validate their hopes for what could happen this winter.
Still, Elias said they have multi-year offers out to pitchers Wednesday. He also correctly pointed out that the offseason doesn’t end with tomorrow’s 12:35 p.m. direct Southwest flight from San Diego to BWI. (Anyone taking a connection is doing it wrong.)
One’s own personal interpretation of liftoff and whether it was achieved isn’t proven right or wrong whenever that flight departs. Even those who are being patient probably know they should be, but the Orioles have a .386 winning percentage since their last playoff game, and the point of all this is to win.
I wish it wasn’t so polar between those who are captivated in the organic growth story emerging in Baltimore and those who could care less, instead looking at everything the team intentionally and unintentionally sacrificed to build it. There’s a lot of ground between those two belief structures.
I’m much more familiar with the former than the latter. It feels important to acknowledge now that both are right, and now more than ever, the desire to get this group deep into October in more conventional ways is as valid as it has ever been.
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