Baseball is finally back everyone! To help usher in the new season, NBC Sports Washington's Andrew Gillis and Ryan Wormeli are going to run through a series of burning questions surrounding the Orioles.
First up is the question on the minds of every fan of a rebuilding franchise in the history of sports: How much losing is too much?
Ryan Wormeli: Hello Andrew! Hope you enjoyed winter while it was here, because baseball is *back*. Spring Training began this week with the four best words in the English language: Pitchers and catchers report.
They say hope springs eternal, but that may not be true for this year's Orioles. They've lost at least 100 games in back-to-back seasons, and things don't look much brighter entering 2020. On the one hand, that may not be such a bad thing — especially with a talent like Kumar Rocker looming as the potential number one draft pick in 2021.
But honestly, losing is no fun. Nobody cheers for a team because they enjoy losses, and it sure would be nice to see a few more wins in Charm City this year.
GM Mike Elias has made no secret about wanting to build a long-term talent pipeline in Baltimore, but when will it be time for the Orioles to prioritize short-term performance again? Will they ever lose fewer than 100 games again? How much losing is too much losing?
Andrew Gillis: Hey, Worm. Doesn't it feel like the Ravens' season just ended? I figured you'd need a break from me, but here come the O's.
As the Orioles season arrives, fans shouldn't expect a Ravens-esque run this year — or any year in the near future. And while losing isn't fun, per se, it should be "fun" for the Orioles for at least another season.
Bear with me here.
The Orioles aren't going to be good this season. If there's anyone who thinks they've got a shot at competing, I've got some bad news. So, it's time to embrace the tank. This year is all about losing, and it won't be a fun time at Camden Yards come July, August and September. I get that. It's not going to be easy for locals watching the other contenders' fans fill Baltimore this summer. But greener pastures are ahead for the franchise — as long as they keep losing.
They have an ascending prospect pool with Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Ryan Mountcastle all on the Top 100 list according to MLB.com. While that may not be the best way to evaluate a farm system, the O's are certainly moving in the right direction. Still, it needs another elite player to join the league's elite. That comes after another terrible season.
Losing 100 games for the third straight season may not sound like a responsible plan, but if the Orioles want to build their farm system with top talent, they have to be in position to pick that talent in the first place. And while you can find players throughout the draft that can turn into studs (Mike Trout waves hello) the most effective way is to fall flat for a few years in a row, ensuring you get your choice of the lot.
Ryan: Let's be clear: I can always use a break from you. But I'm also pretty excited Opening Day is mere weeks away.
I understand the argument that it's *smart* for the Orioles to lose more games for another year or two, but you'll never convince me it's "fun." Fun is what we saw from 2012-14. What we've seen from 2018-present is necessary, perhaps, but brutal.
Your point about the draft is a strong one. The best way to contend is to draft well, and the best way to draft well is to draft high. But picking at the top of the draft doesn't guarantee anything — just look at Elias' time with the Astros. Cheating scandals aside, Houston provided the rebuilding template the O's want to follow, and they picked two busts in Mark Appel and Brady Aiken with number one picks in back-to-back drafts. Yes, they also took Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman early, but the MLB Draft is a major crapshoot. Who's to say the Orioles would take a player closer to Correa/Bregman than Appel/Aiken?
Far more important for the Orioles is their ability to identify talent in other areas (trades, international signings and in-house options) and how they develop that talent. Losing is a habit, and if the bulk of the core of the next great Orioles team is already in the organization, fans should hope they start breaking that habit as soon as possible. No one expects a 90-win season, but 70 would be a nice change of pace representing some forward momentum.
Even if you do trust their ability at the top of the draft, let's not forget what's coming. You say they need to add another top prospect? Well they've already earned the chance to take one with the second pick this June. Isn't asking for yet another top-three pick in 2021 just getting greedy?
Andrew: I hear you, but a "fun" season for the Orioles in 2020 isn't the same as a fun season for the rest of the sport. Winning 53 games and winning 67 games could be the difference between picking first and picking, say, ninth. You have to be willing to sacrifice fun now for fun later at the big league level, which means the minor leagues are going to be a blast. Fun this season should be watching Rutschman wreck Frederick and Bowie, DL Hall continue to rise through the prospect rankings, or Ryan Mountcastle solidify himself as a big-leaguer. None of those things will have a big impact on the big league club, and if we're being honest, does that extra 14-15 wins really matter in the grand scheme of things?
The Orioles will have Rutschman and Rodriguez as some of the top prospects in baseball heading into 2021, but the No. 2 overall pick this June and potentially another top two or three pick in 2021 would give the Orioles four potential top 30ish prospects in all of baseball. Paired with guys like DL Hall and eventually a few Gunnar Henderson-types and all of a sudden the Death Star is fully operational.
Yes, the Orioles will need to pick players throughout the draft that are productive at the big-league level to nail this rebuild, but the easiest and quickest way is to funnel top-tier talent into the system as quickly as possible. Losing can be contagious, but the Astros won just 56, 55 and 51 games for a three-year period before they started to turn things around. In year four of that rebuild? 70 wins. These things take time, and quite frankly, 100-plus losses is exactly what the Orioles need for at least another season.
(I am very, *very* pro-tanking, and a firm believer that The Process should be trusted at all times.)
If we're having this conversation in February of 2021 and I insist it's worthwhile for the Orioles to win 52 games again, then please smack me upside the head. But to me, there's one more year you've got to truly bottom out. Rutschman, Hall and Rodriguez all have MLB ETAs of 2021, so there's still another year before help is on the way. Even then, there will be some growing pains to work out with such a young roster. The Orioles organization, while moving in the right direction, is still in dire need of talent. A rebuild works better when you're able to market Adley Rutschman and Co. That's what one more horrendous season brings the Orioles.
Ryan: I suppose the "Co." will be a pretty integral part of the equation next to Adley Rutschman in the grand scheme of things. The idea of four top 30 prospects in baseball and a top-five farm system has the prospect hound in me salivating, but fans in Baltimore have heard about the cavalry on the horizon before.
I'm pro-tanking as well, at least under the rules of the sport as currently constructed. But at a certain point, it has to become about winning again, otherwise what was it all for? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little bit worried about keeping fans engaged through a half-decade of, if not intentional losing, at the very least accepted losing.
If I can't convince you the value of a 70-win season in 2020, maybe Elias himself can? In an interview with The Athletic, the Orioles' GM was asked if winning 65-70 games and dropping to the eighth pick in the 2021 draft would be counterproductive. His reaction was pretty direct.
"I would love it," he said. "The more games that we win, the happier we are."
Of course, Elias was also clear that who was leading the charge behind those wins matters too. His judgment of the 2020 season won't rely on wins and losses, but it will depend on the further development of Austin Hays, Hanser Alberto, and even grizzled veteran Trey Mancini. But even if he isn't evaluating the organization on its place in the standings, it's hard to imagine guys like Hays and Mancini taking major steps forward without seeing improvement in the standings.
Those extra 15 wins may not matter down the line, but their source might, especially if it comes from the young core already forming in Baltimore. Austin Hays turning into an above average Major League outfielder is more valuable in the long run than drafting a 21-year old 16 months from now who may reach the big leagues by 2024 if we're lucky, and may become a star if we're super duper lucky, right?
Elias seems to think so. You wouldn't dare disagree with the man leading your beloved Process, would you?
Andrew: At a certain point it becomes about winning, but that's not here just yet. While Elias does want the team to be ahead of schedule, he also said earlier this week he's realistic about the team's expectations headed into the season. If the Orioles lose more than 100 games, Elias isn't going to lose any sleep over it.
But yes, the who is much more important than the why. My contention is that the prospects in Delmarva, Frederick, Bowie and Norfolk matter much more than the few prospects who will play at Camden Yards this season. The Orioles should be more concerned with the development of their younger players in the organization compared to guys that will graduate to the majors this season. If Hays and Mountcastle take steps forward, that's clearly a positive step — but it's also not one that will impact the W/L margin too much. If the Orioles reach 65 wins, that tells me some players who likely won't be here in a handful of years performed above expectations. That could be a good or a bad thing, but the focus should be on the guys Elias has brought in since 2018.
Those are two separate entities when you talk about guys like Hays becoming valuable Major League players and the team's win/loss record reflecting their improvements. Finding diamonds in the rough adds depth to the prospect pool — where the Orioles need improvements — but you've got to take some risks and see what sticks.
And as for The Process? Why the Orioles still haven't released a "Trust The Process" shirt with the Orioles 'O' in the word "process," I have no idea.
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