Orioles manager Buck Showalter on Sunday reflected on the year that took the Orioles from wild-card contenders to one of the worst seasons in baseball history, and as the team’s rebuild is pitched to a national primetime audience on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” there was one word he kept coming back to: hope.
“I think hope is a great thing,” Showalter said. “Hope. It’s kind of similar to when I first came here. You’ve got to know who you are and how you’re going to do it and stay true to it and be honest with the fans, [saying] ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to do it and stay with it,’ and you’ll get a return for it. And when? If you think that I wouldn’t go into next year trying to win as many games as possible and see what could be…”
The Orioles have been publicly leaning into their status as a rebuilding club since last month’s trade of All-Star Manny Machado, who was quickly followed out the door by Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop. Executive vice president Dan Duquette had plenty of areas to target to get the Orioles back to where they’d like to be competitively, including investment in analytics, international and pro scouting, player development and nutrition, among other things.
Showalter sees two things that will make the process go smoothly from his standpoint — good evaluation and good communication.
On the first point, Showalter said you have to be able to judge “not only the tools, but the makeup part of it, which is a big separator.”
“It’s funny, we have more analytical ways to evaluate players than ever before, but it seems like there’s more mistakes being made on players than ever before,” he said. “Sometimes, I think that we have all this stuff that analytically, physically, you can put your hands on, what a guy can do down a line or his range or whatever. But it seems to be still a challenge to identify the human element.”
On the communication aspect, Showalter said teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros going through long periods of losing before they won a championship helps fans and observers at least understand what the Orioles will be attempting, though he noted how the Cubs and Astros consistently hit on their high draft picks and made shrewd moves around those young cores.
“You’ve got to stay the course, and you’ve got to keep fans educated — not educated, you don’t educate them — you just make sure they know why and what’s going on, especially here,” he said. “They just want the Orioles to be good, and they wanted to make a commitment and see it through. …
“Whether it’s societal or whatever, people are willing to do just about everything if they know there’s hope. Once again, there’s that word. There’s hope that this is going to get better. That’s all people [want]. You want to be a part of something that brings that everywhere you turn. It’s the ushers, it’s a multi-organizational thing. It’s everything. It’s the presentation of hope.”
As for what markers of hope the Orioles are presenting since their trades began at the All-Star break, Showalter said “that’s a question for the end of the year, the end-game.” Despite the trades, they haven’t gotten much younger on the field. Of their regulars, only Cedric Mullins and Renato Núñez are under the age of 24. And despite significant attention, the team’s defense has been a constant challenge to find consistency with.
“A guy like Cedric — I feel like he’s presented himself well,” Showalter said. “I actually think Austin Wynns has had some moments, too, where he’s starting and you think he might be getting it. Núñez has improved defensively at third, that was a big step for him. I can always find something positive.”