BALTIMORE (AP) — A year ago, the Baltimore Orioles had Manny Machado and expectations of reaching the playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons under manager Buck Showalter.
Machado and Showalter are gone, as is all realistic hope of playing baseball this October.
After staggering through their worst season since coming to Baltimore in 1954, the Orioles will launch a major rebuild in 2019 under rookie manager Brandon Hyde and first-year general manager Mike Elias.
Machado was one of many Baltimore stars traded in the midst of a 47-115 disaster that cost Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette their jobs. Hyde, previously the bench coach of the Chicago Cubs, and Elias, the former assistant general manager of the Houston Astros, are overseeing an overhaul they hope will result in the same worst-to-first transformation they experienced with their last employers.
“The fact that we share some career background in terms of player development, and going through a rebuilding process with the Cubs and the Astros, we’re really on the same page in a lot of ways,” Elias said of his relationship with Hyde. “He views the game the same way that I do.”
At this point, the best the Orioles can expect is to be competitive and provide reason to believe that better days lie ahead.
“If you like baseball, this is an interesting process,” Elias said. “You get to see players grow and you get to follow them in the minor leagues all the way up in their careers. I can tell you from firsthand experience, it’s very rewarding, and it’s going to be very special.”
Baltimore launches a new era March 28 in the season opener against the AL East-rival New York Yankees.
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The starting rotation features five right-handers and the same three pitchers at the top, all of whom must improve upon dismal performances a year ago.
Alex Cobb, who will start on opening day at Yankee Stadium, went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA in the first season of a four-year, million contract. Andrew Cashner was 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA in his debut season in Baltimore, and right-hander Dylan Bundy, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2011, finished 8-16 with a 5.45 ERA.
Mike Wright, who owns a career record of 10-11, appears likely to be the fourth starter followed by David Hess, who went 3-10 in his rookie season.
Hyde made a positive impression on the players during a spring training in which he stressed fundamentals and teamwork.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere,” reliever Richard Bleier said. “Obviously, it’s a whole new staff and it’s a newer, younger team. It’s a good mix. I feel like we’re in this together, just trying to figure out how this process is going to work.”
Nestled in the middle of a youthful lineup are 33-year-olds Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis. The Orioles would happily trade either of them, but haven’t had any takers.
Coming off an injury-riddled season in which he played only 90 games, Trumbo won’t see much action in the field. Davis hit .168 in 2018, the third season of a seven-year, million deal the Orioles wish they could take back.
Machado’s replacement at shortstop will likely be Richie Martin, a Rule 5 pick from Oakland who’s never played in a big league game.
In addition, Rule 5 selection Drew Jackson is expected to make the team as a utility player.
When they were good, the Orioles could count on closer Zach Britton to seal a victory. Britton was traded to the Yankees last July, and team is still looking for an adequate replacement.
Mychal Givens went 0-9 and blew nine of 13 save opportunities in 2018. Bleier was solid until back surgery ended his season in June, and it might take some time for him to regain his effectiveness.
Miguel Castro showed his inconsistency while going 2-7, and Paul Fry converted only half his four save opportunities.
Freelancer Rich Dubroff in Sarasota, Florida contributed to this report.