If you’re still hurting over the Orioles being swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series, manager Buck Showalter feels your pain.
It’s fine to appreciate what the Orioles accomplished in 2014 - the American League East title, the sweep in the Division Series - but the bar finally has been raised in Baltimore.
“I don’t want anybody to be satisfied,” Showalter said yesterday after calling into “Wall to Wall Baseball” on MASN. “I want everybody to hold us to a high standard, because I’m going to.”
Showalter and his wife, Angela, flew back to Dallas on Thursday, but will return to Baltimore for Saturday’s KidsPeace Trick-or-Trot 5K/1-mile walk at Camden Yards. Showalter isn’t hanging on every pitch of the World Series.
“I did just watch some highlights this morning of the game last night for scouting purposes,” Showalter said, “because there are a couple guys there I know are going to be available and whether we’ll have any interest.”
OK, feel free to speculate on which available players.
“I had a couple meals with my kids and that was cool. Sit down at the dinner table and listen to them and baseball not be the big focus,” Showalter said.
“I’m a fan. It’s not that I don’t like to watch. Some people like to participate and some people like to watch. I sit back here in my office and it really hits your body every day, what you’ve done. Your body kind of rebels on you as a player and as a manager. You just stare at the walls.
“I imagine a guy like Jonathan Schoop sitting down on his couch or whatever in the offseason. They need some down time, just kind of reflect on everything. That’s why you let them have their space. There’s four of our guys living here within 15 minutes, but I’m going to leave them alone. They’ve had enough of my stuff.”
Showalter described the season as “a journey you take together.”
“Not only the players - the fans and everybody,” he said. “There’s turns and there’s nooks and there’s crannies and things that are challenging, and it’s about trusting each other. There are some real challenging times where you kind of go, ‘Really?’ There’s times when you’re in that shower and your head’s under the spigot and you’re going, ‘Wow.’ But you suck it up and strap it on and do it again.
“I’ve said many times it’s not always what you say. It’s a glance, it’s a look at each other. You lean on each other and you realize how much of a team sport it is. Then, when it abruptly ends, it cuts like a knife.”
I wrote on Friday that the Orioles want to re-sign pitcher Steve Johnson to a minor league contract and rehab his right shoulder after he underwent surgery last month to shave a bone spur. They outrighted him to Triple-A Norfolk and he can become a free agent after the World Series.
“That was kind of a paperwork thing,” Showalter said. “We’re just excited that we found out what was going on, because that’s not him and I don’t want to broadcast it too much or someone might swoop in and make him one of those Godfather offers.
“He can pitch, man. When we get him right, he’s going to help us again. Simple as that.”
Sounds like Showalter intends to have Johnson in spring training.
As long as I’m encouraging speculation, Showalter was asked whether the Royals’ reliance on their late-inning relief will become a back-end ‘pen trend in baseball. Check out what he said about considering which minor league starters could transition to setup roles.
“It’s not something that’s just been happening the last two or three weeks,” Showalter said. “I heard someone talking about a four-man rotation and going shorter, but keeping your best starters out there. We happen to have five or six that we like. But there are so many starters, you’re going to see more guys doing what Wade Davis and Zach Britton are doing.
“That (setup) role so far doesn’t pay well in arbitration. Let’s be frank about it. It’s closers, it’s starters. But I think that’s starting to really change. You can see the value of that. Knock on wood, we had about as healthy a rotation as you could possibly ask for. People are always saying what’s the one constant? The one constant is being able to pitch those innings out of the bullpen, because you’re going to have ebbs and flows to your rotation.
“I can’t deny that I look at some of our quality starters in the minor leagues. Really, this is the old-fashioned way they used to do it. You used to come up as a reliever. You worked your way through that part of that. I bet you’re going to see more and more guys looked at in two or three different roles. I know the meetings we had, we talked about two or three of our pitchers who may be able to fit in that Wade Davis-type of role as we go forward. You’re always looking for starters, but I think the importance of finding those other guys, too...
“Let’s face it, baseball is a copycat game. But they won 88, 89 games. They struggled for a portion of the season. What happens if one of the links in the chain breaks down?”
It’s less likely to happen with all the down time in the postseason. Bullpens can be freshened up.
“If I was going to change the playoff format, I’d make you play seven days in a row, just like during the season,” Showalter said. “They can’t pitch every day. You want to really see the exact same things show up in the postseason? Play seven days in a row instead of all the off-days. We played seven games in 17 days. Something doesn’t seem right about that.”
I asked for Showalter’s reaction to Rays manager Joe Maddon opting out of his contract. Showalter said he wasn’t surprised, given the clause in Maddon’s deal. Otherwise, he didn’t know the circumstances behind it.
Maddon may want to call his own shots now and choose where he wants to manage after nine seasons in Tampa. Showalter had the same freedom while working at ESPN.
“This game has a way of taking the flavor of the month and turning it into something else,” Showalter said. “These are precious jobs and it’s an honor to have any of them. And every one of them is potentially a great situation. There’s some things about Tampa that are very attractive for the next manager coming in, whoever it may be. I like the idea that you never play a doubleheader, you never get rained out, the temperature is the same, the foul ground is great, it’s a great pitcher’s ballpark, you don’t get bad hops or whatever.
“He’s leaving a very good pitching staff and they know who they are. I think all of us know it’s more than just the managers. There’s a lot of people who put in the work and time to make a good organization. I’m not coveting somebody else’s situation. I like people who know and like what they have and aren’t always working on their next job. And I’m not saying Joe’s doing that at all. I haven’t walked in his shoes. But this is a good fit. As long as they’re comfortable with me, we’re going to have some fun.”