Checking on Orioles’ progress with three games left

The Orioles won’t finish with the worst record in baseball this season.

Does it matter?

That sound you might have heard following Wednesday night’s game in Toronto wasn’t champagne corks popping. The lockers inside the visiting clubhouse weren’t covered in plastic. Players weren’t covered in alcohol.

First or second pick. Second or third. It won’t alter the rebuild plan crafted by executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

Fewer or more losses than 2018. Still doesn’t tweak the plan. The blueprint isn’t torn into pieces and tossed in the air like confetti.

Players who have found ways to stay motivated and maintained a high level of energy and effort deserve to be rewarded with an increase in wins, to form the congratulatory lines and feel better walking off the field. But the 40-man roster is still going to undergo significant changes during the offseason, and avoiding 100 losses in 2020 is still going to be a monumental task.

Spending will be limited. Minor league free agents will be plugged into the spring training roster. The First-Year Player Draft, the international market and continuing to develop prospects already in the system remain priorities.

Finding ways to bolster the rotation without chasing Gerrit Cole.

Finding a couple of relievers who can cover important innings and prevent position players from having to pitch.

Finding ways to reduce the number of home runs allowed, which increased to 303 during the Toronto series. The major league record wasn’t broken. It was obliterated.

The staff’s 5.64 ERA is the worst in the majors. Worse than the 5.18 ERA that it posted in 2018.

Whether the Orioles draft Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson or Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin won’t significantly move the needle. There isn’t one who’s the slam-dunk, can’t-miss choice.

A third baseman seems to make sense if basing the decision strictly on need, with pitching prospects outnumbering the position players, but the Orioles might not have him atop their board and, obviously, the Tigers can influence the pick depending on their choice at No. 1.

(At least one former Orioles scout pushed for Anthony Rendon over Dylan Bundy in the 2011 draft. But, as the story goes, another scout told former executive Andy MacPhail that Bundy was the best high school pitching prospect he had ever seen and you know the rest. Bundy went fourth overall to the Orioles and Rendon sixth to the Nationals.)

Most important this season has been the new regime’s ability to critique the players and determine which ones are keepers and which are expendable. Who passed the auditions and where the system is most lacking.

Knowing that Anthony Santander, John Means and Hunter Harvey are ready. That Austin Hays can be the opening day center fielder if healthy (that was a late revelation). That Hanser Alberto can mash against left-handed pitching. That Richie Martin is worth keeping in the organization, even if he starts next season at Triple-A Norfolk instead of the majors. That Pedro Severino can hit a little bit after showing no signs of it in D.C. That Stevie Wilkerson can pitch a little bit. That no one truly is equipped to close.

Villar-Headfirst-Black-sidebar.jpgJonathan Villar might have become a bigger trade chip after generating little interest at the July 31 deadline.

Trey Mancini might have inched closer to untouchable status unless the Orioles are overwhelmed by an offer. The benefits of keeping him are multiplying.

But contract extensions and the money required to do them aren’t part of the blueprint.

The Orioles have won five more games than they did in 2018 with a chance to make it eight if they sweep the Red Sox this weekend. Bring it up in the clubhouse and you’ll notice the shrugs. As manager Brandon Hyde said, he’ll celebrate when the Orioles get to 95.

(Let’s be honest, I’d think finishing above .500 would be worth at least a high-five.)

The Rangers swept the Orioles in a four-game series. The Tigers, with that first-overall pick, split a four-game series. The Blue Jays swept a three-game series in Baltimore and took two of three in Toronto.

All of it this month.

All of it proof that there are no soft or easier parts of the schedule.

The rebuild is going to be a painful process with few immediate rewards.

Selecting second instead of first in next year’s draft signifies improvement in the record. It doesn’t do anything to change the big picture. And that’s perfectly fine.

To see it requires looking past the record. Whatever it is.

Notes: I reported yesterday that the Orioles hired T.J. Brightman in a role that puts him in charge of revenue/sales. I’ve also heard that they promoted director of corporate and community affairs Jennifer Grondahl, giving her more responsibilities in community relations and other areas.

Grondahl has been part of the Florida operations group since February 2018, based in Sarasota, but she’s had more of a presence this season in Baltimore.

The Red Sox are listing Nathan Eovaldi, Jhoulys ChacĂ­n and Eduardo Rodriguez as starters against the Orioles.

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