SAN DIEGO - Orioles manager Brandon Hyde can’t make roster projections for 2020 without knowing it’s exact composition. However, he said this afternoon that center fielder Austin Hays is “definitely” in the mix to bat leadoff.
A healthy Hays is going to be on the opening day roster. There’s no gray area in center field.
Hyde also told the media during his 20-minute session that he’d like to have eight candidates for the starting rotation in camp. The Orioles are pretty much down to three with John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski.
There’s a lot of work to be done before February.
Hyde didn’t use the word “rebuild” this season and tried to keep it out of the clubhouse. He’ll make the same attempt in 2020, though it’s harder to do following the trades of Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy.
“I think we’re still going to talk about improving our club, competing on a nightly basis,” he said. “I didn’t want to use that word because I don’t want our players to ... I just want our players to compete and try to win every night and really focus on that and focus on getting better every single day. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We know that.”
The trades that sent Villar to the Marlins and Bundy to the Angels in the same week didn’t produce a sudden dose of reality for Hyde. He knows the score, even when no games are played.
“I think I’m really realistic and I’ve seen good players get traded away in situations like ours, so I know that anything’s possible,” Hyde said. “I knew, especially the second half that both those guys had that there would be interest from other teams and that’s great for them. I’m happy for them and happy that they put themselves in that position.
“Mike (Elias) liked the return that we were getting back and I knew that was definitely a possibility when I took the job not quite a year ago. That’s part of it.”
Hyde tried to text both players after the trade and could only reach Bundy.
The task now is trying to replace some of the production and energy that Villar supplied.
“Exciting player,” Hyde said. “I saw him a lot in Milwaukee, I knew the tools that he had. I had never been with him on a day-to-day basis. He brought so much from the energy level, played 162 games, never wanted to come out of the lineup, switch-hits. He got 40 bags and would have gotten 60-70 probably on a better team. If we weren’t losing all the time, he would have had more opportunities to get stolen bases.
“But the power he showed also was really impressive. And I liked the way he played shortstop the last couple of months. He did a really nice job the nights I gave him the starts at short, so I thought he really improved his defense and his consistency with his defense. I thought he became a better baseball player the last two months of the year. So he’s going to be a big loss.”
Hays is viewed as a player who certainly can fill the energy void.
“I think we saw that the last couple weeks,” Hyde said. “And we saw it in spring training, too. The talent level he has, the speed factor, how he plays center field defense, the ability to steal a base, and the ability to hit for average and power. I thought he really played well in September. I’m really happy with what he brings, so we’re excited about his future and excited about him going forward, too.”
The Villar trade won’t necessarily impact shortstop Richie Martin and whether the Orioles break camp with him or option him to Triple-A Norfolk.
“I think it depends on how the roster shakes out and what moves we make this offseason,” Hyde said. “I was really excited about how Richie improved offensively the last couple of months. Offensively, we had a lot of guys improve and that’s what we were looking for is guys to get better over the course of the year.
“If you look at our hitters especially, there’s a lot of guys that really improved over the course of the season. Richie was one of those. I like the way he played defense. I know the metrics don’t show for whatever reason, but I liked the way he played defense, played major league shortstop after never playing an inning in Triple-A. So he will be in the mix and we will see what we do this offseason with guys from a free agent standpoint and go to spring training and see what happens.”
Hanser Alberto didn’t play shortstop for the Orioles, but he might get some opportunities next season. Again, depending on other moves made over the winter and perhaps in spring training.
“I thought I wore out Hanser last year, to be honest with you. He played so much. I don’t think he was used to the innings and the at-bats. He hadn’t played like that in a long time,” Hyde said.
“I think you’re going to see a guy that’s a little more light on his feet this year. There is going to be a possibility of being able to stick him at shortstop, like we did in the spring or like they have done in the past. But I think there is a possibility of that happening. Really all depends on our roster.”
Hyde is working to grasp all the nuances of the new rules to be implemented next season. Something else to occupy his time.
Relievers must face a minimum of three batters or close out an inning. Hyde needs to learn more.
“The three-batter minimum for me is a little cloudy, so I’m waiting to get some more clarification on it,” he said.
“Once he finishes an inning, what the next inning is like, like he goes back out for the next inning. I’m a little fuzzy on that.”
Being a new manager in the majors, with all of the responsibilities and commitments that go with it, left Hyde with precious little time for tasks that he doesn’t want to neglect in 2020.
“I think the one thing is that I’m going to manage my time better between the time I get to the ballpark until BP,” he said. “Make sure I set aside time to ... I want to be on the field. Our coaches are already on the field a lot. Our coaches work harder with players than I’ve ever seen in the major leagues, so I want to be out there for more of that. I want to be hands on.”
Hyde also said a bullpen coach could be hired next week. The Orioles have conducted interviews at the Winter Meetings.
They won’t announce the staff, including new major league coach Fredi González and first base coach Anthony Sanders, until it’s complete.
“I’ve known Fredi since I was a minor league manager in the organization that he was the major league manager, so he treated me wonderfully,” Hyde said. “I was at big league camp with him. I was the September coach a couple times and always had a lot of respect for Fredi. Kept in touch and stayed friends since then, so I’m really excited about the opportunity to have somebody with some perspective, a guy that’s managed playoff games, really good teams in Atlanta. He’s also been through a situation similar to ours in Miami with a young team. So I love what Fredi brings and his experience.
“Anthony comes so highly recommended by so many people I trust in this game, just the Team USA, base running, outfield, has passion for it. Loved the phone conversations that we had. He just comes highly recommended, and after we agreed with him I got numerous phone calls and texts saying that we had a home run with that hire.
“Excited to have both those guys join us.”
González gives Hyde a coach with major league managing experience.
“I think Fredi is going to give me perspective, you know, postgame, pregame, somebody to talk to during games, also,” Hyde said.
“But I felt comfortable last year with Broc (Doug Brocail) and Don (Long) and Cos (Tim Cossins) and Flo (José Flores). I thought we worked together with decision making and I love the relationship that we all have. Just adding Fredi is another big piece of somebody with a lot of experience.”
There are plenty of changes coming to the organization, but Hyde wants to hold onto certain traits that made a 108-loss season more bearable.
“I think you’ll continue to see players come through our organization. You’re going to continue to see different opportunities for different guys,” he said.
“I think the one thing I’m really proud of is what we did from a clubhouse standpoint and a culture standpoint and I want to continue to keep that going and improve that. I was saying today, if you walked into our clubhouse, you wouldn’t have known if we were a team that was in last place in the AL East. I felt like we were really consistent. I think a lot of that credit goes to the coaches, being positive every single day.
“I thought we had a great makeup group of players that turned the page well and I’m really happy with the work environment that the coaches, the veteran players, that we all created. I want it to be a good place to play and I think we did that last year. I want to continue to see that go forward.”