On July 31, 2018, hours after completing a near-total dismantling of his roster, then-Orioles general manager Dan Duquette likened his efforts to those of a demolition worker.
“It’s a lot like building a house,” Duquette said in a conference call with the media. “I think it’s easier if you demolish the house and build it with a good foundation from the ground up, rather than renovating it one room at a time.”
At that moment, there was no blueprint, only rubble. It took about three years for the foundation – strong amateur scouting, player development and analytics departments – to materialize. Then another two for the house itself – a playoff-bound Orioles team – to be built.
For those merely driving by the construction site, the building appears to have sprouted up out of nowhere on an empty lot. But, for those wearing the hard hats, the construction was sometimes as painful as the demolition.
Along the way, there were losses – plenty of them. From the 2018 trade deadline to the end of the 2022 season, the Orioles lost 373 games. They would have lost far more had the 2020 season not been shortened by the pandemic. They amassed a .380 winning percentage during that time.
There were also remarkable success stories. Cedric Mullins was back down to Double-A Bowie before transforming himself into an All-Star. John Means is also familiar with Bowie – he spent three years in a row there before becoming an All-Star himself.
There were false hopes. Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey showed glimpses of a future as a dominant reliever but could never stay healthy enough for the Orioles to trust him. Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the centerpiece of the Manny Machado deal, failed to combine his tantalizing tools. Lefty Bruce Zimmermann at one time looked like the next Means, only to regress hard and fall back down to Norfolk.
There were waiver claims, from the impactful – such as Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo – to the forgettable – such as Jonathan Araúz and Tayler Scott.
There were missteps, perhaps none more glaring than Elias’ spring training trade of outfielder Mike Yastrzemski for pitcher Tyler Herb. Yastrzemski became a regular for the Giants. Herb topped out in Bowie.
There were foot soldiers. Dutiful placeholders, including Renato Núñez, Hanser Alberto, Rio Ruiz, Richie Martin and Pedro Severino, filled Brandon Hyde’s lineups for years, occasionally shocking opponents and always grateful for their opportunities.
There were special moments. Hyde was greeted with a beer shower after his first win. Ruiz hit a walk-off home run against his former club on a sun-soaked Sunday. Stevie Wilkerson did parkour on Fenway Park’s right field wall to make a remarkable catch in a season finale.
There were the veterans who were dealt away. Andrew Cashner, Tommy Milone, Miguel Castro, José Iglesias, Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens, Alex Cobb, Jonathan Villar and Richard Bleier were just a few of the players traded for prospects or money. None will have a statue in Legends Park, but they may help you in Immaculate Grid.
There were prospects who never made it. The names Zac Lowther, Rylan Bannon, Jahmai Jones, Kevin Smith, Alexander Wells, Tyler Nevin, Blaine Knight and Cody Sedlock were once invoked as potential building blocks, but none panned out.
There was the minutia. Iglesias’ $3.5 million option. The trades for cash considerations. The Rule 5 draft.
There was a pandemic, a lockout, a historic hitless streak, a “dead fish” changeup, a cat on the Yankee Stadium warning track and just about the weirdest happenings you could imagine on a baseball diamond.
There was Matt Harvey.
There was the manager who answered every question after every loss. Hyde never complained and, in doing so, earned the respect and trust of his players.
There were those who stuck around long enough to see it through. Mullins, Means, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays gave fans reason to watch during the worst of times. Now they get to enjoy the best of times.
There were the fans who bought tickets, sat through rain delays, attended MLB draft watch parties and checked prospect rankings. Hopefully, they can look back fondly at the times when the seats were cheaper and the stakes were lower.
These seasons were painful and, to many, felt utterly futile at times. But, for those who stuck it out, the champagne won’t taste bitter at all.