It’s easy to say now that expecting Jackson Holliday to play extremely well in spring training and thus play his way onto the Orioles was overly optimistic.

It’s much, much easier to call reassigning him to minor league camp exactly what it was: cynical to its core.

Not necessarily cynical in the self-interested sense from an Orioles perspective, though there’s certainly a whiff of that.

This is a team that in many ways embodies joy, excitement and hope for the future, with a 101-win season on its résumé and championship aspirations with a young, talented core. Believing in homegrown talent is as fundamental as it gets around here.

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This decision embodies precisely none of that, and whatever practical value to starting Holliday at Triple-A Norfolk exists — and there’s a modest amount of it — is rinsed away pretty quickly by the unpleasant realities this one simple roster move betrays.

Let’s start with the stated reasons, which again, hold at least some merit. Holliday has limited experience against high-level left-handed pitching and basically played just once a week at second base last season.

There’s not much remedy for the former. In Triple-A, talented lefties are scarce because so many are in the big leagues. The Orioles are probably looking at how a lack of experience against lefties influenced the early-career struggles of prior prospects Gunnar Henderson and Colton Cowser as much as Holliday’s ability to face them.

On the latter, he could have played more second base in the past and it was the Orioles who controlled how often he played where in 2023. But there were no indications out of camp that he didn’t handle the position well despite that.

Add in the more experienced options for what could ultimately be a limited major league role, and the Orioles can probably justify this move to themselves pretty well.

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The organization has come this far by making practical decisions at every turn but also by believing the only way to get better is through extreme challenge. That’s why they promote extreme-difficulty drills for minor league hitters, push young pitchers out of their comfort zones to design new weapons, and move their top prospects through the minors extremely quickly so that little time is wasted at levels they’ve already mastered.

Is it really a higher probability that a 20-year-old with limitless potential whose quick application of new skills is one of his most attractive attributes flops in the majors because of these minor faults? Or is it more likely that he ends up better for having addressed them at this stage of his career in the big leagues?

That’s truthfully what’s at play here: the potential for something to go wrong outweighing the probability that it doesn’t. The roster-construction consequence of this and other moves Friday is essentially downside protection for the Orioles. They get to keep Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías and Ryan McKenna in the organization, with their experienced depth prioritized over the upside in Triple-A. Kolten Wong could stick around, too. The extent they’re better or worse for this is probably negligible in the near term, given that the talent level among their starters is way more meaningful than who bats at the bottom of the order and plays second base a few times a week.

They’re just protecting themselves and, in the process, seemingly betting on that negative outcome rather than on Holliday. Literally.

To explain service time is not to accuse the Orioles of manipulating it, and Mike Elias told reporters in Florida that this was not a case of that, so here is a mere explanation.

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MLB players reach free agency after six seasons of major league service time, and the six-month regular season contains more days (around 187) than a full year of major league service time does (172). So, if a player spends enough time in the minors in a given season, he can miss the threshold for a full season and potentially delay his free agency by a full year later in his career. A few weeks now can equate to a full year in a player’s prime.

MLB and the players tried to address this issue in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. Teams are incentivized to have top prospects in the majors on opening day with the potential for an additional high draft pick. If a player on their roster from the start of the season wins Rookie of the Year or finishes in the top three for the MVP or Cy Young awards, the team will receive a pick after the first round. The Orioles benefited from that with Gunnar Henderson in 2023.

A player-friendly aspect went against them the year before when Adley Rutschman, who injured his triceps in spring training and debuted in May 2022, and thus did not earn a full year of service time, came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting and was granted a full year of service time through that honor.

Similarly, Friday’s move won’t be worth much in the long run if Holliday comes up in May and still finishes in the top two of voting, which given his profile and talent is a possibility. The front office takes a lot into account when building the roster, but someone likely evaluated the risk there and decided to effectively bet against Holliday being great right away.

It’s a bizarre world where that’s a risk worth taking, but Holliday doing what he has at an elite level as a professional baseball player and quickly adapting to whatever challenging circumstance comes his way isn’t.

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Across the league Friday, the Brewers were touting that the “future is now” as they announced 20-year-old Jackson Chourio, the game’s No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America, had made the team. Similarly, the World Series-champion Texas Rangers put last year’s No. 4 overall pick, Wyatt Langford, the game’s fifth-best prospect, on their roster.

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Friday’s moves in Sarasota, Florida, mean Cowser will likely be on the team, so the Orioles could still have a rookie eligible for a bonus draft pick on their opening day roster. His debut last year and the challenges he faced are common for even the most talented prospects. Some never recover, and for others it’s a mere blip in an otherwise great career.

The Orioles aren’t going to live in a fantasy land where the possibility doesn’t exist that Holliday struggles similarly. But, if they truly believe in developing players the way they do up until they get to the majors, it’s hard to fathom how getting that experience is going to hurt more than it ultimately helps. It’s all just philosophical hand wringing about a roster-building decision that has little place in the current Orioles landscape.

This is a team set to have new and improved ownership, with a long-term commitment to Baltimore now signed, and with as wide open a championship window as one could hope for.

It’s hard to believe the same processes that built this enviable collection of on-field talent produced the rationale for starting the season without Holliday. But they have. And I hope Coby Mayo or Samuel Basallo doesn’t hit too well next spring, lest we do this all over again.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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