It was just after 8:30 Friday morning inside the B&O Warehouse when, surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias rang in a new era for the Orioles.
“Our rebuild is behind us,” Elias said, expressing in the most certain terms yet Baltimore’s rising expectations.
This has been building since the Orioles’ unexpected run at the postseason last year. Perhaps it was even a year ahead of schedule, thanks to fresh faces such as Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and others helping the franchise win its most games since 2016.
Elias uttered the words “it’s liftoff from here” after he traded away two key pieces of the organization at the deadline; he spoke of increasing the payroll at the end of that 2022 campaign; he highlighted the organization’s desire to aim for the playoffs during the winter meetings.
But here, about two weeks before the first organized workout for Baltimore’s pitchers and catchers in Sarasota, Elias added to that list of key statements with the most pronounced one yet.
The rebuild is over.
“Really for the first time since we’ve been here, we want to build off last year from the expectation standpoint,” manager Brandon Hyde added. “I’m excited about that, honestly. Feel like we have a competitive club, and this is the first time we’ve gone in with a true non-rebuild mode of going out to win games.”
The going has been long, for Elias and Hyde and the players and — particularly — the fans who paid to watch three 100-plus loss seasons in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Elias joined before the 2019 season, then brought Hyde on board. Prior to the breakout in 2022, they had experienced 253 losses and just 131 wins.
The process was measured, to recalibrate a club that had swelled its payroll with overpriced, underperforming players.
The Orioles picked up high draft selections thanks to their lousy records, and have since turned that into promise: Rutschman and Henderson have already arrived, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is on the cusp of doing so, and the top farm system in baseball has plenty of other talent to provide more depth than Hyde is used to having at his disposal.
Last year, the Orioles won 83 games — compared to 52 the year before. They fell short of a postseason berth, but even getting close was encouraging and feeds into Baltimore’s mounting expectations for this season.
“This is honestly the first spring training that I’ve been standing here openly talking about playoffs. I think that’s a big deal,” Elias said. “We’ve been very strategic with everything we’ve done. We’ve been very consistent and deliberate, and now we’re at a point where our focus has turned to getting into the postseason and October.”
At the winter meetings, as high-priced free agent deals rattled around the Manchester Grand Hyatt lobby in San Diego, the Orioles stood mostly pat. Throughout his tenure, Elias has preached the need for incremental building, so a payroll that ranked last in 2022 has only risen to a projected 29th ($64.9 million, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts).
Still, despite the offseason additions falling short of the expectations some fans had after Elias called for “liftoff,” Elias checked off much of his wish list.
They picked up a veteran backup catcher (James McCann), two starting pitchers (Cole Irvin and Kyle Gibson) another back-end bullpen arm (Mychal Givens) and a left-handed-hitting infielder (Adam Frazier). To secure Irvin from the Athletics, Elias parted ways with a prospect for an established major leaguer for the first time in Baltimore, sending Darell Hernaiz to Oakland.
Elias didn’t shut the door on more business before the end of spring training, although the free agent market has slimmed considerably. But he believes the free agent and trade additions he already made supplemented a group of younger players who will only improve.
“We’ve got an incredible chance to be a very, very competitive team for years,” Elias said.
A complicating factor for the Orioles each year will be the teams they face the most. The American League East is a juggernaut, and only one team wins an automatic bid for the postseason. A redesigned schedule reduces the number of intradivision games, however, potentially easing the path toward a wild card spot.
The expectations are heightened. So is the pressure.
But from inside the B&O Warehouse, with spring training just around the corner, the Orioles’ brass issued their declaration: The rebuild is over.
“We’re ready for it,” Hyde said. “It was a tough few years. Not just from my seat, but fans also, everybody around who follows the team — it was hard. To have expectations, we have confidence in our guys, and I think our players have a ton of confidence, and I just want them to take it head-on.”