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Eisenberg: Orioles Provide Valuable Reminder in Roster Building


Baseball season arrived this week – yes, with icy remnants of last week's snowfall still lingering in my backyard.

It's a happy occasion, a harbinger of the warmth and sunshine to come. But through much of the buildup to the 2018 major league season, the outlook wasn't so bright in Baltimore. Many local fans expected little in return for their devotion to the home team. They were upset that the Orioles seemingly lacked the pitching to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Now that the season is here, though, a more optimistic view of the team is circulating. The Orioles went on a spending spree in the final weeks of the offseason, in the process adding quite a bit of quality pitching – certainly enough for them to compete better. Some experts now see them as a playoff contender.

No matter how all that pans out, though, the last-minute uptick in their potential underscores one of the basic truths of modern pro sports, namely (to paraphrase Yogi Berra), the offseason isn't over until it's over.

It's as true in pro football as in baseball: the whir of possible additions and subtractions never stops during the offseason, right up to the end, making it almost pointless to assess where a team stands until its regular season actually begins.

That's a lesson worth heeding these days as the Ravens chug through the offseason with their public grumbling about whether enough is being done to end the team's run of three straight non-playoff seasons.

A lot of people think they know, but a lot of people also were convinced the Orioles wouldn't have nearly enough pitching in 2018. They do, it turns out (at least I think), and the fact that key additions came late in the offseason simply doesn't matter. The season didn't begin until a couple of days ago.

It's a mantra Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has espoused for years. You've heard him. We have until the season opener to gather the pieces of our puzzle, he'll say, intimating that important moves could come at any time, right up until when the season kicks off.

Some fans don't want to hear it and there's a constant pull to gauge where things stand, i.e., give the offseason a grade, but honestly, who cares when months remain until the team plays games that count?

If you ask Assistant GM Eric DeCosta what he has learned from Newsome, one of the first things he'll say is the p-word – patience. It's a fundamental skill of the roster-building trade.

Sudden and surprising additions are even more common in the NFL than in baseball because of the salary cap. In baseball, which has no cap, you have a pretty good idea which players will be available in an offseason. There's less certainty in the NFL, where quality players are constantly cut as teams shed payroll to stay under the cap.

The Ravens have feasted on that marketplace for years, most recently with the signing of receiver Michael Crabtree, expected to become one of quarterback Joe Flacco's prime targets. No one saw that as a real possibility until the Oakland Raiders abruptly cut Crabtree.

The Ravens have made numerous other out-of-nowhere additions over the years, acquiring key pieces such as linebacker Darryl Smith and tackle Bryant McKinnie well into the offseason. Before those signings, the players' positions were viewed as holes that needed to be filled. Well, the fill came, just later in the offseason, and with satisfactory results.

My point is the Ravens have months to address what are currently viewed as the holes in their roster. You know the list. They still need more wide receivers and a tight end who can catch passes downfield. They could stand a starting inside linebacker. They always need more defensive backs and offensive linemen.

It seems like a lot, and right now, it's hard to fathom how they'll get to everything, even with the draft coming up. But they don't play a game that counts until September, near the end of the long baseball season that just began. They've really just started making moves, with many more to come. There is time.

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