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The Orioles are set up to be sellers next offseason

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Five major players will be entering the final season of their contracts one year from now.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox are trying something new. At this year’s Winter Meetings, they traded away starting pitcher Chris Sale and centerfielder Adam Eaton in exchange for seven players that, they hope, will be the foundation of their franchise for years to come. It was bold. It was big. And it just might work. Does that mean a team like the Orioles should follow in their footsteps? There are a few reasons it may make sense.

Help down on the farm

It’s tough to poke too many holes in the return that Chicago got in these two deals. From the Red Sox, they acquired infielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and pitchers Victor Diaz and Michael Kopech for Sale. And from the Nationals they nabbed a trio of right-handed pitchers in Dane Dunning, Reynaldo López and Lucas Giolito for Eaton. All of them, except for Diaz, are now top 10 prospects for the Sox, according to MLB pipeline. That’s huge.

The Orioles farm system, on the other hand, is thin at best. The only guy that really gets a scout’s juices flowing is catcher Chance Sisco, and even he has some mixed reviews.

That’s a problem. Without a well-stocked stable of youngsters, a team lacks both bargaining chips in trades and a clear view of the future. Of course, Dan Duquette will be the first to explain that the Orioles DID have some talented prospects, but they traded them for guys that didn’t really help all that much. Whoopsie.

Middling results

The White Sox haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008. Over the last four years they have been especially bad, oscillating between 63 and 78 wins and fourth and fifth place finishes in the AL Central. Sale and Eaton weren’t the problem and many GMs may have made the decision to build around those two rather than to tear it all down. But being mediocre is not where you want to be; not good enough to make the postseason, not bad enough to get high draft picks.

In Baltimore, the Birds are in the midst of their best baseball since the mid-90s. The team has gone to the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, won the AL East once and hasn’t had a losing season since 2011.

However, the team is constantly playing above their heads. In their last three playoff appearances, they have won 11, two and five more games than their Pythagorean win-loss totals, according to Baseball Reference. Without those wins, they would have had 82, 94 and 84 wins, respectively. Sure, the 94 wins would have still been a great season, but in the other two the Orioles would have just been “also rans” in a similar position to Chicago after winning only 78 games.

And let’s be honest. The pitching staff has always kind of stunk. The rotation has been duct taped together over the last five season with guys like Joe Saunders, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Jake Arrieta (whoever that is!) playing a significant role. It needs an overhaul. The Orioles aren’t going to buy an ace, so they need to develop one instead.

Valuable talent with expiring contracts

Eaton is 28 years old and signed through the 2021 season. Sale is 27 years old and signed through the 2019 season. They’re young and have club-friendly contracts, which allowed Chicago to get so much in return. Baltimore is in a different situation, and let me warn you, you aren’t gonna like this thought...Anyway.

This time next year, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and J.J. Hardy will all be entering their final season under contract with Baltimore. All four could command a decent return, especially Britton in this age of high-priced closers.

I told you that you wouldn’t like it.

But think about it. All four of them are former all-stars. Britton was a Cy Young contender. Jones and Hardy each have Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards to their name. Sure, they are aging, but for the right team who feels they are just a piece away, one of these guys could fill a glaring void.

The big one

Manny Machado is also set to hit free agency after the 2018 season along with the four players mentioned before. The fans want to get him an extension, but there is no evidence that one is on the horizon.

Can you really blame him? There is no doubt he he heard the huge numbers that are being thrown around. $300 million. $400 million! He has proven that he is fully recovered and unaffected by the knee injuries that plagued the early part of his career. Baseball is not forever. Make as much money as you can.

From the Orioles perspective, trading Machado could prove to be a huge boon for them. Teams would line up for the chance to trade for the Miami native and the O’s could sell to the highest bidder, completely re-tool their minor league system and prepare for a generation of good baseball in Charm City. Ah. We can dream a little.

Speculation

There is no reason to believe that any of this is going to happen or that I think it should happen, but rather just to say that it makes at least a teeny, tiny bit of sense. Should Machado, or the rest of them for that matter, be traded or extended? How do you fix the minor league system without huge trades? Those are articles for another time.

A lot will be riding on the 2017 season. A poor team performance could lead to flushing out the old and bringing in the new. But another playoff run will likely end any chance of the Birds becoming sellers, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing either