The old “baseball is a lot like life” adage is a classic little-league coaching talking point that has always roughly translated to — “you might not like what’s going on, but you have to deal with it”. It’s said thousands of times on baseball diamonds all over the country, and today, I’m here to share the phrase with you in regards to the 2017 Baltimore Orioles.
With that said, you’re not going to like what comes next. Admittedly, I don’t either.
Often times in life, we have to do things we don’t like to do. I immediately think of going to the MVA. It’s terrible, it’s hectic and it’s the last thing you want spend time thinking about and/or doing — ever. But after you grit your teeth and walk out of the doors, there’s a sense of relief knowing it’s over.
Now, I’m fully aware that it’s the holiday season and everyone is full of cheer, but there’s a sad reality that we all need to prepare for. And in reality, it might take 7+ months to fully come to grips with.
The (perhaps frightening) truth
July’s MLB trade deadline, if you’re an Orioles fan, is very possibly going to be a dreadful MVA-like experience.
Barring an improbable winning streak pre-All-Star break that sees Buck Showalter’s squad make a legitimate run at the AL East crown, Dan Duquette is set up almost perfectly to be a seller at this year’s deadline. With a rotation that carries question marks, paper-thin outfield depth and concerns behind the dish on defense, the Orioles aren’t exactly entering the season with odds in their favor.
And unless St. Nick brings the Birds a Clayton Kershaw-like arm this Christmas, projections for 2017’s team will be, yet again, hovering around .500.
Of course, there’s sufficient room for optimism, especially considering Showalter’s past of managing mediocre on-paper talent to postseason berths, but you’d have to dig fairly deep into the bin of confidence to pull out any scenario that sees the Orioles being legitimate postseason contenders.
Because of that, and the structure of contracts that exist for the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton and even Adam Jones, the O’s could very realistically be without the core of their team come August 1 of 2017.
The case for a mid-season sale
I’m an unabashed “numbers rarely lie” believer when it comes to baseball. With the idea of potentially dealing two of the three aforementioned names, those numbers enter the center stage.
First, it’s important to note that the numbers almost certainly suggest that the Orioles aren't a World Series contender. Sure, the fan perspective notes that anything can happen in this amazing sport, and that’s somewhat true. But the realist in all of us can step back and analyze this situation from a fair, and albeit frustrating, perspective.
The Orioles aren’t title contenders now, and it’s very unlikely that they get there before Machado and Britton look to hit the market after the 2018 season.
With that in mind, the analytical approach seemingly becomes simple: trade away your stars now for a massive haul of prospects that can potentially be helpful in capturing a World Series for the future, perhaps even as early as the 2018-2019 timeframe.
With Britton, a mid-season trade seems almost to be a no-brainer. With the current makeup of the bullpen, Duquette shouldn’t shy away from taking offers in July. Especially if Britton continues his dominance, the asking price should ultimately be a win for the club in future seasons.
After seeing what elite closers received on the free agent market this offseason, it’s difficult to envision Britton being dealt away for anything less than two prospects with real MLB potential.
With Machado, the potential trade returns become even more appealing.
Consider this — Chris Sale, who will be 28 years old at the start of next season, was acquired by the Boston Red Sox for Yoan Moncada (baseball’s top prospect) and Michael Kopeck (an arm with real major-league potential) and another pair of minor-leaguers. That’s a pretty decent haul for the White Sox, giving away a pitcher who notched WAR numbers of 6.2 and 5.2 the past two seasons.
Now, imagine the potential return for Machado, who will be 25 years old at the deadline and has two WAR marks of 6.8 and 6.5 over the last two years.
Machado’s contract situation does differ from Sale’s, but the current structure of his deal won't keep a “win-now” team from offering up their best prospects to have Machado under their control for at-least a year and a half.
It’s understandable to desire a world in which the Orioles retain Machado for the long-term future, but it’s clear that isn’t going to shape up to be the case.
Barring a far-fetched miracle situation, Machado won’t be wearing orange after 2018. And if the team does hold onto him and the rest of the current core, there isn’t going to be much hope after #13 leaves town and heads straight for the dollar signs.
With the current World Series window being as small as it is, it only seems logical for the team to prepare now for a potential franchise-altering month in July 2017.
The projected reality
It’s painful; let’s not try to fool ourselves here. For now, the Orioles appear as though they’re stuck in no-man’s land, hanging onto a paper-thin rope that could swing them in the direction of a championship if the rest of the American League crumbles.
But as the life lessons that baseball presents creep onto the scene, a realistic approach also enters.
The Orioles probably aren’t winning a title in the Manny Machado era — now, or in 2018.
However, there’s no reason the club can’t be competitive within a four or five-year span. By trading away a combination (or perhaps the trio) of Machado, Britton and Jones, a bright era of Orioles baseball could find itself waiting on the horizon.
Imagine a baseball world where the Orioles minor-league system is filled with budding prospects and talented potential — one where Chance Sisco, Cody Sedlock, Keegan Akin and Matthias Dietz are joined by more than a half-dozen potential future big-leaguers.
It’s unpleasant on the surface, but seeing a master plan be built and executed is often times an enjoyable experience. And many times, it’s worth the reward of a few losing seasons. Heck, just ask Cubs fans.
The point here is simple. Baseball is a beautiful sport. There isn’t another one like it, and the system of developing players isn’t like anything any other professional league has to offer
Some teams develop better than others. Recently, in the case of the Orioles, they’ve been the “others” more often than not in that respect.
But this year’s deadline presents an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.
And while it might be heartbreaking to pull the trigger on, it’s a moment that could change the course of the Orioles franchise for years to come.