In a perfect world, the Orioles would simultaneously be able to set themselves up to win now and build for the future as well. That's not the world we live in. The Orioles aren't in a position to be able to do both in equal measure, and as a result, they've had to make choices while chasing present success that will have costs down the road.
Not every one of these choices is exciting, as in the present instance of the Orioles giving up the #14 pick in the draft to sign free agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo to what ought to be a reasonable contract of three years with $35 million guaranteed.
The O's have now had four straight years of success that came almost out of nowhere. They were never supposed to start winning, not like this. You surely conjured up the picture, back in the dark days, of what the next successful Orioles team might look like: Andy MacPhail's much-ballyhooed "cavalry" leading the way to a home grown starting rotation, free agent hitters acquired at just the right time to give that prime rotation a great offense supporting it.
They managed to finally succeed despite that vision being a failure. Make no mistake: While MacPhail assembled some big pieces of winning Orioles teams, like future stars Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado, and future closers Jim Johnson and Zach Britton, the Orioles never would have started winning if he remained at the helm of the O's. Of the cavalry quartet, only Chris Tillman ever became a good starter for the O's.
No one saw the 2012 O's coming because there was no reason to believe in them. Up until then, they were committed to waiting for a bunch of young arms to develop while cool guy Jeremy Guthrie did his impression of a #1 pitcher. Until August of that year, there wasn't any reason to believe they were remarkable, although at least they didn't suck. Then they caught fire and they've been trying to keep the fire burning ever since.
The farm is not why the Orioles started winning
There was no ready-made help on the farm for the O's at the time. Yes, they got a big boost from the callup of Machado, but what's come up from the farm since? In the four years of Dan Duquette's tenure, the O's have only been able to bring up four new players who were mostly developed in the O's minors and have gone on to have any big impact. Machado is the obvious one. The others are Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, and Caleb Joseph. That's it.
There is still no help coming for the O's from the farm, not in any big way. The fact that they had to sign Gallardo at all goes to show that there's no starting pitching option they're comfortable with tossing right into the rotation. Those dreams of a successful homegrown rotation are no closer than they ever were.
If the Orioles go on to add Dexter Fowler for the outfield, that's the same story. There aren't any O's-grown outfielders to give a chance, not if the team is supposed to put its best foot forward from day one. And after watching what happened in the outfield last year, signing a player with Fowler's track record, even at the cost of a draft pick, sounds a whole lot like a good idea.
You can probably assign a good bit of blame for this state of affairs to the O's overall drafting and development strategy over the past decade. Still more could be chalked up to the moves that Duquette has made to try to keep the party going a little longer, including both some sacrificed draft choices and some prospects given away in trades to bolster the major league roster.
What else was he supposed to do? Treat every draft pick as sacred, as if they were the subject of that Monty Python sketch? For a team with as depleted a farm as the O's have, the idea has some merit, but can you imagine if the O's had steadfastly refused to give up picks in 2014? Nelson Cruz gave more value to the O's that year than any draft pick might have ever done.
Not that every one of those signings is going to turn into Cruz, of course. There are plenty of reasons to be dismayed by giving up a pick to sign Gallardo, first and foremost the fact that he might not actually be all that good going forward.
Maybe you find it to be a misguided idea that the O's should keep on trying to win with the way things stand right now. Although the 2015 O's managed to keep themselves at least at a .500 record, the starting rotation didn't look like one that was a Gallardo away from being good. No one is exactly wrong to have concerns.
With the Orioles, expect the unexpected
The thing about that is, who saw the 2012 O's coming, or the 2014 O's? The 2013 team didn't exactly look like they were an Ubaldo Jimenez and a Cruz away from blowing away the rest of the American League East, and Jimenez did more to hurt that year than help.
You would have been even more disinclined to believe in the future of that team had you known that Davis would struggle heavily that year, that Matt Wieters would play only for a month, and that season-opening closer Tommy Hunter would get bounced from that role because he was not good at it.
The Orioles did not care. They won 96 games. They won the division by 12 games and were up by so much that it felt like an extended coronation from mid-August onward. Don't bet the mortgage on the 2016 Orioles doing the same thing, although if they did enjoy unexpected success, they'd fit right in with the model of the past two even year Orioles teams of winning when no one believed they would.
This doesn't mean every decision the Orioles make is perfect or that its logic is beyond question. Eventually, the Orioles will pay the price for these decisions. They're already paying the price of not having a first or second round pick in 2014 and they'll pay another price if they don't pick until the second round this year.
There have been mistakes, and will be more mistakes, in the pursuit of holding on to a winning Orioles team. When those mistakes pile up high enough, they'll probably start losing again.
For now, the Orioles are winning, which is something they did not do from the time I was 14 until the time I was 28. At that point in time, they had been bad for half of my whole life and for all of my adult life. They have not had a losing record since.
Individual moves like the Gallardo signing may not be super exciting, but it's another move that's being made to try to help the Orioles keep winning right here and right now, when so many of the players who've been big parts of their string of recent success are still here. They have to try to win right now because you never know if there will be a later. Until it all starts to fall apart, it's hard to complain about that.