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Trading Manny Machado must trigger a full Orioles rebuild

It needs to happen if the O’s hope to compete in the AL East in the not-so-distant future

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Manny Machado is for sale. As reported by Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday, the Orioles are listening to offers for their third baseman, who is entering the final year of team control and seems unlikely to re-sign long term. The AL East is getting stronger around the O’s, and their chances of winning the division, or becoming real World Series contenders, are already dwindling. Baltimore is smart to gauge Machado’s market, and they should pull the trigger on the best offer, no matter who makes it.

Waiting until his final year of arbitration before seriously considering a trade for Machado was a mistake. Teams in the midst of a rebuild, who may have been looking at Machado as a guaranteed centerpiece years ago, will no longer be interested. Instead, you limit yourself to only a handful of clubs that are ready to win, and flush with prospects.

MLB Trade Rumors did a nice job of laying out which organizations could make a run at Machado. MLBTR gives us a rough top five of the Cardinals, Yankees, Angels, Rockies and Nationals, in that order. Two teams stand out on that list as seemingly unlikely trade parters: New York and Washington. One is a long-time division rival on the precipice of another World Series run. The other is a geographical foe with which the Orioles are currently entangled in a court battle regarding the two teams’ local broadcast network, MASN.

However, if the Birds eliminate part of Machado’s seemingly thin market, it only really hurts one team, the Orioles themselves. The organization has almost no starting pitching at the big league level and there isn’t much help coming from the minors anytime soon. Rumor is that the O’s want two young, high-potential hurlers in any deal for Machado. That could go a long way towards Baltimore competing once again. The more teams involved in trade talks, the better the return would ultimately be.

If the Orioles don’t trade Machado, that likely means the team is “going for it” in 2018. Manny stays, and Dan Duquette scrapes the bottom of the free agent barrel for pitching while making a handful of low-key trades that only sort of work out. It’s the same strategy he has used for several seasons now, and the product on the field has reflected that, with Baltimore trotting out solid, but unspectacular, rosters. The team could compete for the second wild card spot and then Machado leaves in the winter for next to nothing.

This strategy of retooling rather than rebuilding seems, for lack of a better word, pointless. The Orioles are not the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox. They cannot outspend their mistakes. They, like most other MLB teams, must develop a strong base of youngsters and then look to complement them with select free agent signings.

Look no farther than the World Series champion Houston Astros. After winning the NL pennant in 2005, the franchise toiled in mediocrity from 2006-2010. Then, they decided to go into full on “Suck Mode”, selling off players and losing a lot of games, giving them high draft picks. The result? A young, competitive team that looks ready to chase championships for several seasons. This course of action also requires excellent drafting and development of talent, two areas the Orioles seem to struggle in, but the point remains.

Trading away Machado would need to be the first domino to fall in a full tear-down effort. Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach, Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo should all then be on the chopping block. The team likely won’t compete with Manny. They certainly won’t without him. So, it makes little sense to maintain a core of soon-to-be free agents otherwise.

The Orioles history on matters such as these, especially under Peter Angelos’ ownership, is a bit mixed. In 2008, staff ace Erik Bedard, who had two years of team control at the time, was traded to the Mariners in a deal that nabbed Baltimore five players, including Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and future all-star George Sherrill. In 2011, Koji Uehara was sent to the Rangers in exchange for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Those deals laid the groundwork for the Baltimore resurgence in the early 2010s. On the other hand, the Orioles have stopped short of full rebuilds, holding onto guys like Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Luke Scott well past their “use by” dates.

This would be a huge undertaking. Angelos doesn’t like tanking and, given his advanced age, probably wants to win soon. Not to mention, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are both entering the final year of their contracts as well. Rebuilding under a regime that may soon be gone could prove difficult.

But this is the ugly truth; the Orioles aren’t a very good baseball team as it stands. They have no starting pitching. The outfield positions are a bit murky. Many of their key players are nearing free agency. And the farm system, while improving, still lacks depth and high-ceiling talents. This rebuild probably should have happened last winter, but it didn’t. Baltimore now has a chance to correct that misstep and set the franchise up to succeed in years to come.

Will it happened? Come on, these are the Orioles. You already know the likely answer. But “should” it happen? Definitely.