What a difference a week makes. It wasn’t too long ago that the Giancarlo Stanton trade extravaganza seemed to be focusing on the Giants and Cardinals, two teams the Orioles seldom see. The impact of that trade of the reigning National League MVP seemed like it would mostly be elsewhere.
That’s what it seemed like, anyway, because now Stanton is getting traded to the Yankees and this whole thing just became the Orioles’ problem in a big way. All that it cost the Yankees was Starlin Castro and a pair of minor leaguers who between the two of them have never played above short-season ball.
The Orioles situation was grim enough coming off a last place finish with a league-worst rotation, needing to fill three starting pitching spots in order to compete, or pretend to be able to compete, in the last year before the great free agent apocalypse arrives.
Now, climbing back into contending for the division requires getting past the young and good Red Sox, who just won the AL East, and the Yankees, who’ve now got both leagues’ 2017 home run champions lined up for at least the next three seasons. And even thinking about the wild card now requires reckoning with the presence of Shohei Ohtani on the Angels.
Is it impossible for the Orioles to compete in this new environment? No, of course not. Their recent (2012-16 even years) success has all involved overcoming the challenge of teams expected to be far better than the Orioles themselves. In each of those good years, their paths to success were not ones that we could easily imagine in early December and they managed to win anyway. That’s what made it fun.
The story is a bit different this winter, though, because time is finally about to run out on the core of this group of Orioles. One year from now, the contracts will have run out for all of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Adam Jones - as well as manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette.
This is their last shot and perhaps it’s going to be a futile shot before it even begins. Unless the Orioles can pull some real magic in replenishing their rotation from a thin free agent pool and a nonexistent talent pool in their own high minors, it’s going to be a real uphill climb, probably more of one than they have had to face in any of the Duquette years. They won’t get to try again with this group next year if they miss.
Does this mean it’s time for the Orioles to re-think their strategy about whether or not they should rebuild this winter? I would hope they’re at least giving that some consideration now.
It’s not much fun to think about Machado or Britton getting traded, even if that might be best for the long-term health of the franchise. But it’s not much fun, either, to think about them leaving as free agents, with the Orioles getting nothing but one compensation pick in return after another fourth or fifth place finish.
The Orioles surely must have had dreams of some wild, best-case scenario for next year, where they sign starters who aren’t bad, where Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo and Britton bounce back, and so on. Stanton joining the Yankees makes it more clear just how wild those dreams have always been. What is it worth to chase a wild dream?
The Stanton trade might even have more bad ripple effects for Orioles fans beyond just what happens in the 2018 season. With Stanton and Aaron Judge set in their outfield, that would (presumably) eliminate the Yankees from the Bryce Harper market in a year’s time, meaning that - if all goes poorly for us - they can save their big dollar spending for Machado.
Just thinking about it makes me want to barf. No sense spending too much time agonizing about what might happen right now, but at the same time, we should get prepared for the worst case scenario in another year’s time. MASN is going to need to quickly retire the “ain’t baseball great” slogan, because right now, it sure ain’t.