The Baltimore Orioles 2017 season is in a rapid downward spiral. In terms of recent form (27-41 since the end of April), they may be the worst team in baseball. Despite the bad play on the field, the conventional thinking was that the O’s weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel on the campaign, until reports on Monday indicated that the weekend sweep at the hands of the Cubs was the final straw. It’s time for the Birds to sell. Finally!
This has been a team with known flaws for a while. They defied expectations, statistics, probabilities and sabremetrics for five years, scratching by with a lock-down bullpen, homer-happy offense, rock-solid defense and, to be kind, mediocre starting pitching.
That’s not to say this team was “lucky” to be as good as they have been for half of a decade. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter formulated their roster, season after season, in a way that was good at winning baseball games, staying competitive, and making regular playoff appearances, including an ALCS run in 2014.
But this year’s version is just not as good as previous iterations. Both corner outfield spots remain mysteries. All of the team’s strengths: hitting home runs, good defense and reliable bullpen, have slipped slightly. And the starting pitching has been absolutely atrocious. Even if this club were to get back on track, it’s not a World Series contender. Buying at this year’s trade deadline would have been foolish.
Gotta go all in
However, what may be just as foolish would be a half-hearted sale that leaves the Orioles in this same position next summer. The aforementioned reports claim that the O’s are looking to trade away role players, soon-to-be free agents and relievers. But hold onto Manny Machado and Adam Jones among others.
So, basically the O’s aren’t interested in offers for some of their most valuable players, which would fetch them the best return? That makes absolutely no sense. The team is stuck in a spot where anything that’s not nailed down should be for sale. And even then, the decision-makers should listen anyway, in case they get an offer too good to turn down.
The Machado agenda
In this instance, “nailed down” can refer to players that the Orioles are tied to for several more seasons. For instance, both Givens and Dylan Bundy aren’t eligible for free agency until 2022, Trey Mancini in 2023. They should all stay. Big-time (hopefully) prospects, like Austin Hays and Chance Sisco, are also off limits. And expensive contracts (Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis) will have little to no suitors. Beyond that, the Birds should expect and welcome offers for players up and down the roster. Yes, even Jonathan Schoop (sell high?).
Without question, the player who deserves the most buzz is Machado. The third baseman is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season. If a team were to acquire him this July, they would get a full season plus two months out of him. Despite his struggles this year, that would still fetch the O’s a ton of players in return.
Think back to February of 2008 when the Orioles sent then-ace Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler. That move was a franchise-changer. Four of those guys went on to produce in the big leagues. Three of them have made all-star appearances. Two of them are still with the O’s nearly a decade later. And one of them is an all-time organization great. Manny could be worth even more.
A model to follow
The Chicago White Sox have nine of the top 68 prospects in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. Six of those young players came over in three recent blockbuster trades (Chris Sale to the Red Sox, Adam Eaton to the Nationals and Jose Quintana to the Cubs). So while the big league team kind of stinks right now (only a few games worse than the Orioles), the franchise is supremely set up to succeed in another two or three years.
This is what the Orioles should aim to do as well. With the likes of Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and others at their disposal, the O’s have the potential to nab some blue chip prospects that could lay the foundation for the franchise for years to come.
But the moves must be made quickly. As the trade deadline inches ever closer, more and more teams will start to drop out of contention, negatively affecting the seller’s market.
Trading for prospects is the baseball equivalent of playing the lottery. It doesn’t always work out the way you hoped, but when it does it is glorious. At the very least, the O’s can stockpile youngsters that they themselves can use in future trades if they deem themselves “contenders” again.
Anthony Rizzo was traded twice as a minor league before making it to four all-star games and winning a World Series with the Cubs. As was the Rays’ Chris Archer. Carlos Gonzalez joined the Rockies from Oakland during his time on the farm. The O’s themselves even traded away Eduardo Rodriguez, who is thriving in Boston this year.
This is the way that an underperforming, or just flat out bad, team can spin their bad season into a positive. For the Orioles, it seems like the logical thing to do. If the pitching really is this bad, they have little chance to compete next season, and may as well plan for the future as soon as possible.
*All statistics were taken prior to game action in Monday, July 17th, 2017