One way or another, today is a day that is going to be talked about for the Orioles for years to come. Hours from now, they will have come to the two roads diverging in Robert Frost’s yellow wood. Down one path, the team stays as it is now, heading towards an uncertain future. Down another, they trade Zach Britton and Brad Brach for prospects and an equally uncertain future.
It’s going to be up to GM Dan Duquette to decide which path they end up taking. Even if he wants to sell Britton and Brach, it’s not as easy as pointing at another team’s best prospects and suddenly having them appear in the Orioles system.
According to FanRag’s Jon Heyman, the Orioles are trying their best to make that happen, though. Heyman writes that for Britton, the O’s have been seeking a return greater than what the Yankees received at the trade deadline last year for Aroldis Chapman. That’s a serious ask. With that return including Gleyber Torres, who’s now the #3 prospect in all of baseball, it’s going to be a tough thing for them to top.
If Duquette can’t get to that asking price, should he hold off on trading Britton after all? There’s no shortage of risk either way. Although Britton’s value is certainly not as high as it would have been six months ago, before his two trips to the disabled list, it could turn out that his value will never again be higher than it is right now. The amount of time he has remaining before becoming a free agent is shrinking every day.
It may be that teams remain uncertain about Britton’s health. Many national writers, presumably hearing from team sources, have spent the last several days pointing out that Britton had not pitched back-to-back days since coming back from the disabled list.
Britton finally did pitch on both Saturday and Sunday, but he pitched to only one batter on Saturday and just two batters on Sunday. If the skeptics were genuine in their concern, will that be enough to convince them? The New York Post’s Joel Sherman wasn’t, but it’s the opinion of the Astros and Dodgers people who matter more than what a writer thinks.
What it’s going to come down to is that if the Astros or Dodgers want some bullpen help to try to guarantee that their near-certain postseason runs last longer, they’re going to need to turn to the Orioles to find that help, health questions or not.
Well, maybe. Other names remain on the market: Addison Reed of the Mets, Brad Hand of the Padres, maybe even Brandon Kintzler of the Twins. None of those guys can really stand against the track record of Britton or Brach from 2014-16. But how sure will they be that the O’s relievers are the guys who can make a difference right now and next year too?
Some names that have been snatched up already. The Cubs picked Justin Wilson from the Tigers. Those same Mets acquired A.J. Ramos from the Marlins, even if nobody really knows why. The Nationals picked up Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Athletics.
Buyers won’t want to be the last one standing when the music stops - but then, neither will the sellers like the Orioles. Though it’ll be a while before they get mathematically eliminated, the O’s would need to finish 36-22 to end up with 86 wins, what looks to be a wild card spot right now.
It’s tough to imagine that happening with this starting rotation. Duquette surely knows this, even if he hasn’t said as much publicly. If he does nothing with the relievers, it probably won’t mean he thinks they have much of a chance to make up 5.5 games in the wild card race. It would just mean nobody met his price.
We’ll never know what kinds of offers Duquette has fielded for the best players he has on the market so far. We’re not going to know what rolls in as the deadline arrives, either.
Orioles fans are going to have to trust the scouts and decisionmakers who thought it was a good idea to sign Yovani Gallardo and trade Wade Miley to acquire fresh talent to help in the future. It isn’t easy being a fan. And hey, don’t sleep on some of the shrewd low-key moves Duquette has made that worked out great - like, say, trading for Brach in the first place.
Even if they do make a trade and everything works out, that just means one or two of our favorite Orioles of the last several years are gone in the blink of an eye. That’s not much fun, either. Imagine a sad press conference before tonight’s game, before Britton leaves Camden Yards? I don’t want to think much about it, especially since the team would be worse off for the rest of the season. Five straight non-losing seasons have been enjoyable. Having that streak snap wouldn’t be.
You might be among the people who wonder whether Duquette is the right person to preside over this whole process at all, either because of the warped incentives from his contract running out after next season or just concerns about some of his bigger-profile trades in recent seasons. Like it or not, though, he’s the guy who’s at the helm today.
Should they stay or should they go? If it seems like I’m feeling conflicted about all of this in this post, that’s because I am. The necessity of making trades to help the team in the future is apparent after watching enough of the 2017 Orioles.
The idea of trading while still thinking about competing next year is a nice one, but is that just wishful thinking? And if they can’t get the kind of return that they want, should they just hold on and try again next year, no matter what people think? The answer is yes. There will be a lot of complaining, though. That will happen regardless.
Whether it’s because of the choices they make or the choices they don’t, this is going to be a momentous day for the Orioles franchise. All I can do is cross my fingers and hope for the best.