Monday afternoon’s botched rundown, representative of the current Orioles form, has been receiving its deserved mockery all across the Internet. Unfortunately for the O’s, such a play has more or less encapsulated what has been a season short of expectations.
At the moment, it seems vultures are eagerly circling the Orioles’ limp form, with the rest of baseball thinking the O’s brand of bad play may actually direct the club’s front office towards an expedited roster reconstruction.
At 40-44, the Orioles remain 9.0 games back of the now American League East front-running Boston Red Sox, but even so, the Wild Card is only 3.5 games on the horizon. With the Sox starting to hit on all cylinders, and with a 25-man roster just a bit more renaissanced than the Orioles, the East is probably (definitely) out of reach.
Nevertheless, the masses are convinced that an organizational rebuild remains the lone strategic move...six days into July.
That isn’t to say I don’t get where the motive originates. As Mr. Cicere said about the Yankees three weeks ago, it looked like they may never lose another game. Reversely, the Orioles appear unable to buy a win.
The stable of evidence is in no short supply. Wade Miley is falling backwards to, um, Wade Miley. Improvement in the eyes of Chris Tillman is pitching five innings rather than four, with his allowance of runs maintaining the same levels of inadequacy. Mark Trumbo is costing the Orioles wins on the WAR scale, and the hot starts of Welington Castillo and Seth Smith have started to cool just as winter is coming.
As it is in the realm of Westeros, chaos isn’t a pit, chaos is a ladder, and the Orioles are falling rung by rung deeper into discourse.
So, yeah, I get it. A rebuild for a team whose contention relies upon, and has failed to best its middle-of-the-road status quo, has merit. But for the Orioles to wave the white flag and surrender what little window remains available, the O’s would have to do something big, like trade the best player the organization has had since time passed into the 21st century.
Manny Machado, despite his 81 wRC+ and wayward 1.5 fWAR, is still one of the best baseball players on the face of the Earth. We aren’t talking about a deteriorating thirty-something whose best days have come and gone.
Machado, who turns 25 today (happy birthday bro), is in the midst of one of those Murphy’s Law kind of years, where his .223 BABIP has certainly contributed to an unfair share of bad luck. Even as he’s erased half the outfield from his arsenal as the years have gone by, Machado is a bonafide 30-40 home run hitter whose natural ease at the hot corner shares no likeness.
The Orioles’ star third baseman could fetch a revitalizing price with the means of reloading a farm system without much soil, especially in an era where stardom demands a ransom. A potential Machado trade would certainly mean the Zach Brittons, Brad Brachs and anyone else with any semblance of plus-value on the market would be free game. It all sounds good in theory, but don’t get your hopes up.
That isn’t how these Orioles operate. Vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette didn’t assemble this current roster with an abrupt finish line in mind.
The Orioles are currently on the hook for just under $170 million this season, though that number is going to severely soften come November. Miley, Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, J.J. Hardy, Seth Smith and Welington Castillo are all due to depart, or around $60 million in guaranteed funds out the door if options are declined and all parties flee.
Regardless, the Orioles core will mostly remain intact for at least another year. The infield is probably going to be Hardy-less, but returning Machado, Schoop and Davis with Caleb Joseph at catcher as a worst-case scenario is still pretty good. There’s no reason to think Adam Jones, whose extension runs out after the 2018 season, will be anything but an Oriole until then. Trey Mancini has hit his way into an everyday role, as has Mark Trumbo’s contract.
With Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman as the lone Orioles starters guaranteed spots heading into next year, the meat of the Orioles talent isn’t going to lose much beef. If anything, the timing of everything will trim a lot of unnecessary fat.
Sprinkle in some offseason add-ons and the Orioles aren’t projected to look too much different than they do now. And that’s just how Duquette wants it.
2018 is all but prepared to be last swing of the pendulum, and Duquette hasn’t shown any symptoms of pushing the envelope in either direction. Sure, he’s had his good and bad attempts, like Andrew Miller and Gerardo Parra, but his primary objective has always been to stabilize a teetering roster with what he thinks works, and what he knows.
The Davis and Trumbo signings were always meant to reassure Orioles fans the front office was committed to winning, and winning with what has won before. Darren O’Day’s trendsetting deal set a precedent that good relievers are worthy of steeper pay, and he’s a clubhouse guy as well as an effective reliever when healthy. Davis hits 53 home runs, and the Orioles were more than willing to overbid for a player whose market never really developed. Trumbo was much of the same, without the bloated price.
Other than the mid-salaried role player, the Orioles haven’t proven they’re willing to go above and beyond whether it be through trade or on the free agent market. In contrast, Duquette has been more than willing to latch onto proven commodities. This makes for a conundrum that doesn’t fork in the road, but rather puts the car in park.
There is no team in baseball that embraces the middle ground more than the Orioles, and based on the evidence at hand, there’s no reason to suggest a rebuilding plan is anywhere in place. This makes Machado’s future pretty simple, and the Orioles future as a whole much less.
The Orioles are going to try to wring the winning towel dry, whether or not there is any moisture left. Some may call it admirable, bleak or downright negligent, but it’s how the Duquette-era Birds have ran the ball club and how they will continue to march forward, because there is no presentable data to suggest otherwise.
The 2018 season may spark a new conversation, but for now, these are the Orioles we’ve been dealt, as well as the blind hope that comes with an underperforming baseball team with just enough time to turn its demise around. Machado, Britton and others are going to stay just where they are for now, because the Orioles, as they’ve proven, are trying to delay the inevitable.
The balancing act of trying to win with an unprecedented big budget while also facing a dismal future always seemed to be converging, but the former was never a promise.
If the Orioles stroll along with this status quo, day by day, the latter holds a little more weight. Then in the end, nobody wins.