The day after the trade deadline has passed, the Orioles are getting raked over the coals by just about anybody with a local or national mainstream media platform for their failure to trade Zach Britton or really do much of anything prior to that deadline. That the Orioles were trying to trade Britton doesn't seem to be in dispute. To a number of these guys, the fact that they didn't actually do it is their own fault.
Some of the reactions in a nutshell:
The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck invoked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: "Hope is not a strategy." He also wondered, "Doesn't there have to come a time when the front office is willing to take a real leap into the future?"
Baltimore Baseball's Dan Connolly cut quickly to the futility: "What was the point here?"
ESPN's Buster Olney gave the Orioles an F in his trade deadline analysis - the only team to receive an F - due to the failure to look to the future:
That thud you heard at 4:01 p.m. Monday was the sound of the trade value of Manny Machado, Zach Britton and other O's vets falling by 25-30%— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 1, 2017
Ken Rosenthal, temporarily writing on Facebook, joined the party as well, not one to miss the chance to bring his favorite bugaboo into the picture:
The team’s refusal to trade Britton and fellow reliever Brad Brach was disturbingly short-sighted, but par for the course for a team that spends almost nothing internationally and does not draft particularly well. ... It’s unclear whether Duquette pulled back on trading Britton or whether he was under orders from owner Peter Angelos.
Oh, is that all? This, it seems, would be the biggest thing that would need to be pinned down to decide what really happened with the Orioles at the deadline. If the story is that GM Dan Duquette was simply underwhelmed by the players being offered, that's one thing. If there was a deal that Duquette liked and Angelos put the kibosh on it for reasons unknown, that's another thing entirely.
For what it's worth, the fact that Angelos got at least a little bit involved in the process is corroborated by reporting from the Orioles-owned MASN beat. Roch Kubatko wrote on Tuesday morning about the deadline:
The Orioles fielded offers for Britton. They weren’t satisfied with the return, in part because of concerns about the health of a few prospects included in proposed deals. The Astros were one of the teams, according to a source. I heard that there were at least three trades in the works that fell through. Proposals reached ownership.
Emphasis mine. Kubatko did not offer any sort of information on which proposals reached ownership or whether they were presented to be vetoed or simply as a, "Here's what's going on" courtesy.
Kubatko added that the Indians had interest in Britton. The other suitors are believed to have been the Dodgers and the Astros, both of whom ultimately ended up trading for pitchers who are nowhere near as good as Britton can be - but also cost nowhere near as much as Britton did.
Did we just get hit with the dreaded Orioles physical in the middle of the season? It's not quite the same as how it goes in the offseason, because players don't actually take physicals for a potential acquiring club. There's just an exchange of medical information. Angelos didn't like the health of ANY prospect package?
Or were these concerns held more by Duquette than Angelos? Plenty of baseball professionals can have health concerns about players. Indeed, many of them were talking to any baseball writer who would publish their words about their concerns about Britton's health prior to the trade deadline.
The top Dodgers prospect, Walker Buehler, had Tommy John surgery in August 2015, shortly after being drafted. I have no idea if he was one of the guys who was on the table at any point.
In press elsewhere, the Houston Chronicle noted that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said that there were some deals that "at times I would've put them at 90 percent-plus that we were going to get them done."
Rosenthal believes this is referencing a Britton trade, with the Orioles "operating on their own planet" by deciding not to trade Britton with about an hour left before the deadline. Yahoo's Jeff Passan, reporting on the Dodgers surprise acquisition of Yu Darvish, said that the Dodgers were told at 3:35pm Eastern, 25 minutes before the deadline, that there would be no Britton deal.
Though the times conflict somewhat, they do paint the same picture. The Orioles were not trying to drive a hard bargain all the way down to the deadline in order to deal Britton.
Maybe there were genuine concerns about health of players involved in the best offers made by Houston or Los Angeles. Maybe the Orioles were swayed towards the last minute by the idea of a probably-futile but possibly feel-good chase for a wild card spot.
That latter thing would be ridiculous, but who knows. The people who DO know have self-interest in trying to get certain stories out there. It is healthy to be skeptical with vaguely sourced stuff. Sometimes people who don't know what the hell is going on talk to reporters - remember the whole Dexter Fowler to the Orioles saga - and other times people say things they don't believe to be true to make themselves look better.
Weird things do seem to happen whenever the Orioles are involved. That much is certain. But if the Dodgers and Astros just didn't want to pay the price, well, that blame goes on them, too.
The Dodgers chose to roll the dice on Darvish (7.20 July ERA) at the last minute, after acquiring two different jabroni relievers named Tony: Watson from the Pirates (3.66 ERA, 1.521 WHIP this season) and Cingrani from the Reds (5.40 ERA, 1.329 WHIP this season).
The Astros ultimately decided they could do without Britton and instead traded for Francisco Liriano, a busted starter who they will attempt to convert into a reliever. The Orioles seem to be bearing the brunt, but it's the Astros and Dodgers who apparently found reasons not to really want Britton all that much, to look at him and decide, "Nah, we're good."
If Britton breaks down, those teams might be right. If one of their freshly-acquired relievers blows a postseason series, then it's Duquette who will have the last laugh... although that still doesn't do a thing to help build up the Orioles farm system to compete in 2018 beyond. He might have made the right choice despite what all of the media reports say and it could still be bad for the franchise.
Even when things do work out for the Orioles, which there's no guarantee that this will, it seems like they have to make it weird. The run-up to the deadline definitely got weird at the eleventh hour, even if there wasn't much to show for it publicly.