When we think of significant Oriole contracts set to expire after the 2018 season, the two that immediately come to mind belong to Manny Machado and Zach Britton. However, two others set to end after next year are likely even more essential to the future of the team – those belonging to Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter.
Both joined the organization in 2011, signing extensions after the 2012 season and the team’s first playoff appearance since 1997. The Orioles’ brain trust was set for the next six seasons and was expected to provide the personnel and management to lead to even greater things.
After all, with a talented core of players like Machado, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Tillman and others under team control at the time, the future did look bright. And owner Peter Angelos did his part to open the checkbook so that Duquette could add the necessary pieces to take the Orioles back to the October classic.
The Orioles’ 25-man opening day team payroll has almost doubled from the start of the 2012 season ($84,102,233) to the beginning of this season ($164,326,172), according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Their 40-man end-of-year payroll ranking moved from 19th among MLB teams in 2012 to 12th last year.
So, the money's been there. But the team has not made it to the AL Championship round, despite two more post-season appearances in 2014 and 2016.
Now that more than four and a half seasons have past since Dan and Buck signed their extensions, time is wasting for the Orioles to make it back to their first World Series since 1983. With only two more chances left before his contract expires, this may help to explain why Duquette didn’t make trades by the deadline to build for a future that he may not be around to witness.
This week's trades to acquire pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and infielder Tim Beckham were primarily made to help the Birds’ chances this year. Beckham is under team control through 2020 and has been mentioned as a candidate to be the team’s primary shortstop in 2018. I have my doubts given Showalter’s desire for defense at short.
It’s been widely reported that Duquette was close to dealing closer Zach Britton right up until the trade deadline Monday at 4 p.m. Houston owner Jim Crane stated in a radio interview that the Astros had a deal in principle with a team and that players’ medical records were exchanged.
Jon Heyman from fanragsports.com quotes him as saying, “We thought we had a couple deals done. And they got vetoed.” And while Crane didn’t say which team he was talking about, it very well could have been the Orioles.
We may never know which players could have moved from Astros orange to Orioles orange, but given Duquette’s passion to win this year or next, they were likely to be major-league ready or very close. And Houston has the prospects that fit that bill, even though it's believed there were several that were off the table during their talks with the Orioles.
Preseason number one prospect, pitcher Francis Martes and number five outfielder Derek Fisher according to mlb.com, are currently contributing to the big-league squad. Martes is in the bullpen now, but has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and 23-year-old Fisher is batting .288/.373/.519/.892 in 52 at-bats.
And the Astros’ new number one prospect, now that Martes has served enough time in the majors to be ineligible for the prospect list, 20-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker is priming for the big leagues, hitting .279/.340/.514/.854 at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Perhaps the Orioles and Astros were discussing one or more of these names and might re-visit their trade discussions in the offseason, but Houston’s urgency to win won’t be a factor.
Of course, with Britton’s and Machado's contracts ending after 2018, like Duquette’s and Showalter’s, there’s always a chance Zach or Manny could be dealt close to next season’s trade deadline. But if the Orioles don’t make the World Series this year, which seems likely even considering their recently improved play, who knows what Duquette will do with his last chance to reach the promised land?