Most people, outside of Dan Duquette, understand that this Orioles team is done. They are one of the worst clubs in baseball by just about every measure, and they enter Monday tied with the Reds for the worst win-loss record in MLB. It’s over. Turn off the lights. Tear everything down. Yes, everything.
It’s been beaten into the ground at this point, but let’s catch everyone up. Both Duquette and Buck Showalter are in the final season of their contracts. Duquette is as good as gone. Showalter, on the other hand, is probably near the end of his run in the dugout, but he appears to be well-liked in the organization and could carve out a role elsewhere if he wants.
The Orioles are going to get a facelift on the field as well. Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Adam Jones are all playing on expiring deals. They each have varying degrees of value. Jones is a special case as he also carries full no-trade protection from his 10-and-five status. Sprinkle in role players like Craig Gentry, Pedro Alvarez, Danny Valencia and Caleb Joseph that can be moved easily enough, toss in Chris Tillman for good measure and you have all of the players that could reasonably be expected to leave Baltimore this summer.
At least, that’s what most people would lay out as the Orioles waving the white flag for the 2018 season and entering “rebuild” territory. However, if the O’s really want to get serious about this thing, they need to go a couple of steps further.
Clarify the management positions
Camden Chat’s Randy DeCleene expanded on this last week. If Duquette is “the man” and the feeling is mutual then sign him to a long-term deal. If he’s not, then why have him involved in the initial stages of a rebuilding effort that he won’t see to fruition? Maybe this job is already Brady Anderson’s to have. While it’s not the most inspiring choice, at least it’s a plan.
Consistency in those positions at the top of the organization is crucial. Look at the defending World Series champions as an example. The Astros current general manager, Jeff Luhnow, has been in the position since 2011 when the team lost 106 games. President of baseball operations Ryan Reid joined up two years later when Houston lost 111. It proves that this is not the sort of thing that happens overnight. Building a winner takes years of planning.
That’s not to say Duquette would “sabotage” things on his way out the door. He’s a professional with a strong track record who also seems to have a desire to continue working in the industry. Leaving your last club in tatters wouldn’t be a good look for anyone.
Showalter is a slightly different story at manager. While still an important position, the manager is not in as much control over who’s coming and who’s leaving the club. His job, for the most part, is to make the best of the players he has his disposal at or near the major league level. Having the proper GM (vice president of baseball operations in Baltimore’s case) in place ahead of a rebuild would seem more significant. The proper manager, if not Showalter, can wait.
Change the philosophy on contract extensions
A while back, the Orioles were able to sign both Jones and Nick Markakis to long-term deals during their arbitration years and extend their stays in Baltimore. Perhaps it’s because of a shift in baseball’s contract negotiation landscape, or the O’s inability to get new contracts done with young players, but they haven’t replicated that process since then with their promising, home-grown talents. Machado hitting free agency after this summer is the latest example of just that.
In the last few years, some teams have gotten especially proactive on this front, inking players to big contracts before they have even registered a major league appearance. The Orioles don’t need to be this drastic, but they could stand to identify talent worth keeping around earlier in their careers.
Dylan Bundy jumps out as the O’s best candidate for this type of treatment. He still has three seasons of team control remaining after 2018, which would make him a free agent after his age-28 season. A five or six-year extension would buy out his arbitration years, give him some serious guaranteed money and still afford him the chance to get a big deal as an experienced free agent hurler in his early 30s while ensuring the Orioles have an anchor of the pitching staff throughout this process.
Make some tough decisions
The Orioles need to determine how serious they want to take this rebuild and how quickly they expect to return to the playoff conversation. After that, they can start deciding what to realistically do with the rest of the roster.
Jonathan Schoop’s future in Baltimore should be figured out soon. The closer he gets to free agency, the less he is worth on the trade market. If he is the player they want to build around, the front office needs to get started on legitimate contract negotiations. If he’s not, then he could become a hot commodity on the trade market this summer as well.
It feels like a similar situation for starter Kevin Gausman, but they have more time with him. He has an extra year of team control and he has run hot and cold in his big league career. Teams would certainly be interested if he were on the trade block, but his value is a little murky. He could just as easily become an extension candidate if the organization views him as a long-term rotation fixture.
Mark Trumbo, Darren O’Day and Andrew Cashner all have pretty moveable contracts if they perform at a decent level. They are each only guaranteed this season and next with Cashner also having a team option for 2020 that would automatically vest with 340 innings thrown between ‘18 and ‘19. It’s almost a coin flip as to whether they are more valuable as trade candidates or steady veteran players that can plug holes in the bigs while the kids get better on the farm.
Let’s get started
The basic framework of a rebuild is simple enough: trade away players near free agency, get promising prospects in return, lock up young players long term, draft well, make savvy trades, become World Series champions. Actually executing this plan is another story.
The Orioles have some talent coming through the pipeline. With the organization likely to pick very early in the next couple of amateur drafts, they have a chance to add to that pool of youngsters quickly and make this a relatively speedy recovery from absolute disaster that could have them back to winning ways within a handful of seasons.
Or they could just as easily totally botch it and end up in a revolving door of failure for the next decade. Either way, it’s become painfully obvious that the 2018 version of the team isn’t going to compete. Why procrastinate? Let’s get this thing started and begin looking towards a brighter future for the Orioles.