There is one question that has loomed over the Baltimore Orioles for the duration of the 2018 season. Soon, and maybe by the time you are reading this, that question will be answered. When the Manny Machado trade saga finally comes to a conclusion, the Orioles will return to being just another last place team in July.
For some, that’s all well and good. But those who have followed the Machado storyline like a pennant race may suddenly feel perplexed. The baseball season does not end until September, so what’s the deal with Baltimore in the second half?
The Machado trade, along with any other move the Orioles make before the July 31 trade deadline, will provide fans a buzz they have not felt this year. A fresh crop of prospects will fuel a combination of curiosity and optimism, and spark an inevitable debate about how the Orioles front office handled the situation. The Birds may receive players that can play at the Major League level, or the haul may be limited to prospects monitored in our minor league recaps. Either way, the deal will drum up some interest.
The Machado deal will also create a void at shortstop for Baltimore. Is the solution as simple as sliding Tim Beckham back to his natural position. In the short term, the answer is likely yes. But Beckham has never been a joy to watch in the field. If his offensive production fails to justify his place in the lineup, will Buck Showalter continue to play him at one of the most crucial positions?
Beckham hit .206 in 43 games during the first half of the season. His -0.6 WAR this season leaves a lot to be desired, and his strong second-half performance feels a lot further removed than just last year. Still, the Orioles will need someone to replace him. Ryan Mountcastle has been manning third base at Double-A Bowie, and Jace Peterson hardly profiles as the shortstop of the future. The spot is likely Beckham’s to keep barring an injury.
Beckham sliding over to short does open up a spot for Mountcastle on the big league roster. Whether or not the Orioles would provide Mountcastle more than a cup of coffee during September call ups remains to be seen. There’s obviously no reason to rush prospects up this season, but there will certainly be spots if the club wants the young guys to get some experience.
Cedric Mullins has generated a lot of buzz over the last year, and rightfully so. The 23-year-old hit .313 at Bowie in 49 games before being bumped up to Norfolk. After a brief adjustment period, Mullins has shown he’s ready to handle another promotion. If the Orioles trade Adam Jones, Mullins could have an everyday place in the O’s lineup. But even if they hang onto the veteran, there are few players that would be better to shadow than the current Orioles center fielder.
Baltimore should keep the shuttle gassed up to bring starters back-and-forth from Norfolk. While David Hess, Yefry Ramirez and Jimmy Yacabonis will likely all see time, no one expects them to lock up a spot in the rotation long term. That makes it crucial for the Orioles to determine what they have in their current rotation.
Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb will all be back next year. The Orioles have Cobb for three more years, and are certainly hoping he benefits from a full spring training in 2019. The only question here is if the Orioles decide to move either Gausman or Bundy next offseason. Obviously, either of the two pitching well down the stretch would raise their trade value, but it would also make it more difficult for a team starved for pitching to deal the players.
In all reality, a team that’s 28-69 has a lot of questions. The biggest one, aside from if the team will set the franchise’s record for most losses in a season, essentially boils down to “will any of these guys play any better?”
Trey Mancini has hit the sophomore slump in full force. Last year’s pleasant surprise has turned into yet another question mark for the Orioles. With Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis back next year, Mancini will still be forced into playing the outfield. While he may have a low ceiling in the field, the Birds can expect a bit more than his .216 average for the remainder of the season.
Jonathan Schoop has shown greater potential. Mychal Givens is still considered close to untouchable this year, despite holding an ERA above four. The Orioles still expect big things from Chance Sisco, and Chris Davis can’t be much worse, right?
At the end of the day, a losing team is a losing team. This year’s team has already been labeled a failure, but the season will be remembered based on how the front office handled July. The return from Macahado will dominate the narrative, but potential moves including Jones and Zach Britton will be just as crucial. The Orioles will spend the rest of the season measuring the potential of prospects, and determining who has more to give in 2019.