Rebuild. The word has now been uttered by both Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter in public. There isn’t much evidence to go on just yet, but the Manny Machado trade suggests that they are serious. Instead of settling for a Brandon Drury package from the Yankees or an Addison Russell-centered deal with the Cubs, the O’s opted for four prospects at Double-A and a “throw in” that still has his rookie status. That is not the move of a retooling club. That is the beginning of a full gut job.
Zach Britton is expected to be the next domino to fall and may then be joined by Adam Jones and Brad Brach out the door. The Britton move is likely the only one of those three to yield any worthwhile return, and even then it is unlikely to be overly awe-inspiring.
Most scouts seem to agree that the young players sent to the Orioles in the trade with the Dodgers was a fair return. There’s a good chance they turn into several major league players and possibly a couple of All-Star appearances for at least one of the prospects. The Britton swap will probably involve fewer players but could again yield a couple of future big leaguers. This is all positive. The Orioles needed to flesh out their minor league ranks, and the selling of these players in their final year of team control will do that.
What will not be found in these deals is a future cornerstone of the Orioles franchise. Manny Machados don’t come around all the time. Prospects do eclipse their projected ceilings occasionally, so something crazy could happen and make Yusniel Diaz into the next great right fielder, but the industry does not expect that to be the case here, although he should be very good.
Late last week, the San Diego Padres sent left-handed reliever Brad Hand and right-handed reliever Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Francisco Mejia, the top catching prospect in baseball. While nothing is guaranteed, Mejia is highly regarded and much more likely to become that perennial All-Star-type than any player currently in the Orioles organization.
Machado, as a player, is more valuable than Hand and Cimber combined; a healthy Britton may be as well. But the Orioles won’t get a prospect as good as Mejia in any of the possible trades of their soon-to-be free agents. Why not? Years of control.
Hand is signed to a reasonable contract through the 2021 season. Cimber is a rookie, which will keep him in Cleveland for six years. In exchange for Meija, Cleveland is getting nearly a decade’s worth of contribution. To many front offices right now, it makes more sense to nab solid talent for longer than elite talented for shorter.
The Orioles have players like Hand and Cimber on their roster. Prior to the deal with the Padres, Cleveland inquired about the availability of Mychal Givens. He doesn’t hit free agency until 2022. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko. are garnering interest as well. They are under team control until 2021 and 2022, respectively. If you want to get real crazy and talk about rookies, there are intriguing arms like Paul Fry and Tanner Scott in the O’s squad as well.
If the Orioles really want to kick start this rebuild and increase the odds that it all works out, they need to start lining up trades involving players like this. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen right now, and it looks unlikely that it will, but they could make a killing in the market if they get organized and begin these conversations soon.
The Meija deal is evidence that contenders are interested in controllable players. However, when a player is obligated to stay with a team for three or four season after a trade is completed, it opens up the possibilities. Teams out of the playoff picture this year, but eyeing a return to winning ways soon, could enter the discussions as well.
Making Gausman and Bundy available could be especially beneficial. The starting pitching market is barren. That is why there has been so much talk about the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who is having a Cy Young-type of season but won’t hit free agency for a few more years. Teams don’t want the rentals like Toronto’s J.A. Happ or Texas’ Cole Hamels. They want longevity.
The Orioles should be well aware of this fact. This will be the second consecutive deadline where Britton was a hot commodity. None of the offerings from last year have been made public, but the front office can compare what they are looking at this year and see if it was worth it to hold onto him. The same goes for Machado and any deals that were on the table during the winter. Just how much did the O’s give up to keep him for half-a-season longer? We may never know.
The Orioles have a unique opportunity to pursue a full-scale rebuild. Most clubs hope to stay competitive or close to competitive. It keeps fans interested and draws people to the stadium. This O’s team is bad, like, really, really bad. And they are this bad with a few very good players. It cannot get much worse. In fact, the fan base may actually prefer to see potential over proven talent in Baltimore.
While other clubs are clinging to respectability, the Orioles can freely add and subtract with an eye to the future. Anyone who isn’t expected to be a part of the next winning team in Baltimore should be considered surplus to requirements. Nearly all of the players that came over from Los Angeles went straight to Double-A. That could indicate a shorter rebuild window, but it still means 2019 and 2020 will be rough record-wise.
This winter will be key to the so-call organizational restructuring. There should be a trade (or two or three) that show Orioles fans that the club is, in fact, headed in a new direction. Until then, we just have to wait and see.