Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Craig Gentry, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Danny Valencia. Aside from playing for the last place Baltimore Orioles, what do those players have in common? They’re all free agents at the end of 2018. For the Orioles, that means only one thing. Not a single one of those players should still be on the team’s roster at the end of 2018.
A few of these are no brainers. A potential Machado trade has dominated the headlines in Baltimore this season, and Zach Britton has been auditioning for other teams since he returned from an Achilles injury. However, names like Valencia and Gentry have been overlooked. Will teams be willing to give up top prospects for rental players with limited skill sets? Absolutely not. But the Orioles must take any opportunity, no matter how marginal, to improve the farm system and any chance at future success.
Terms like “fire sale” and “tanking” have a negative connotation, but there is truly no reason for the Orioles to hang onto a single player on that list. Trading away players will provide them a few more lottery-ticket prospects, and more opportunities for younger players to pick up playing time. And while the Orioles likely do not need any help finishing with the worst team in baseball, these trades would push them even closer to the number one pick in the next MLB draft.
Unfortunately, the Orioles are not resigning Machado. Several National League teams have been listed as potential destinations for the three-time All Star, and new rumors swirl every week as the trade deadline approaches.
Adam Jones is the only difficult name to part with from that list. However, while Jones has been the face of the franchise for the majority of the past decade, that window has already started to close. Jones has hardly guaranteed a desire to stay in Baltimore, and the Orioles could always take a stab at resigning him after the season ends. Jones would likely waive his no-trade rights to play for a contender, and many Orioles fans would like to see him have a shot at a World Series ring. Tyler Young examined the potential trade value of Jones here.
Even if the Orioles decide to unload all of their future free agents, they’ll need to be willing to play ball in whatever trade market transpires. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently wrote that this year’s trade market could resemble last year’s offseason. Teams could wait out the market, and drive down the cost of players. We saw this impact the market for high-profile guys like J.D. Martinez and the Orioles own Alex Cobb.
That’s unfortunate for the Orioles, but it cannot deter them from making deals. The Orioles may be underwhelmed by offers for Machado and Jones, but holding onto the players would be even worse than dealing them for a low return.
The one thing that could offset a slow-moving market is competition. While the American League playoff picture already appears close to set, the National League has several teams vying for a playoff spot. If the Orioles can force the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies or any other team into a bidding war, they may be able to enhance a potential return.
In recent years, the Orioles front office has made it difficult to trust the organization. There are several circumstances where, with the benefit of hindsight, the Orioles could have taken certain measures to improve the status of the team. Baltimore was allegedly underwhelmed with the Astros offer for Britton last year, but there is no doubt that a return this year would yield even less.
That being said, this logic only applies to free-agents-to-be. The Orioles do not, and should not, settle for well-below market value offers for pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, or position players like Jonathan Schoop. If done right, deals including those players could help spark a rebuild, but the Orioles cannot afford to squander away the few assets they have under future club control.
The Orioles should realize they need to sell, but other teams see that too. The club can play hardball up until the July 31 trade deadline, but when push comes to shove, everyone must go.