Trades are a lot of fun to predict and analyze, especially from the fan’s perspective. Your team gives up a familiar commodity for a black box of potential. The poor performance of the Orioles a season ago forced then-GM Dan Duquette to make several swaps that have the potential to build the foundation of the next competitive team in Baltimore. Current GM Mike Elias doesn’t have nearly as many intriguing big leaguers with which to make similar deals this time around.
The big names that the O’s traded away last season were Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day. Machado was the main prize that a handful of teams were after. In the end, the O’s sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a package of five players, highlighted by outfielder Yusniel Diaz and, to a lesser extent, pitcher Dean Kremer.
Diaz is projected to become a steady everyday player with the potential to make a couple of All-Star games in his career, but fall short of true stardom.
Kremer’s stock is rising, but his ceiling is generally thought to be that of a mid-rotation starter at the very best. He is currently nursing an oblique he injured at the start of spring training.
Elias does not have a Machado or even a Britton to trade away this season. Stars like the team’s former shortstop are hard to come by, and elite left-handed relievers are none too common either. Fans will have to adjust their expectations accordingly.
The lack of intriguing trade options has been further hindered by the continued struggles of Dylan Bundy, the health of Alex Cobb and the inconsistency of the team’s bullpen, especially Mychal Givens. Each of them is still movable at the moment, but likely for so little in return that it almost makes no sense to part with them and open up yet another hole on an already thin roster.
Instead, the focus has shifted to the everyday players, like the hot-hitting Trey Mancini and versatile Jonathan Villar. Each of them is under team control beyond this season, with Mancini not set for free agency until after the 2022 season and Villar after 2020.
If Mancini stays on his current pace at the plate (.355/.405/.618, 172 OPS+, six home runs), there won’t be a team in the league too concerned with his difficulties in the field. A recent finger injury appears to be minor, but even bumps and bruises can derail a season, as Mancini himself experienced a year ago with a knee injury that carried through the summer.
However, team’s have shown an unwillingness to part with their future building blocks unless acquiring a current star in their place. Given Mancini’s track record and style of play, it’s unlikely that any other organization would view him as a budding superstar. The potential trade offers would reflect that.
So, what does a team do when it lacks big names to deal and yet finds itself near the beginning of a massive rebuild? They go back to basics.
Elias has made it quite clear that this rebuild is going to take a while to come to fruition. He is yet to put an exact year on when he will be “complete” but has made overtures about expecting a much improved team by 2022 or 2023.
While this past off-season was relatively light on player movement, it was heavy on organizational changes. In addition to bringing in Elias and his assistant GM Sig Mejdal, the Orioles have beefed up their international scouting department, more deeply integrated analytics and video into the club and presumably made adjustments to developing the young players already in the farm system.
One massive part of the rebuild will come on June 3, when the Orioles make the first selection in the MLB Draft. Will they add a Carlos Correa level of player, or will it be someone closer to Brady Aiken? Both were talented high schoolers that the Astros picked when Elias was involved with the draft process. One of them is a contributing member of a competitive major league team. The other is in Single-A with a career 5.18 ERA in the minors.
The modern game has been moving more and more towards younger, cheaper players for years now. Teams are inking their inexperienced prospects to long-term deals before they even know their abilities at the highest level, simply to expand their competitive window. The Orioles will have to get on board if they want to remain relevant.
In order to do that, they first must add young talent worth keeping around. They will have a chance to do that with this season’s draft, as well as with what is expected to be a high pick in next year’s draft. An injection of international talent may have to wait a bit longer. As Elias has said many times before, the bulk of the top prospects outside of the United States have already verbally agreed to contracts long before the official window opens. The Orioles will need to take the long view.
Improved performances from the likes of Bundy, Cobb and Givens would provide a great boost to the Orioles. The more talent that Elias can add to the organization, the better. And there is always the chance that they find a diamond in the rough to build the team around.
What’s more likely is that the team’s next Machado will emerge as a talented teenager that Elias, the coaches and the analysts identify, draft, sign and mold into a team legend. The process is slow and almost impossible for us, as fans, to watch unfold. But it is necessary for the Orioles to build an organization that can produce winning teams time after time rather than settling for an all-too-brief window once every twenty years.