So, the pre-waiver trade deadline passed with little fanfare. Rumors circulated regarding Chase Headley (3b, San Diego Padres) and Joe Blanton (rhp, Philadelphia Phillies), but come 4:01p.m. (Eastern) nothing materialized. There were some common themes running through the Twitter account of fans yesterday -- here are some thoughts on those items:
Issue #1 As buyers Baltimore should have beat offers for Francisco Liriano (traded by Twins to White Sox), Shane Victorino (traded by Phillies to Dodgers), or Travis Snider (traded by Blue Jays to Pirates)
The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to "why didn't they beat Team X's package for Player Y?" is that all teams are not afforded the same opportunity when it comes to trade talks. That is, when a team is looking for a particular return on Player Y, it is not uncommon for that team to find a package they like and are comfortable with, then shift to fleece mode.
The simple example would be the Phillies being content with the Dodgers deal for Victorino, then upping the request from other teams moving forward. Any talks with Baltimore start with one of Arrieta or Matusz or Delmonico simply because the effort required to work out a package comparable to, or slightly better than, the Dodgers' offer isn't worth the time investment for the limited gain in value.
Finally, relationships matter. While it is unlikely that any teams are bending over backwards to "help" another org, a good relationship between front offices serves as ample lubrication for trade talks -- particularly smaller deals. Part of the issue with Baltimore's convoluted decision-making tree in the past is that many teams are reluctant to start serious talks with Baltimore on a "sell to all" basis because, historically, it has not been likely that Baltimore will be able to give you that comfortable deal in a timely fashion, such that you can quickly shop around for the "higher priced" deals with others.
Item #2 As buyers, how does Baltimore not get a deal done for Chase Headley if they were asking for Jake Arrieta, Nicky Delmonico and Eduardo Rodriguez, as reported?!
Let's assume this reported offer was true -- there are two ways to interpret this, with both interpretations ultimately arriving at the same point.
The first is that Baltimore was smart not to sell low on Arrieta and not to give up Delmonico and Rodriguez before they break out. Headly is just one player solving an issue at third base and Baltimore is better off trying to find free agent help in the area than trading valuable prospects.
The counter is that Baltimore dropped the ball by not getting a clear upgrade in Headley, who would give them a middle-of-the-order bat, a solid defensive third baseman, and some cost certainty and stability over the next 2.5 years. Arrieta has struggled to establish himself as a Major League starter and both Delmonico and Rodriguez are years away from being factors in Baltimore.
It is reasonable to have feelings for and against inaction on this front, but inaction in and of itself really isn't reducible to "right" or "wrong" in this context -- at least not yet. In fact, Orioles fans would be best off if the reported offer were true, as it would be an excellent measuring stick for the organization's current valuation process.
Inaction in any form at the deadline is essentially "doubling down" on what you currently have -- be it for 2012 or future seasons. In the instant case, Baltimore would be quite clearly standing behind Arrieta, Delmonico and Rodriguez, giving fans three players to watch closely. How do these players develop and how do they fit into the team's future? Will Arrieta be re-made under the tutelage of Rick Peterson? Will Delmonico and/or Rodriguez blossom into potential impact talents? Will any of these players be packaged in a larger or more Baltimore-friendly move this off-season?
Assuming the reported trade package was true, Baltimore fans have a window into the decision making process in the Orioles front office. At minimum, the progress of these three players should provide bloggers and fans with a lot to talk about over the coming 24-months or so.
And just so that we cover all bases, we should all keep in mind that "rumored" trade packages, even from the most connected of sources, tend to be incomplete.
Item #3 Baltimore is not talented enough to stick with the pack in 2012 so it's best to play out the season and look to get better for 2013 and beyond
I had the start of this conversation with some readers in the comment section of yesterday's "What 'Going for it' would mean..." piece. Generally, Jon and I have been holders of the above opinion in some form or another throughout the season. I do think it is worth discussing the counter argument, which yesterday's piece did, albeit in a tangential manner.
Baltimore finds itself in striking distance of a wild-card spot at the beginning of August. Much of this can be attributed to occurrences analysts would generally attribute to luck (e.g extra inning win percentage, win percentage in one-run games, etc.). It can be argued that the team outplaying its actual talent level in 2012 has placed the Orioles in a competitive position that might not be obtainable in 2013, and accordingly Baltimore needs to strike while they have the opportunity to sneak into the playoffs.
Payroll limitations are likely to limit Baltimore's options on the free agency market. 2013's payroll will include another year of $10 MM to Brian Roberts, a raise to $15 MM for Nick Markakis, and another $4 MM to Tsuyoshi Wada. That's around $30 MM dedicated to three players who, in the aggregate, have produced about 0 Wins Above Replacement in 2012. Put another way, based upon 2012 performances, Baltimore has about one-third of their upper-limit payroll allotment for 2013 tied-up in fungible assets.
Now, that is a little disingenuous in that Markakis has been more productive as of late, and looping him in with Roberts and Wada simply serves to make the "wasted money" pile look bigger than it is. The same, the most productive Markakis has been in the last four years was his 2010 2.6 fWAR (WAR as computed by Fangraphs.com) and 2009 2.9 rWAR (WAR as computed by Baseball-reference.com). Even the rosiest of projections for 2013 have to reasonably keep Markakis at around a 3.5 WAR player, equal to about $15 MM of production on the free market.
Sure there is an outside shot that the 2008 breakout Markakis still exists somewhere within the right fielder, but at this point, Baltimore probably has to proceed with the expectation that they will be fortunate to get just about what they are paying for in 2013 and 2014 when it comes to Markakis -- that means they need surplus value elsewhere or they need to pay a premium to get that value on the free agency market.
Totaling the remaining amounts owed for 2013 and including raises for arbitration-eligible players, Baltimore looks to be on the hook for around $67 to 70 MM, leaving about $15 to 20 MM to spend in the free agent marketplace. Translation? In order to compete in 2013, Baltimore needs stark improvement of their baseline in-house talent and another multi-month run of outperforming their peripherals.
Now, maybe that simply means that Baltimore should be building to 2014, at which point they hope to have more payroll flexibility (but also more holes to fill). That is probably the most prudent approach, and might end-up a successful approach with some shrewd roster management and some luck in Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop all developing quickly into productive Major Leaguers.
A front office person, however, has to at least consider that the 2012 Orioles, regardless of how they got to this point, may very well represent the best chance the organization will have at a playoff appearance over the next three years. That is a scary call to make, and a big reason the thirty men in charge of these calls receive the compensation they do.
Final thoughts on prospects
Feel free to stop reading here if you don't like preachy vibes. These last few sentences are just a reminder that Machado, Bundy, Gausman and Schoop are not saviors for this organization. They will hopefully play a part in Baltimore's eventual return to the post-season, but that's all they can play -- a part. Further, while prospects need to be viewed on a case-by-case basis, history tells us that it is unlikely that an organization will have four top 100-ish prospects all reach their upper-tier projections, let alone all reach those projections at the same time.
The same, the likes of Parker Bridwell, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nicky Delmonico, LJ Hoes, and Xavier Avery are more likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum of "up-and-down guy" to fringe regular than they are to blossom into true impact talents. That's not to say they are without value, but hording Tier 2 talents because you don't have many to begin with is not a viable approach to amassing Major League talent, and it's not an advisable approach for strengthening the system. As is always the case, your process will reveal itself as effective or not effective. If things aren't working, you are either drafting/signing the wrong players or you are failing to properly develop them once in-house.
Baltimore has continued to lag behind its contemporaries in stocking their system with talent, and then developing that talent. In order for the Orioles to be a competitive team, be it in 2013 or 2023, they need to improve in their acquisition and development of amateur talent. I know this isn't a new message, but it is one that bears repeating.