14 July 2017

Orioles Face Crucial Decisions On Manny Machado And Zach Britton

Are you expecting the Orioles to make any major splashes around the trade deadline? I'm not. I can't see the Orioles throwing in the towel even if they're within striking distance of a playoff spot, and I don't believe they'll trade away Manny Machado. Perhaps the Orioles could move Zach Britton, since they've shown a willingness in the past to trade away an expensive closer (Jim Johnson). But that deal also happened in the offseason and involved a less talented pitcher.

I wouldn't hesitate to trade Britton for a lucrative haul of prospects, but there are worse things than not giving up on the rest of 2017 and 2018. The 2017 version of the Orioles (42-46, -78 run differential) is underwhelming, but if you squint hard enough, you can see how they could return to their winning ways next season. These are their scheduled free agents of note:

Ubaldo Jimenez
Chris Tillman
Seth Smith
Hyun Soo Kim
Ryan Flaherty

J.J. Hardy has a $14 million club option ($2 million buyout), Wade Miley has a $12 million club option ($500,000 buyout), and Welington Castillo has a $7 million player option (you know, completely different than an opt-out clause).

Are you that worried about losing those players? You shouldn't be. Maybe you would be if the production levels for Hardy and Tillman hadn't dropped off precipitously this season, but, well, they did.

Unfortunately, even if the Orioles bring Miley back next season, they'll still need to add a couple of starting pitchers, along with a shortstop (or at least someone to play second base, shortstop, or third base if they juggle infield positioning) and a corner outfielder or two (and that's just the bare minimum). That's not the easiest thing to do with about $30 or $40 million to spend, depending on payroll.

Regardless of roster construction, there are major decisions that must be made. What happens with Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette? Like Machado, their contracts expire after 2018. It would be less than ideal for Duquette to be the one shaping the future of the O's if he's not in the organization's long-term plans. Showalter's best fit is in the dugout, and any potential shift to the front office would mean the O's need a new manager and still leave plenty of questions. Who knows at this point what Showalter even wants. With Duquette, we've seen that he has a desire to move on, at least for a higher-ranking position.

As good as Britton is, the real issue is how all of this affects Machado. Maybe Peter Angelos and co. intend to let him play out his deal before throwing everything they have at him to entice him to stay. That would be pretty similar to what happened with Chris Davis (so much deferred money!), except Machado could very well be headed for a contract worth twice as much or more. Extending Machado in the offseason would be wonderful, but he's so close to free agency that there's essentially no chance of that happening. So how much faith do you have in the Orioles outspending MLB's richest teams for one of the game's best players?

You get why ownership would want to wait, both because they want to hold on to any chance of competing and Duquette's and Showalter's statuses are unclear. Orioles ownership is also seemingly opposed to taking the necessary steps to implement a full rebuild, so clinging to even minuscule playoff chances might seem more enticing than having no real plan and just hoping things work out for the best.

Waiting, though, is fine sometimes, and it might look even better because of Machado's offensive struggles and Britton's recent return from injury. But no matter what, these are decisions that could lengthen the time between this current run of competitiveness and the next one. An Orioles team without Machado is not as exciting, but there still would be a path to success. Letting him play out his contract and then having him walk for nothing not only leaves a crater in the infield, but also in the minors where an influx of talent could help immensely.

These are not easy decisions. These are crucial decisions that will shape the Orioles for years to come. It's hard not to think this is a lose-lose situation. You can faintly see a path to success in all this, but you wouldn't count on it. Kind of like the 2017 Orioles.


Unknown said...

What's really at stake right now is how long it's going to take to be competitive again when the O's lose some key players to free agency after next year. Let's face it, the window of opportunity for this team is slamming shut. The O's aren't a player or two away right now, the salary is already at an all time high for the team, and the farm system is ranked in the bottom 5 or 6, so there's really no chance of signing or trading for those missing pieces anyway. As a long time O's fan, I'm concerned that if they don't sell off some pieces in the next year, they're missing out on the best opportunity to restock the farm system and have a shorter rebuild. How long will the next rebuild take if they don't cash in now? Another 15 years?

I know it's painful now, but moving a superstar for the right pieces is a necessary evil when you're running a smaller market team, but it's not the end of the world. Look at what the Mariners did between 1998 and 2000. They traded Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr away, and watched A-Rod sign a massive contract with Texas. I know they struck gold in signing Ichiro, but the point is, they moved on from 3 Hall of Fame players (A-Rod will get there), got some productive players back, and by the way, managed to win a MLB record 116 games in 2001. It goes against conventional wisdom, but maybe you can win without an overpriced superstar...

One final point, for those who want to pay Machado. How'd that A-Rod contract work out for the Rangers?

Ace said...

Why trade Machado now? The O's can always trade him away next summer for some really good talent if the team isn't competing. If the team is competing for the division by next season, the O's can let him play out his contract and let him walk in free agency. I don't mind the Orioles not getting compensated if they are in the mix for a division title next season. But if they are not, it's an easy call to trade him.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Why trade him now? Well, you're talking about the maximum return for his services. If a team gets him this season, they can hold onto him for the rest of this season AND next season, or trade him away next offseason for a nice return. But they'd have to pay a premium for him now.

I don't agree with your second point. You'd be fine letting one of the best players in the game go for nothing just to be competitive for one more season? I'd rather get something that could help the Orioles still be competitive down the road. Also, as we're finding out this season, it's not always clear-cut if you're in the playoff race or not. The Orioles this year haven't been very good, yet they're technically close.

Pip said...

I think Jon wrote about how being x games out of the WC is technically "in contention" but not really.
Because our current assets are bad players or good players having bad seasons, it is literally impossible to improve enough to make the postseason without a heapin' helpin' o' Mother Luck, and it is extremely foolish to expect Luck.
Given that, of course Every asset should be traded at maximum value.
Manny will not have more value next July than he does now, nor will Britton nor possibly Brach.
Smith and Castillo will have zero value in October so it is foolish to keep them.
More importantly, it is imperative to have our assets developing together.
It does no good to have one superstar surrounded by mediocrities, as we see in Anaheim.
Has the question of whether one 8WAR player is superior to 2 3WAR and one 2WAR players been addressed?)
So keeping Manny would not make the team better.
Far better to keep the guys with 4-5 years remaining and surround them with solid prospects whose clock hasn't started, so they can grow old together.
Such a plan requires trading soon-to-depart stars for valid prospects, and should begin by this year's deadline.
Dan cannot justify doing nothing, nor can he justify buying, so selling is the only option that is beneficial to the organization.

Unknown said...

I think most of baseball is having trouble defining which teams are "in the mix" anymore. The 2nd wildcard spot has really made it complicated, and every year you see teams playing .500 ball or even just below who think they have a chance if they could just go on a run. If I buy a lottery ticket, I "have a chance" to win the lottery. If I'm playing poker and I'm way behind in the hand and there's only 1 out left in the deck, I "have a chance" to win the hand. My odds of winning aren't good in either case, and that's what O's management really needs to assess. Sure, we can keep the team together to try to make a run at the post season, but are we talking about a 2% chance to make the playoffs? 10%? 30%? Obviously the better your odds, the more you should commit and go for it, but things get trickier when your odds are low. At what point should you throw in the towel, even if you still "have a chance"?

Ace said...

Well Matt, I guess the question to answer between our disagreement would be how much of a return do you get for Manny if you trade him now. I'd peg him at 3 top level prospects along with one or two midrange prospects at the most. Do you see the Orioles getting more than three A level prospects for Manny right now? That plays into my original argument. Sure, these prospects COULD help the Orioles in the long run, but there is no guarantee they ever develop to that level. Sometimes you just have to find a way to compete while you have the best possible players now. If it doesn't work out, learn how to draft and develop the old fashioned way.

One final point: I see the Orioles with a pathway to field a competitive future roster even without a return for Manny: Trade Zach Britton. He could get you a high level prospect and maybe even a mid-ranger. Combine that with Sisco, Mountcastle (corner outfield), Manchini, Hays, Bundy, Harvey and a Schoop extension..we might have something brewing.

Jon Shepherd said...

Three A level prospects? On average, two starters. One about average and the other good. The third guy is on average a quad A player.