15 December 2017

A Quick Rebuild

It appears as though the Orioles are admitting what many have suspected for several years: Manny Machado will not be an Oriole long term. Indeed, the chatter during the Winter Meetings has begun to make it clear that, rather than sticking with their original plan to run it back for one more year in 2018, the team is considering a rebuild, with trade rumors concerning Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach dominating the offseason headlines.

This is, sadly, the correct choice. Even with Machado, it seems unlikely that the Orioles were going to be legitimate contenders in 2018, and Machado could still command a good haul in prospects even as a rental. If Machado goes, there's not much reason to keep around guys like Britton, either, and as a result the Orioles could improve their farm system fairly dramatically in the course of one off season.

Total rebuilds are very much in fashion in MLB these days. Both the Cubs and Astros went through multiple miserable seasons before their young cores coalesced and won championships, and teams like the Yankees, Twins, and Padres are looking to follow in those footsteps. It seems logical, given the budgetary constraints under which the Orioles operate as well as the team's declining performance, that the Orioles would go this same route. Of course, Peter Angelos has long been opposed to a complete teardown, and before this week there was little indication that Dan Duquette would execute one.

Now, though, that calculus seems to have changed, but in a pretty interesting way. At the same time they are discussing trading one of the top 10 players in franchise history, there are also rumors that the Orioles are pursuing Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy. This would, certainly, be an odd move to make under the circumstances, as you generally don't trade for a veteran starting pitcher in the middle of a rebuild. 

Of course, maybe they don't HAVE to tear it all down. In fact, an interesting path would be to punt on 2018 while gearing up for a big run in 2019 and beyond. Let's assume that Machado, Brach, and Britton are all dealt, and they bring back at least 1-2 MLB ready players along with higher upside prospects that aren't likely to be immediate contributors. The Orioles would certainly prefer that one of those players is a starting pitcher and if they somehow acquire Duffy, the 2018 rotation looks already a good deal better than 2017, with all the major components under team control until at least 2020.

You may have heard, but the 2018 free agent class is potentially the greatest ever, and even if the Orioles aren't competing for guys like Machado, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw, there are plenty of good to great players left over. If the team has a solid rotation in place and prospects like Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Ryan Mountcastle are ready to make a big impact, there's a real case to be made that adding a second tier, but still big name, player like Josh Donaldson or Charlie Blackmon and pairing him up with a Gio Gonzalez/Garett Richards/Patrick Corbin type could push the team into immediate contention. These players would obviously be very costly, but with over $30 million coming off the books in the form of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley, the Orioles could save up and make a big splash next winter.

This would be somewhat predicated on the Orioles signing Jonathan Schoop to an extension, hopefully moving Mark Trumbo's contract, and determining what to do with Adam Jones, but given the improving farm system and the jolt it would receive by trading Machado et al., as well as much lower payroll commitments, this seems like a viable path. It will certainly be hard to watch Machado playing anywhere but Oriole Park, and there's no guarantee that the young players will progress enough to make this plan viable, but it certainly beats the alternative of Machado and Britton leaving in free agency and receiving only comp picks in return. Rebuilds are always painful, but maybe this pain wouldn't have to last more than one year.

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