15 December 2017

The Orioles Can't Lose Machado And Contend

The Orioles have developed two potential hall of fame players, Mike Mussina and Manny Machado, over the past twenty years. Mike Mussina was the Orioles ace during their last playoff run in 1996-1997, and received over 50% of total votes for the hall of fame in last year’s voting. Manny Machado has been a star for the Orioles since 2012 and is just about ready to reach his prime years as a player.

Let me make something clear. For the analysis below, I’m looking only at production from 1997-2017. This means that I’m only looking at Cal Ripken’s production from 1997-2001, when he was 36, and not over his entire career. I’m not saying that Machado was the Orioles’ best player since 1997, but rather that from 2012-2017, he was more productive than Cal (or anyone else) from 1997-2001.

Machado has only been an Oriole for five and a half years, but he’s been one of the Orioles best players when measuring production over the past 21 seasons.  According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth 26 fWAR as an Oriole, and only trails Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Melvin Mora in fWAR by an Oriole position player as an Oriole. Machado is just 3 fWAR off the lead (although Jones is only .1 fWAR off the lead, and will likely be the leader by the end of 2018 if not traded), but has roughly 58% of the plate appearances that the other three players have.

In other words, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue that Machado is on pace to be nearly twice as productive (when you consider that Machado can still get even better as he hits his prime) as the Orioles’ best position players over the past twenty years. The only Oriole over the past twenty years that has been as good as Machado according to Fangraphs has been Mike Mussina, who was worth 46.7 fWAR over nine and a half seasons. When he was 32, he left the Orioles in free agency to join the Yankees, and the Orioles didn’t make it back to the playoffs for a long time.

The Orioles have had many players that they’ve hoped would turn into elite talents. Remember hearing about Matt Wieters being “Mauer with Power” when he was a prospect? Wieters was a star player for a few years, but wasn’t the franchise changing player that people thought he might become. People were dreaming about Nick Markakis after his strong 2007 and 2008 seasons, but he was unable to remain elite and now should be seen as nothing more than a good but not great player.

The Orioles have developed a number of starting pitcher prospects who were legitimately hoped to become aces. Some have been successful starters for a time, like Gausman, Bundy and Tillman, but the one that truly became a top of the rotation pitcher was only successful as a Cub. The Orioles have been waiting a long time for an elite player like Machado.

The Orioles haven’t had as talented as a player as Machado since Mussina, and he’s still only 25 (turns 26 in July). In theory, if the Orioles were able to extend him, he could be the best player on the Orioles for the next ten years. A player like this doesn’t come around often in free agency and especially not when he’s just 26. So, of course, we’ve discovered this week that the Orioles don’t think that they’re able to extend Machado and are therefore looking to trade him.

It’s even more frustrating since the Orioles show they understand that free agency isn’t where they’re going to find excellent talent. Dan Duquette has noted that signing pitchers to four-year deals hasn’t worked out for the Orioles and doesn’t really work out for other teams either. The Orioles understand that trying to build their team with free agents is simply going to be expensive and disappointing. The problem is that if teams are not going to build their team with top free agents, then they need to use cash to extend their own talent. If the Orioles think they can’t win with Machado taking up a quarter or even a third of their payroll, then they’ll soon discover how difficult it is to win with Brian Roberts Jonathan Schoop as their best player.

Now look, if the Orioles can’t extend Manny then it makes sense to trade him instead of letting him leave for just a draft pick. The Orioles can’t force him to sign an extension if he wants to go elsewhere. So, if the Orioles want to put themselves in a position to receive draft picks in the top five each year for the next decade so they can find the next Machado, then they might as well start adding young talent now. But it might be awhile before they find a player as good as Mussina Machado that can lead them back to the playoffs.

If the Orioles trade Manny, then they need to do a complete rebuild. I have my issues with Fangraphs’ projected standings for 2018, but they have the Orioles as a 76 win team even with Machado. This does make sense as the Orioles currently only have two starting pitchers (but of course Jason Vargas is going to save the day) and neither of them are top of the rotation starters. The Orioles would still have a good second baseman in Schoop, but what else exactly? A decent but not great hitter in center field who is past his prime? A few potential bounce back sluggers who showed significant signs of decline last year?

The Os potentially have a strong bullpen, but Britton is a big question mark. And Givens struggles against lefties when he doesn’t allow a .212 BABIP against them. This team probably isn’t competing in 2018 unless everything goes right. After 2018, Britton, Brach and Jones become free agents. Does it make sense for the Orioles to spend big money to keep any of these players?

Furthermore, the Orioles only have Schoop under control for two more years and people question how long he’ll be able to stay at second. Is he a long-term building block if he has to be moved to right field or first base? Jones is at the point in his career where he’s too slow to play center field. His bat still is decent at a corner position, but realistically his days as a star are coming to an end. His leadership has some value, and he’s certainly important to Baltimore. How much does it make sense to pay for sentiment?

Gausman and Bundy are fine middle of the rotation starters. At their current salaries, they’re good bargains. But they’re going to be getting expensive. How likely is it that the Orioles will pay full price to keep them? Are these pitchers you want to build around? Britton is a potential elite reliever, but he’s also expensive and has health concerns. Who exactly is management going to decide to build around? Chris Davis? Caleb Joseph? I’m running out of names here.

Teams like the Orioles need to keep their young, talented players because they can’t just add new ones in free agency. Added to this is the fact that they just don’t have enough talent to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees if they lose Machado. If they’re unable to extend Machado, it’s time to go for a complete rebuild.


Anonymous said...

You and Jon need to talk.... Jon just posted that the O's could compete without Machado and made a pretty goo case, too. Although I'd like to see Wantz's dream come true of a quick rebuild. Seems to me that the Yankees were tearing it down for a rebuild and all of a sudden they were on top again.

Pip said...

AJ needs to stay: he's too important to Baltimore. And he wouldn't cost much.
I'm find with trading all the 2018 FAs: Britton, Brach and Machado. Even though the timing is bad, those three could bring a genuine return. The answer is what return you seek. Those three for prospects ready in '18 or '19, and it's probably more a retool.
Trading Schoop/Givens/Bundy/Gausman and looking forward to 3 number one picks would constitute a rebuild. But I don't think that's necessary.

Jon Shepherd said...

The attempt at tone in my column was supposed to come off as feverish mania. Yes, there is a chance it could all work out, but I think that chance is highly unlikely. Not all is lost, but it certainly is not a commanding position.

Matt Perez said...

I'm not sure that AJ will be so inexpensive. Nor am I sure that he wants to stick around for a rebuild. But without Machado, the Os don't have so many players worth spending money on. If you think that giving Adam is worth $15M a year just based on sentiment, then maybe you're not wrong.

I'd say the Yankees got lucky because just when they needed talent, they were able to develop Judge, Sanchez and Severino. But they were probably just due because they hadn't developed much talent in the draft from 2007-2012. And they haven't really developed an elite talent from the draft since Jeter.

Part of it is that the Yankees were able to spend a lot on free agents. That kept them afloat when they weren't developing young talent. They inevitably hit on a few, and were able to flip them for prospects. Part of it is that they've seen a good bit of success in the international market. They spend a lot there.

Pip said...

Matt your comment seems to imply that money spent wisely on free agents is money well spent.
Meanwhile, what are we going to do about Trumbo?

Matt Perez said...

I don't think spending in free agency makes sense in general. But I do think that if you can spend $150M in free agency, you're bound to hit on a few players. In 2016, they were spending $165M in free agency and as a result they were able to hit on two elite relievers, a few decent position players and CC had a bounce back year. I think they got about 12 wins total, so they paid roughly $13M per win (not counting Tanaka). That's not good value, but add that to other talent and it's enough to stay afloat.

Anonymous said...

Jon, when are/were the O's ever in a "commanding position"???

Jon Shepherd said...

Are you really asking this question?