2017 Orioles: Thoughts on the July 31st Non-Waiver (Trade) Deadline
Entering tonight, the Baltimore Orioles are 31-28. They are in 3rd place in the American League East, trailing division leading New York by 4.5 games. They hold the 2nd Wild Card position in the American League by a 1/2 game over Cleveland.
While the end of next month doesn’t sound that far away, there are 47 games (representing 29% of the season) between now and then. As the sample size increases, we will have a better sense of who the O’s are.
I’m of the opinion the 2017 O’s remain capable of reaching the post-season for the 4th time in 6 years – and that it’s simultaneously a mistake to fixate on this year alone.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The O’s are on-pace to win 85 games. Each of their 31 wins count. Their record to start this season was inflated, and the struggles we’ve seen since are a normal market correction. You aren’t as good as you look when things are going well, nor as poor as you look when struggling.
With a large enough sample, you find your norm.
Here’s what I see when I look at the roster, and the statistics to-date:
Run Differential: Prior to tonight, the run differential for the season is -16. This is a good indication the current record could easily be worse.
Runs Scored: The O’s are 19th overall in runs scored. I think this will improve (if the complexion of the roster does not change), and believe the O’s will finish somewhere around 12th.
Slugging %: The O’s are 13th in slugging %. This is the primary reason I believe the O’s will score more runs. The O’s roster can slug (and should be expected to slug) at a higher level vs. what we’ve seen to-date.
On-Base %: Baltimore is 25th overall in on-base %. The on-base limitations have plagued this offense for years, and it’s only continued here in 2017. If this improves at-all, it won’t improve much.
Quality Starts: Somewhat surprisingly, the O’s are 11th overall in QS. Thank-you Dylan Bundy.
Starter ERA: 4.76. 23rd overall. This seems about right. Not any better or worse than what was anticipated going into the season. I thought Miley had a chance to be an adequate 4th or 5th starter, and he has been. We went into the season believing Gausman and Bundy had to lead, and be positive difference makers. Bundy has done his job. We will see how many innings he has in him. It’s certainly possible that the light could go on for Gausman like it did in the 2nd half last year, and that he ends ’17 with quality numbers. Right now, 13 starts into his year he has an ERA approaching 6. The O’s can not compete for a post-season spot this entire season without him being significantly better. Like everyone else, we will continue to look for improvement with his secondaries and fast-ball command. Tillman is making his 7th start of the season tomorrow. The last time out finally showed some improvement. Let’s see if he builds on that. He has to be at that 3rd starter level he’s been at since 2012. Whoever gets the ball as the 5th starter, the expectations are low. You are just hoping they can give you a chance.
Bullpen ERA & WPA: The O’s are 14th overall in Bullpen ERA, and 7th overall in WPA. When healthy, it’s a quality pen that can still be elite. It doesn’t have to be explained to anyone that the pen is simply not as good with Britton and O’Day on the shelf. Get them back, and the O’s can again lock down games. Having both of them out, and of the O’s primary (should-be) strengths becomes an issue.
Defensive Efficiency: Baltimore continues to be excellent in converting balls in play into outs, ranking 4th overall in DE. With respect to DE here, the eye test says the defense has taken a step back overall this year. A quick look at Defensive Runs Saved, and UZR/150 shows agreement with the eye.
So, laying out that, where are the O’s? Why do I think it’s reasonable for the O’s to get back to the post-season?
Well, what about what they’ve done to-date is not sustainable?
The answer is nothing basically. If anything, it’s reasonable to believe Baltimore can and should play better.
If the O’s can and should play better, why not continue to play for ’17?
After all, the Major League post-season is a crap shoot. The idea is to get there and take your chances.
A lot of years I’d argue for that point.
Here in ’17, I think that’s the wrong way to go.
Maybe the O’s will improve their play over the next Month+, and I’ll feel better about trying to win here in ’17.
Maybe I’ll even be advocating trading some controllable asset for a quality reliever (which I think is probably the best case of what the O’s could target for improvement).
Right now, I think the Orioles (and their fans) would be better off taking a longer-term approach.
The O’s system will get a talent infusion with the forthcoming Amateur Draft, but Baltimore is entering this week in the bottom 3rd of systems overall.
(As an aside, what the O’s don’t do in-terms of acquiring International Talent is criminal. The leadership in the Front Office has changed numerous times under the Ownership of Peter Angelos. The commonality of the O’s not attempting to add such talent falls at Angelos’ doorstep alone.)
The Machado question is hanging over the franchise. Currently he has a year and half left in an O’s uniform.
As we’ve said before, you could extend the Hall-of-Fame talent throughout his prime, and build around him. You can win that way. You can also trade him, get back the significant return he would command, and use the money you would be spending on him annually to augment the roster (and with possible extensions for Britton, Schoop, Gausman). You can win, and argue for either option.
What can’t be argued is that Machado has more value as a trade chip now (with 1.5 years left on his contract) then he would as a trade option this Fall, or next year.
The Orioles absolutely know internally what they are going to be prepared to offer Machado. If they don’t expect it to be enough to get him to extend, then they need to be prepared to trade him.
If you are going to trade him, trade him with his value at a high.
Of course, the O’s get the chance to influence opinions by what they do on the field. Do they win tonight, and tomorrow and leave New York trailing the Yanks by just 2.5 games? Do they lose both, and leave the Big Apple 6.5 games back?
I’m still not completely sold on New York, but they are 12 games over .500, and they have the capability to improve over the next month. They’ve got the financial means to take on poor contracts, and depth within in the system to trade for further help.
The O’s aren’t in a position like Houston is, where they are running away with things.
Record wise, the O’s remain in playoff position. That’s surface level. Looking at things clearly, there are plenty of issues.
Should the O’s play better vs. what we’ve seen? Yes.
Can the O’s get back to the post-season and have a swingers chance? Sure.
I’m not as down about the O’s chances over the next few seasons (’18, ’19, ’20) as others. The O’s have a $163M payroll this year, which is good for 10th overall. If that payroll is sustained, the O’s will have the ability to add talent to what exists.
That said, the primary issue for the organization going forward – a lack of high-end talent under team control – can not be ignored. Signing Machado is one option towards partly addressing that. Another option is moving him (and others) and stacking up the returns.
Is the best path for the O’s obtaining as much cheap, team-controlled talent as possible; even if that means punting on their ’17 chances? I think it’s currently hard to argue otherwise.