Orioles: Time To Rebuild
Anybody who has read my articles, listened to me on the radio, or read my message board posts over the years knows that I have never been a big fan of how the Baltimore Orioles run their organization. As a former employee (15ish years ago), I saw first hand just how screwed up things were, even on the peon level I worked at. However, things started to change in the summer of 2010. That is when the O’s hired Buck Showalter to be the Manager. Things started out rocky for the club at first but the 2012 season changed all of that. The Orioles went on to have a great 5-year run. They led the AL in wins over that time span; they went to the playoffs 3 times, won 1 division title and made it to the ALCS 1 time. Despite all the success they were having on the field, the long term good of the franchise was still up in the air, especially as they got closer to this upcoming 2018 off-season.
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After this season is over, barring any extensions, the Orioles will see Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Adam Jones hit free agency. They will also see their Manager and EVP of Baseball Operations also become Free Agents. Its the time that we all knew was coming and wondered how the Orioles would handle it. Many of us who follow these guys on a daily basis felt pretty sure the Orioles would, in their own way, “go for it” one more season. We have heard that the Orioles owner, Peter Angelos, doesn’t like to trade big name players because he feels that is a slap in the face to season ticket holders (aka, his money train). I would contend that Angelos knows nothing about this but it is what it is and the fans have to deal with it.
The Orioles are in a very interesting position. They enter the off-season with essentially their starting position players set, their bullpen pretty much set and even their bench is basically set with the possible exception of a lefty bat to platoon in the OF. Where they are not set is in the rotation. They currently have two starters for 2018, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. And let’s face it; Bundy isn’t a guy that you can feel 100% confident in that he will give you 30+ starts and 180+ innings. We need to see him stay healthy in back to back seasons before he deserves that level of confidence. However, those two will be part of the Opening Day rotation. Last season saw the Orioles have the worst starting pitching in all of baseball and that obviously has to improve for the Orioles to be contenders in 2018.
So far this Winter, the Orioles have gone after one starter, to our knowledge. That starter was Mike Fiers. Fiers was reportedly given a 2-year offer by the Orioles but he turned it down in an attempt to be able to regain his value playing for Detroit and then perhaps get a better multi-year contract after next year. However, let’s not overlook this. The Orioles had a mediocre pitcher; coming off of a poor year, turn down a larger contract. Let that sink in for a moment folks. The Orioles, a team notorious for sitting on their hands and waiting to see what’s left over, actually made an aggressive play for a starting pitcher and they couldn’t even get him to accept a deal for more money. That tells you a lot. It tells you what many of us know and that is no pitcher is going to come to Oriole Park to resurrect his career, at least not if he has a choice. The ironic part to that is that OPACY actually plays a pitchers’ park but the perception is that it’s a tough park to pitch in because home runs fly out all the time. We also know that the Orioles aren’t going to pay big money for a starter either. Even the guys that are getting that 3-4 year deal for 10-15M may be out after the Ubaldo Jimenez fiasco. So, what does that leave you and is that good enough to legitimately contend?
Earlier this week, I asked the readers on BSL to tell me where they thought the Orioles ranked amongst the teams in the AL. We got a small sampling of votes (13) but everyone thought they were no better than 7th and many felt they were in the bottom third of the league right now. Now, that isn’t much of a sampling and those who read and interact on the BSL message board are much more into this than the average fan is. That being said, I think a lot of fans can see what is going on around the AL right now (we will get to that stuff soon) and can see the writing on the wall of how much work the club has to do to get into the discussion with the big boys of the league. As small a sampling as that is, the posters on BSL aren’t the only people worried about this team. We have had several articles written by our BSL contributors talking about what the Orioles could do, if they should rebuild or not. We recently posted a Q&A discussing this as well. Eduardo Encina released an article for the Baltimore Sun talking about how difficult it will be for them to sign starting pitching. On top of these things, we hear rumblings throughout the game that the Orioles can’t and won’t sign Manny Machado to a contract extension.
Still, with all of that as a backdrop, the Orioles still seem intent on “going for it” in 2018. That is, until the last few days. Have the recent moves by teams in the AL changed their way of thinking? We saw Seattle, a team that won 3 more games than the Orioles did and had a rash of injuries, add Dee Gordon. The Angels, another team crushed by injuries in 2017, got perhaps the biggest prize this entire off-season with the acquisition of Shohei Othani. And then, yesterday, we heard the huge news that the Yankees were acquiring reigning NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton and they did so for peanuts, relatively speaking.
All 3 of those teams were better than the Orioles in 2017 and they just got a lot better and there is plenty of off-season left to improve more. The Orioles were already in trouble in the division, as they will enter the season no better than the 3rd best team in the division. Not only are they no better than the 3rd best team in the division but the gap between them and Boston and NY is huge and it just got wider. Its scary to think how good that Yankees lineup could be, especially when you consider that they have very good young talent that is just scratching the surface and you have Gleyber Torres, arguably the best prospect in baseball, ready to come back after TJ surgery last year.
I suspect the Orioles don’t care about these moves. I suspect they feel they have a formula that, for 5 years, proved to be effective and that they will just go back to the same formula and take their chances 1 more time. The question is, should they do that?
I am of the opinion that while I would love to keep Manny around, if you aren’t going to sign him this offseason, trade him now. And he is just the start. I am trading all the vet talent I can and building the team around Schoop, Mancini, the young talent we have and whatever you get in a trade. Take your lumps for a year or two, kill it in the draft and be in great shape for 2019-2020. I think I would likely hold onto Britton unless the value is higher than I think. He will be a perfect deadline candidate if he stays healthy. I want the most possible value for him and that likely won’t come until we see him healthy and dominating again.
Is it possible that the Orioles could contend in 2018? Sure it is. If they get bounce back seasons from Davis, Manny and Gausman and guys like Schoop and Mancini don’t see huge drop-offs, they could surprise some teams. But overall, its just not that likely and while those teams are set up better in 2018 than the Orioles are, they are also set up better long term as well.
Angelos seems to believe the average Orioles fan doesn’t understand things. He seems to think the average fan is all about this year and this year only. Maybe he is right but the social media reaction to the Stanton deal shows that people see how much it hurts their team, their division and, in the eyes of some, the sport itself. If you told the Orioles fans that you have a plan and that you feel you can’t compete in 2018 and beyond, they will understand it. Some will be upset that their favorite players are gone but they will get over it.
Winning cures all no matter who is doing the winning. Orioles fans will always look fondly at Machado and this group of guys. These guys resurrected a dead franchise and gave us so many great moments. It will be sad to see them go but it’s the right thing to do.
The Orioles have seen their farm system improve in just one year’s time. They have some legitimate prospects who are ready to help the team right now. Allow those guys to grow at this level and supplement them with more young talent. Do what teams like the Cubs and Astros did. Do what the White Sox, Braves and other teams are trying to do. This team just isn’t likely to make the acquisitions needed to truly be a legit contender in 2018 and if you aren’t going to do that, you should look towards the future and usher in what we hope will be the next era of great Baltimore Orioles baseball. It’s a risk but there is nothing that this team can or will do that isn’t a risk. The question becomes, what risk makes the most sense for this organization? For me, rebuilding is the way to go. What about you? What would you like to see the Orioles do?