Outside Perspectives Of The Orioles Moves
The Baltimore Orioles’ head-spinning flurry of moves had come to an end last Tuesday afternoon when, a few hours later, an executive from another American League club weighed on the seismic changes that had come to the organization in the days leading up to Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline.
“Welcome to the 21st century, Orioles,” the executive said.
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The Orioles finally gave up on their long-held — and obsolete — belief that they should never hold a fire sale in July because it is not fair to season ticketholders who expect to see the same product on the field for six months.
The Orioles traded away six veterans, chief among them All-Star shortstop Manny Machado, but also including right-hander Kevin Gausman, left-handed reliever Zach Britton, righty relievers Brad Brach and Darren O’Day and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
In return, the Orioles acquired 14 minor leaguers along major league infielder Jonathan Villar, who came from the Milwaukee Brewers in the trade for Schoop, and $2.75 million in international signing bonus pool money. The Orioles also shed nearly $29 million in payroll obligations for this year and next.
The Orioles are tied with Kansas City for a major league worst 35-79 going into Thursday night’s game vs. the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. They trail the Boston Red Sox by a remarkable 45.5 games in the American League East.
“Clearly, they needed to take the steps that they took,” the executive said. “This was a team going nowhere. When you hit bottom like the Orioles, everything has to be on the table. And I’m not talking just personnel-wide but organizational philosophy-wise, too.”
The Orioles have indeed shifted organization philosophy since trading Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the All-Star break.
The Orioles have decided to be more active in the amateur free agent market in Latin America, hence receiving funds to help sign those players in the trades. They also plan to increase their analytics department and become more reliant on advanced metrics in identifying players for potential acquisitions. Finally, they plan to take a more holistic approach to player development, including better overall nutrition and medical care of their minor leaguers.
“All of this stuff is par for the course for most teams in the Year 2018,” said an executive from a National League team. “But it’s all new for the Orioles. They’ve really resisted change and they have been able to thrive at times doing things the old-fashioned way. However, it’s all caught up to them the last two seasons — the lack of overall talent in the farm system, neglecting Latin America for so long, not joining the sabermetrics revolution. Their record speaks for itself.”
The Orioles’ decline started last season when they finished 75-87 a year after losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL wild card game in the organization’s third postseason appearance in a five-year stretch. The ending to 2017 was brutal as the Orioles lost 19 of their last 23 games.
Yet it was a precursor of worse things in 2018.
“I thought the Orioles were being pretty hopeful when they thought they could compete with the big boys — the Yankees and Red Sox — in the AL East but I also didn’t think they’d be a complete joke, either,” a scout from an AL team said. “It’s just been an abomination to watch. The only good to come out of this season is the organization realizes it has to change. That’s the one positive they can hold on to — and they have to following through with it.”
Most people around baseball believe the Orioles’ new line of thinking is a result of Peter Angelos effectively turning ownership of the franchise to his sons John and Louis.
“They are more progressive thinkers,” an Orioles’ person said. “They realize changes need to be made. I think if Peter were still in charge then we wouldn’t have traded Gausman and Schoop.”
Indeed, the Orioles surprised many observers when they were willing to deal both players even though neither is eligible for free agency until after next season.
“It was a good move, though,” the AL executive said. “They got pretty decent packages of prospects for both players and Villar is still young enough to help them bridge the gap until some of the minor leaguers are ready.”
The big question is whether the John and Louis Angelos will make more changes in the offseason.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are both in the final years of their contracts. Farm director Brian Graham and scouting director Gary Rajsich, though both well thought of inside the game, could be on the way out.
Duquette has gone on record as saying he wants to stay, even though he has ceded some front-office power to VP of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson. Showalter has been noncommittal about his future.
“Duq has been a good solider there and he deserves to stay, even if it’s in a bit of a reduced role and so does Buck,” a scout from an AL team said. “I think it would probably do him and the Orioles good if they switch managers in the offseason. Buck did a great job of turning that franchise around but now they need someone new to engineer the next turnaround. They need some fresh blood.”
John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath.
He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.