People Inside The Game Think The Orioles Should Rebuild
The Orioles, as it difficult as it may be to remember now, were still on the fringe of contention on the second Saturday of September.
Manager Buck Showalter sat in the visiting manager’s office at Progressive Field in Cleveland before a game against the Indians and admitted it would be “hard” to make the postseason. He turned out to be right as an awful September helped the Orioles finish last in the American League East with a 75-87 record.
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While Showalter seemed to be in the early stages of writing the Orioles’ concession speech, he did seem taken aback by a question about the organization’s willingness to compete. He was asked why the Orioles still had faith they could make a playoff run in late July when they traded for Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Tin Beckham even though Baltimore had seemingly fallen from contention.
“Sometimes you make moves for different reasons, some with the present in mind and others with the future in mind,” Showalter said. “The end game, though, has always been to win, at least ever since I’ve been here.”
Showalter was hired with 57 games left in the 2010 season and the Orioles have had just losing two records during his eight full years on the job. The first was in 2011 and the second was this year.
The Orioles don’t plan on finishing under .500 in 2018 despite being at a point where they could at least consider beginning a rebuild. Four of their star players — third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach — can become free agents at the end of next season.
Instead, the Orioles plan to make a run at what would be their fourth playoff berth since 2018 despite playing in a strong American League East. Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees should both be formidable again after reaching the postseason this past season and the Toronto Blue Jays are a year removed from back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series.
Five executives and scouts from other organizations were polled on the Orioles’ plans. Only one believes the Orioles should try to win in 2018 while the other felt they should start accruing younger assets to bolster a farm system that includes just two premium prospects in catcher Chance Sisco and outfielder Austin Hays, both of whom will likely have an opportunity to win starting jobs in spring training.
“I’d start all over again,” an executive from a National League team said. “In today’s game, you are either a contender or rebuilding. Being caught in between gets you nowhere. I just think they have too many holes to fill, especially in their starting rotation, to be a contender next year unless they take the payroll way up and I don’t think they can afford that, especially if they plan on keeping Manny Machado for the long haul.”
The primary items on the Orioles’ wish list are expensive as they need at least two starting pitchers and a left-handed hitting outfielder to balance a righty heavy lineup. A veteran catcher could also be helpful to join Caleb Joseph for depth purposes in the event Sisco shows he is not ready for regular major-league duty.
When counting the likely salaries of arbitration-eligible players, the Orioles have $126 million committed to 2018 payroll. They finished the 2017 season at $167 million.
As the NL executive noted, a Machado signing would greatly impact how much money president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would have to fill the Orioles’ holes. The 25-year-old Machado had a down year by his lofty standards in 2017 but could still command a contract that surpasses Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s $325-million deal.
“Machado is a great player, but I really wonder if the Orioles can afford him,” an executive from an AL team said. “That’s why I’d trade him this winter when his value is still high because he still has a full season of club (contractual) control left. I’d get as many prospects as I could for him, same thing for Jones and Britton, and then start a rebuild.
“That’s the only path they can realistically take. If they hang on to all their (potential) free agents, then it’s undoubtedly a win-or-else situation. You better win it all in 2018 and savor that championship because it would get ugly in a hurry in 2019 and for a few years after that.”
The Orioles, though, don’t feel necessarily feel that way.
They believe their farm system is better than how it is rated by outside observers. They also have contractual control over second baseman Jonathan Schoop through 2019, right-hander Kevin Gausman and Beckham through 2021 and righty Dylan Bundy through 2022.
Nevertheless, the Orioles will need to bolster their rotation to contend next season as left-hander Wade Miley and right-handers Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez have all become free agents along with Hellickson. Tillman is likely to return on a one-year contract to rebuild his value following an awful 2017 but the Orioles need established starters to join Bundy and Gausman.
MASNSports.com’s Roch Kubatko recently reported that the Orioles have interest in a pair of free agents — left-hander Jason Vargas and right-hander Andrew Cashner.
Vargas was 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals this year. Cashner was 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 28 starts for the Texas Rangers.
Those names failed to impress a scout from an AL team.
“Some team will overpay for both off what they did this year, but I wouldn’t commit long-term to either,” the scout said. “They are both are on the other side of 30 and neither has a consistent track record of success. What the Orioles really need is a big-time No. 1 starter then a good No. 3 to slot between Bundy and Gausman (in the rotation).”
The scout mentioned three free-agent pitchers who he felt could make a difference — Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb.
However, Darvish is almost certainly out of the Orioles’ price range despite his World Series meltdowns with the Los Angeles Dodgers this year. So, too, is Arrieta, who the Orioles traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2013.
Cobb is intriguing but the 30-year-old’s 29 starts and 179 1/3 innings this year for the Tampa Bay Rays were personal bests in a six-year career marred by injuries.
Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole and Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi could be had in trade if the price is right. Yet the Orioles aren’t likely to be able to put together an enticing enough package of prospects and/or young major leaguers to land either.
“For me, they need a top-of-the-rotation guy and I don’t see how that’s going to happen, so it makes sense to start looking to the future,” a scout from an AL team said. “I applaud the Orioles for wanting to win and Buck is a great manager but it’s just not realistic.”
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.