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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-7 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles securing their first series victory of the season in a dramatic 8-7 win over the New York Yankees in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After pitching 14 2/3 innings the previous three days, the Orioles bullpen received the reins with two outs in the first. While allowing the offense to erase an early 5-0 deficit, six relievers combined to throw 186 pitches to cover 11 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. What an effort.

2. Brad Brach did quite a Don Stanhouse impersonation by loading the bases with no outs in the 12th, but he induced an Aaron Judge comebacker and a heady Caleb Joseph turned a 1-2-5 double play. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that, especially in such a critical spot.

3. After preserving a 7-7 tie with his difficult catch in the 10th inning, Craig Gentry capped off a three-hit, two-steal day with his game-winning RBI single off Adam Warren. The reserve outfielder has certainly pulled his weight early this season.

4. Not only did Richard Bleier pitch a third consecutive day for a taxed bullpen, but he tossed three scoreless frames to collect the victory. His post-game comments reiterated how easy it is to root for the 30-year-old.

5. You have to be impressed with the way Anthony Santander hit the go-ahead home run on a 3-0 pitch in the seventh. I’m not sure he’ll remain in the majors for good after his Rule 5 requirement expires next month, but he has definitely flashed potential.

6. Speaking of Rule 5 picks, Pedro Araujo not only kept the Yankees off the scoreboard over 2 1/3 innings, but he struck out five and allowed only one hit. I stand by my position on carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in the bullpen, but Araujo at least shows upside.

7. Fans in the Bronx booing Giancarlo Stanton just a handful of games into his Yankees career are silly, but he had a brutal series going 2-for-19 with eight strikeouts. He registered his second five-strikeout game in six days on Sunday. Ouch.

8. After grounding into a double play to short-circuit a rally in the third, Danny Valencia made amends by clubbing a two-run shot in the fifth to make it a one-run deficit. He needs to produce against lefty starters and did exactly that against Jordan Montgomery.

9. The tying run was charged to Tanner Scott in the seventh, but the rookie did a solid job over 1 2/3 innings in his 2018 debut. That inning likely would have gone to Mychal Givens if he hadn’t thrown 59 pitches on Thursday and Friday.

10. His team bailed him out, but Mike Wright trying to turn a double play on a comebacker instead of throwing to the plate was a bad decision and the throw was even worse. He completely crumbled after that in what was likely his last start before Alex Cobb is recalled.

11. Wright had a competitive outing against Houston, but Sunday’s performance has happened too frequently in his major league opportunities. He’s tried to make adjustments over the years with his two-seam fastball and mixing in a cutter, but I just don’t see the stuff or temperament of a major league starter.

12. The Orioles entered this series struggling and were rarely even competitive at Yankee Stadium last year. They didn’t play perfectly and now return home with an exhausted bullpen, but that was an impressive statement this weekend. A 4-6 record doesn’t look so bad after being 1-5.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Yankees

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles snapping their five-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The five runs plated in the seventh inning exceeded the club’s total in five of its first six games and came after the Orioles had only one baserunner in the previous five frames. It was a brutal opening week, but that was a good stop-the-bleeding win to begin the series.

2. After Orioles pitching surrendered an inexplicable 102 runs in 10 games at Yankee Stadium last season, Andrew Cashner set the tone with six strong innings as an Aaron Judge solo homer was the only blemish. It was the first quality start of the season from someone not named Dylan Bundy.

3. Cashner used five pitches effectively with his slider and changeup standing out in key spots. His declining strikeout rate was a major topic when he signed, but he’s struck out 10 in 11 innings. You’ll take that outing against the Yankees lineup any day of the week.

4. Adam Jones continued his hot start to the season with the big two-run homer off Masahiro Tanaka to give the Orioles the lead in the seventh. All three of his long balls in 2018 have given Baltimore a lead in the sixth inning or later.

5. Trey Mancini responded favorably to the leadoff spot with three hits, including a two-run single to right off Chad Green to extend the lead to 5-1. In a perfect world, you’d like to keep Mancini in more of a run-producing spot, but he’s the man for the job right now.

6. It was a cold night in the Bronx and Tanaka pitched well over the first six innings, but the Yankees starter still threw some hittable pitches that went unharmed until the seventh. Opposing pitchers continue to give Orioles hitters a heavy diet of off-speed and breaking stuff.

7. A bullpen that’s already carrying two Rule 5 picks and trying to survive without All-Star closer Zach Britton can hardly afford to have Mychal Givens struggling. The right-hander has now been scored upon in each of his last two outings to put further strain on the bullpen.

8. After cleaning up Givens’ mess in the seventh, Darren O’Day found trouble of his own an inning later by issuing a walk and hitting two batters before escaping unscathed. He sure seems to love pitching with the bases loaded, doesn’t he?

9. Brad Brach issued a walk before striking out Brandon Drury and Brett Gardner to collect the save. I do have reservations about Brach as a closer, but some of the reaction to his blown save on Opening Day was over the top. No current options are going to be Britton.

10. Chris Davis collected his second hit of the season in his final at-bat, but he looks lost at the plate right now. You expect him to strike out and to even be victimized by the shift, but he’s not making any hard contact, hitting a slew of weak grounders.

11. Colby Rasmus singled as part of the five-run seventh, but he’s looked as lost as Davis, striking out 11 times in 20 plate appearances. Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander did deliver an RBI double, but the Orioles need to start getting something from their veteran left-handed bats.

12. Before going hitless with two strikeouts, Manny Machado reiterated his desire to play shortstop beyond 2018 and took a dig at the New York media about the Aaron Judge tampering controversy. He’s not wrong, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea if he envisions wearing Yankee pinstripes.

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Rule 5 obsession again hurting Orioles’ chances to win

Posted on 04 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles do this to themselves.

Year after year, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette champions the Rule 5 draft as a cheap way of acquiring young prospects. It sounds fine in theory in December and we hear the encouraging reviews of these players during spring training, but the Orioles inevitably find themselves in predicaments in which both their roster and their ability to compete are compromised during the season.

And for what?

The greatest Rule 5 success story of the Duquette era has been Ryan Flaherty, a versatile utility man who was worth a total of 1.6 wins above replacement over his six seasons with Baltimore. Carrying a position player has proven to be easier as the Orioles were able to qualify for the playoffs with Flaherty in 2012 and outfielder Joey Rickard in 2016, but does the upside of a Rule 5 pick really justify the roster headaches?

Was it worth it having T.J. McFarland hamstring the bullpen in 2013 and Jason Garcia clogging it up in 2015? McFarland at least made some useful contributions as a long reliever in 2014, but Garcia was never heard from again as he struggled at Double-A Bowie the following two years. Neither is with the organization anymore.

That brings us to the present with the Orioles not only trying to satisfy the remainder of outfielder Anthony Santander’s Rule 5 requirement from last season, but they’re currently carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in their bullpen.

Two.

A club that sported the worst starter ERA in the majors in 2017 and one that is without two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton for at least the first two months of the season thinks it’s a good idea to carry two pitchers who have little business being in the major leagues right now. And it took all of five games for this bizarre Rule 5 fascination to cost the Orioles a potential win.

Manager Buck Showalter shouldn’t be absolved for his decision-making in Tuesday’s 10-6 loss in Houston as he could have avoided using both Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier in Monday’s 6-1 defeat, but that only delays the inevitable as this type of scenario would have played out at some point very soon. When starters consistently fail to pitch deep into games, you’re not going to survive with what amounts to a five-man bullpen. Whether it was Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, or next week, Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes were going to find themselves pitching in a game with the outcome still in doubt.

Trying to hide one Rule 5 pick in the bullpen is difficult enough, but carrying two eliminates any margin for error as we saw when Mychal Givens allowed the go-ahead two-run home run to Josh Reddick in the sixth inning. Showalter removing starter Mike Wright was the right call after he’d given the Orioles a solid five innings and 82 pitches in his first competitive outing since March 22. Regardless of the result, you’d rather see Givens against the heart of the Astros order rather than Wright facing it a third time.

The likely plan was for Givens to pitch the sixth and seventh before turning to Darren O’Day and Brad Brach for the final two innings. Instead Givens’ struggles opened the door for both Araujo and Cortes to put the game out of reach. One could still argue using O’Day or Brach for the seventh inning, but Showalter has always been reluctant to use his top arms when the Orioles are trailing and such a strategy would have merely pushed the bullpen shortage to the following day.

You just aren’t going to win with starters pitching only four or five innings and backing them up with only five relievers you trust. The math simply won’t add up as the cumulative impact of needing to cover 13 innings in the previous three blowout losses put the Orioles in bad position on Tuesday. Again, Showalter could have handled his bullpen differently the last two nights, but Araujo and Cortes are going to have to pitch when it matters from time to time if they’re to remain on the 25-man roster.

And that’s the major problem.

The Orioles deserve praise for stepping up to sign starting pitcher Alex Cobb in late March, but you can’t say you’re truly all in on 2018 with two Rule 5 picks straining your bullpen while you’re already trying to survive the absence of your best reliever. Such a path comes across as trying to prove you’re smarter than everyone else rather than doing what it takes to win.

And history suggests the long-term payoff with both Araujo and Cortes won’t be worth it anyway.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-0 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 01 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their first series of the season with a 7-0 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You know it’s been a sobering weekend when there’s a question over whether the pitching or offense was worse. The Orioles batted .117 against the Twins and allowed 13 runs over the final two games of the series. I suppose the answer to the debate is … yes.

2. Kevin Gausman giving up a home run on the first pitch of his season wasn’t an encouraging sign for his first half being different this time around. He followed that by giving up six runs and three homers in four innings. It was only one start, but a brutal one.

3. His average fastball velocity of 92.3 miles per hour was the lowest single-game average of his career, according to FanGraphs data. Gausman said he felt fine physically, but his average fastball velocity was 95.0 last season. That’s something to monitor.

4. Gausman absolutely needs to be able to succeed throwing to catchers not named Caleb Joseph, but he posted a 2.62 ERA with him (113 1/3 innings) last year and a 7.85 mark with others (73 1/3 innings). I would have stuck with that partnership at least to open this season.

5. No matter how unhappy you want to be with the Orioles bats, Jose Berrios deserves much credit. The 23-year-old was terrific in nearly pitching a “Maddux” before finishing with a three-hit shutout on 107 pitches. That’s quite a statement after a solid 2017 campaign.

6. Just imagine if Eddie Rosario hadn’t misplayed Chance Sisco’s fly to the left-field wall into a double in the third inning. The Twins could have taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning two days in a row and Berrios might have had a perfect game into the ninth.

7. It’s too soon for Buck Showalter to pull the plug on the Chris Davis leadoff experiment after committing to it in the first place, but an 0-for-12 start doesn’t bode well for his early-season confidence.

8. I dislike the unwritten rules of baseball as much as anyone, but I figured Sisco’s bunt single against the shift with one out in the ninth inning of a seven-run game wouldn’t go over well in the Minnesota dugout. That doesn’t make those complaints any less ridiculous though.

9. Minnesota starters combined to allow zero runs and five hits over 21 innings. For what it’s worth, Showalter was singing the praises of the Twins even before the series began.

10. Richard Bleier, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens all had good outings. So, there’s something positive to take away from Sunday.

11. When you’re about to go on the road to face the defending World Series champions followed by the American League runner-ups, a series win would have been a nice confidence boost. Instead, there wasn’t much evidence of a pulse this weekend.

12. As ugly as the final two games of this series were, remember to exhale and allow the new season to breathe. Whatever your 2018 expectations were a week ago really shouldn’t be any different at this point.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win on Opening Day

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles recording their third straight Opening Day walk-off victory in a 3-2 win over Minnesota in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Two days shy of the 10th anniversary of his first game with the Orioles, Adam Jones provided another memory with his game-winning homer in the 11th, his first walk-off blast since 2012. He owns a .341 average with two homers, six doubles, a triple, and eight RBIs in 11 openers.

2. Manny Machado’s future has understandably been the focus for months, but Jones remains the heart and soul of the Orioles. Drafted a few months after the center fielder was acquired from Seattle in 2008, Caleb Joseph described what he’s meant to the organization perfectly:

3. Dylan Bundy didn’t receive the win, but his Opening Day start was exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they drafted him. He was up in the zone early as Minnesota made some loud outs, but he was superb as the game progressed, tossing seven shutout innings on 88 pitches.

4. Twelve of Bundy’s 15 swinging strikes came on his slider, which had terrific downward movement. All seven of his strikeouts came on that pitch. What a weapon.

5. Bundy’s best work came in the fifth inning after Byron Buxton stole second base with one out. That’s when a starter needs to bear down in a scoreless game, and he proceeded to strike out Jason Castro and Brian Dozier to end the threat.

6. The defense didn’t help and Robbie Grossman’s game-tying single was a bloop, but Brad Brach blowing the save doesn’t inspire confidence with Zach Britton’s return at least a couple months away. Going back to last year, Brach seems to fall into protect mode rather than attacking hitters in save situations.

7. Who would have predicted Joseph hitting the first triple and picking up the first RBIs of the season? He’s done a commendable job putting his historically-nightmarish 2016 season behind him.

8. The Orioles scoring two runs while striking out four times in the seventh inning felt very Oriole-like, didn’t it?

9. An 0-for-4 performance in the leadoff spot is nothing over which to fret, but two defensive miscues — including one that started the Twins’ ninth-inning rally — and nearly getting thrown out at second base on Machado’s ninth-inning single made for a forgettable day for Chris Davis.

10. Craig Gentry starting in right field over Colby Rasmus raised a few eyebrows, but watching him rob Eddie Rosario of a home run in the second inning made Buck Showalter look like a genius. That was a tremendous catch.

11. Jake Odorizzi did an excellent job changing speeds and the eye levels of Orioles hitters with his splitter, curve, and elevated fastballs on the inner half of the plate. The Twins starter and Bundy put on a good show.

12. The Orioles have won eight straight season openers under Showalter. It’s one of 162 games, but the manager always talks about wanting to send a big crowd home happy in hopes that they’ll come back, and that’s certainly been the case with the last three openers ending in walk-off wins.

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2018 Orioles preview: Brad Brach

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2018 Orioles every day as they try to bounce back from a disappointing last-place finish a year ago.

March 5 – Manny Machado
March 6 – Kevin Gausman
March 7 – Trey Mancini

RP Brad Brach

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

2017 stats: 4-5, 18 saves, 3.18 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 7 HR, 68 innings

Why to be impressed: In addition to recording a career-high 18 saves, the right-hander posted an ERA of 3.18 or better for the fourth straight year as he’s been one of the more consistent middle relievers in baseball. Brach pitched 68 or more innings for the third straight year, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted with both Zach Britton and Darren O’Day having missed significant time recently.

Why to be concerned: Brach’s strikeout rate and velocity dipped while his walk rate (4.55 per nine innings) increased after the break, factors to monitor early in 2018. He also registered the lowest strand rate of his four years in Baltimore and saw his ERA balloon in the second half for the second straight year, making one wonder if the 158 1/3 combined innings he pitched in 2015 and 2016 caught up to him.

2018 outlook: Set to become a free agent at the end of the season, Brach should benefit filling in once again for the injured Britton as the closer and could boost his trade value as well as his appeal on the open market. He’s built up quite a track record of durability and reliability over the last four years, but last year’s second half should be a reminder for Buck Showalter not to push Brach too hard early on.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2018: 4-3, 19 saves, 3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 6 HR, 63 innings

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Orioles’ lack of direction taking optimism out of spring

Posted on 14 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Orioles pitchers and catchers have reported to Sarasota and participated in their first workout on Wednesday.

This is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy time for those longing for baseball and warmer weather while reminding themselves that hope springs eternal, right?

You’ve read the primers with the top five or 10 biggest questions going into spring training, but what’s currently happening on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex feels rather inconsequential. Musings about another left-handed bat, the utility infielder competition, or even the vacancies in the starting rotation simply don’t measure up to the colossal question emanating from this organization.

What the heck is going on?

The Orioles finished in last place in 2017 and posted the worst starter ERA in the major leagues and worst in club history, but the most notable rotation candidate added this offseason has been Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes. The loudest and most consistent buzz about a veteran signing continues revolving around Chris Tillman, who last year posted the worst ERA (7.84) by any major leaguer throwing more than 90 innings since Scott Erickson (7.87) in 2000. His track record prior to 2017 makes him an acceptable flier to compete for the final rotation pot, but he’d currently be penciled in as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the projected 2018 payroll is currently around $40 million lower than last year’s, but reports and speculation continue to suggest reluctance to commit to long or even medium-term contracts, making one wonder if the decrease is deliberate. Players who’ve meant so much to their recent success like Adam Jones have indicated that the club isn’t even engaging in extension talks. And Baltimore still hasn’t traded Manny Machado as the 25-year-old superstar is now nine months away from walking away as a free agent.

Why, why, and why?

The Orioles certainly don’t appear to be “going for it” with Machado, Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach all scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season and haven’t yet signaled a rebuilding process by dealing any of the aforementioned names. Blame executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette if you want, but both he and manager Buck Showalter are also in the last year of their contracts, only adding to the perceived lack of direction exhibited by ownership.

Do Peter Angelos and family have a plan for 2019 and beyond?

Of course, excuses are there if you want to entertain them. Duquette has regularly conducted business late in the offseason and well into spring training and an abnormally-stagnant market has left dozens of free agents still looking for jobs, but you’d assume that increased supply will be accompanied by more demand from other clubs whenever the thaw occurs.

Perhaps the Orioles will silence critics by still signing an Alex Cobb or a Lance Lynn, but we know they historically don’t win bidding wars and rarely even engage in them. Would such an addition make enough of a difference anyway or only increase the likelihood of the organization keeping Machado and others through the trade deadline with ill-advised thoughts of chasing the second wild-card berth as we saw in 2015 and last year? Those pondering the future should feel conflicted about that possibility since the current club is hardly devoid of talent despite its clear deficiencies.

You could try to argue that the rotation can’t be any worse than it was a year ago and the removal of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Tillman — at least the 2017 version — is addition by subtraction, no matter who ends up making those starts. Of course, that “glass half full” outlook still doesn’t translate to consistently competing with a group currently comprised of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and three shoulder shrugs. The bullpen also isn’t as strong on paper with Britton sidelined indefinitely and former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day another year older and having dealt with different ailments over the last two seasons.

Even with baseball’s bizarre market, the organization isn’t proceeding all that differently from recent offseasons, but the reality is that it’s entering the ninth inning of the current era with the same old flaws more magnified than ever. It’s no longer 2012 or 2014 when most of the club’s top commodities remained comfortably under contractual control, meaning there should have been much more urgency.

The organization deserves credit for accumulating the most wins in the American League from 2012-16 and ownership has steadily increased the payroll over the last six years, but frustrating peculiarities have remained such as the philosophical refusal to participate in the international market. The farm system is quietly improving, but the shortage of impactful starting pitching has hindered the major league club for years and crushed it in 2017.

No one will forget the surprising 2012 team, the 2014 AL East champions and Delmon Young’s double, or the wild-card appearance two years ago, but the Orioles are now an unimpressive 113-124 since the 2016 All-Star break and only four games above .500 over the last three seasons. After years of proving naysayers wrong and outperforming projection models, that old mojo feels like it’s on life support at best with the futures of so many key individuals in doubt.

The 2018 club will grind it out to the best of its ability, using the doubts and criticism as fuel for competitive fire. The group will once again be led by Showalter in the dugout and Jones on the field, the two most important individuals in this decade of Orioles baseball. Both will say and do the right things, but they deserve better in what could be their final year in Baltimore.

A last-place team from a year ago begins spring training after treading water all winter, neither making one last big run with the current core nor taking meaningful steps to start building for future success.

The current Orioles, the future Orioles, and those fans typically excited for spring deserve better.

At least some semblance of a direction would be nice.

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Orioles continue leaving their fans twisting in wind

Posted on 11 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles should probably be thanking the Ravens.

The latter’s embarrassing loss to Cincinnati to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years has kept most fan disenchantment in Baltimore squarely on Steve Bisciotti’s franchise over the last two weeks. Perhaps the Orioles should even take a page out of Buffalo’s book and ship 20 cases of crab cakes to the Bengals to show their gratitude.

Anything to keep the spotlight away from an organization showing no evidence of a plan or a direction despite spring training only being a month away. We’re also two weeks from FanFest, that event designed to spark enthusiasm for the upcoming season and — more importantly — drive ticket sales.

Good luck with that.

Yes, it’s very fair to note the frigid temperature of the “hot stove” this offseason, which hasn’t helped an Orioles club that’s never moved swiftly in the Dan Duquette era and has rarely shown the necessary urgency during most of Peter Angelos’ reign as owner. At the same time, the Orioles are also coming off their first losing season and last-place finish since 2011 and still have three-fifths of their starting rotation to fill. Unlike some recent winters, they don’t have the luxury of pointing to the previous year being competitive as an excuse for not needing to move all that quickly or to do all that much to try to be in contention.

Suggesting bullpen arms or Rule 5 picks could be real candidates to start isn’t a solution; it insults your fans’ intelligence if you’re claiming to want to be competitive.

What is the direction?

Where is the urgency?

Are the Orioles making a final run with the current group, rebuilding, or just doing nothing?

Amidst recent reports of the club being interested in veteran starting pitcher Andrew Cashner — a sign you’d interpret as at least trying to be somewhat competitive, right? — former Oriole Miguel Gonzalez agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million deal to rejoin the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. It’s the latest development making fans shake their heads and ask questions.

To be very clear, neither Gonzalez nor Cashner is anything more than a mediocre piece to help fill out the back of a starting rotation, and these guys aren’t moving the meter in any meaningful way. However, a cheap one-year deal for Gonzalez sounds like a better investment for a team trying to make at least a halfhearted attempt to be competitive for one more season than potentially giving Cashner more money and additional years as some project he’ll command. Despite Cashner’s shiny 3.40 ERA in 2017, his peripheral numbers — a career-low 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a .267 opposing batting average on balls in play — suggest some real regression is ahead. He could be Yovani Gallardo all over again.

If Dan Duquette’s claims earlier in the offseason about the club still wanting to be competitive in 2018 are true, what exactly is the organization waiting for?

If the Orioles aren’t trying to win in 2018, that’s fine. Short of a massive bump in payroll to go sign a couple of high-impact starting pitchers, I’ve already stated my belief that they’re drawing dead in a loaded American League East anyway. Even with a major increase in spending, it’s extremely difficult seeing a realistic path to a division title for this club.

If the plan is to rebuild, then get to it. And, oh yeah, it might be to the organization’s benefit to communicate some semblance of that vision to the many fans doubting there is one. Just use “youth movement” in place of “rebuild” and start pulling the trigger on some deals to inject some talent for the future. That’s better than continuing to do nothing and talking in circles at FanFest two weeks from now. That strategy isn’t selling tickets and creates even more frustration for a fan base already disappointed about the prospects of Manny Machado departing at some point in the next 10 months.

Perhaps the Orioles haven’t truly found a reasonable package in exchange for one year of Machado — notice I said reasonable and not miraculous — but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing trades for other expiring commodities in the meantime such as Brad Brach. If they’ve thrown in the towel on 2018, keeping Brach to be the closer simply because Zach Britton is hurt is nothing short of foolish.

It’s all one big shoulder shrug.

The 33-year-old Gonzalez signing on the cheap elsewhere is hardly a real issue, but it’s the latest bullet point that makes you ask what the heck the Orioles are trying to do this offseason.

I’m not sure even they know.

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Orioles closer Britton suffers torn Achilles tendon

Posted on 20 December 2017 by WNST Staff

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Orioles appear to finally be facing reality with Machado

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Orioles have finally concluded they’re drawing dead.

There’s little sense in going for a straight or a flush if the other players at the poker table are already holding a full house, and that’s what the American League East is once again looking like after some leaner years — relatively speaking — for its two behemoths.

Even if executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette were to sign a pair of accomplished starting pitchers such as Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn this offseason, that may not be enough to seriously challenge the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Of course, there are no indications owner Peter Angelos is willing to make such steep financial commitments anyway after the disastrous Ubaldo Jimenez contract finally came off the books at the end of last season.

All the talk about the Orioles making a final run with their group of pending free agents sounds nice, but aggressively spending is the only realistic way to make that happen now and that’s just not in this organization’s DNA despite some success in recent years. Trading a part or two in an already-barren farm system for a mediocre-at-best starter and signing minor-league free agents are not realistic means to the end as the last few years have proven.

That brings us to Manny Machado, one of the best players in baseball who’s less than a year away from becoming a free agent. The rumors and reports are rampant this week about the Orioles finally being willing to part with their All-Star third baseman, who apparently now wants to play shortstop with J.J. Hardy no longer in the picture. What that would mean for Tim Beckham is anyone’s guess.

Of course, the Orioles have known for years that Machado was scheduled to hit the open market at the end of 2018, but Duquette confirmed to reporters Tuesday that they haven’t engaged in contract talks in a long time. That truth reflects the organization’s lack of any long-term vision, a reality reinforced by ownership entrusting a general manager entering the final year of his contract to manage this delicate situation in the first place.

Using hindsight, the optimal time to sign the 25-year-old likely would have been after the 2014 season when he underwent his second knee surgery in as many years. It would have been risky — and we know how the Orioles scrutinize medical records — and far from cheap, but the financial commitment to buy out the first few years of Machado’s free agency would have paled in comparison to what they would need to pay to keep him now.

But that’s ancient history as is the chance to have fetched a bigger return for him last winter or last July.

It’s better late than never if Angelos isn’t willing to extend Machado — a fair position considering the anticipated price and competition for his services next offseason — and is now open to him being dealt, but there’s no telling whether the Orioles will properly execute such a franchise-defining decision. And that’s what makes the developments at the winter meetings all the more unsettling.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Orioles are seeking two young starting pitchers with controllable years, but how realistic is that in exchange for just one year of Machado? Even if that is doable, is Duquette looking for major-league-ready starters with limited potential in hopes of merely being competitive in 2018 or prospects a bit further away from the majors with much higher ceilings?

If you’re going to trade Machado, you should be seeking the best deal possible — pitching or positional talent — from any potential suitor and shouldn’t be doing it with any major regard for the present. If your goal is being competitive next season, you wouldn’t be trading your best player in the first place. If that means you then look to trade other pending free agents such as Zach Britton, Brad Brach, or even Adam Jones, so be it.

You can’t play it both ways, no matter what you try to tell fans or the media.

But Duquette’s own status complicates that since he’s no more invested in the organization beyond next season than Machado is at the moment. The Orioles finishing in last place again in 2018 wouldn’t exactly bode well for his résumé if this is his own finale in Baltimore.

The Orioles engaging in trade talks doesn’t mean a deal will be completed this week — remember we’re talking about Angelos here — but it is a hopeful sign that they won’t allow one of the most talented players in club history to simply walk away for an inconsequential draft pick next fall. The idea of parting with a special talent like Machado really hurts, but Baltimore can improve its long-term outlook by accepting the strong likelihood that the current group’s window has closed and trading assets unlikely to be here for the next competitive window.

Even if you like your hand, folding it with eyes toward the future sometimes proves to be the best move.

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