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Twelve Orioles thoughts on record-setting 2018 club

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 Orioles officially having suffered the most losses in 65 seasons in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. “Inconsistent” is a euphemism frequently used to describe a player or team that’s bad. There’s nothing inconsistent about a club that’s won three or more in a row just three times all season. The 2018 Orioles are as consistent as any team I’ve ever seen.

2. I’d like to think somewhere the 1988 Orioles cracked open skunked beers to celebrate on Tuesday night. Move over, Jay Tibbs and Pete Stanicek.

3. Some say the Orioles could be worse next year, but I doubt it. Ten teams have lost 110 or more in a season since 1900. The Orioles will become the 11th, but the probability of losing that many again is ridiculously small. That said, avoiding triple-digit losses will be difficult.

4. I’m glad common sense prevailed with Adam Jones playing the final six games of the homestand. The few still coming to games know they’re likely watching Jones’ final days as an Oriole and have responded with appropriate ovations. Non-prospect outfielders shouldn’t be starting over him, especially at home.

5. Caleb Joseph’s comments about the state of the Orioles had to be cathartic for both him and fans, but it’d sure be nice to hear something — anything — from ownership along these lines, even if worded more delicately. What about the status of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter? Hello?

6. Dylan Bundy has alleviated some concerns with his last two starts, but a 5.37 ERA in late September says all you need to know about how his last three months have gone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be much more than a league-average starter at this point.

7. Since raising his average to .180 on Sept. 5, Chris Davis has one hit in his last 30 plate appearances. He is batting .171 and owns a .548 on-base plus slugging percentage. I hope there’s a better plan than hoping for the best when he arrives in Sarasota next February.

8. With Hunter Harvey shut down again, it’s probably time for the organization to write him out of their long-term vision. That’s not to say you give up on him, but the 2013 first-round pick has only 63 2/3 professional innings to his name since his health problems began in 2014.

9. Nearly two months later, I still believe the Orioles sold too low on Jonathan Schoop and especially Kevin Gausman. Wouldn’t those two have been attractive trade chips for a new general manager to use this offseason to start remaking the roster with his own vision?

10. We’re still months away, but I can’t imagine how the organization is going to sell the 2019 team at FanFest this winter. The Orioles at least had the likes of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis to hype when they were bad a decade ago.

11. If nothing else is accomplished this winter, can the Orioles and MASN at least start offering in-market streaming of games next season? They’re begging fans under the age of 30 to turn their backs on them by continuing this antiquated policy. It’s not 2005 anymore.

12. Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the Orioles clinching the AL East title. It’s a reminder of how much can change in four years, but this organization will need to make far better decisions in the next four years than it did these last four to get back on top.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering second half of August

Posted on 15 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles wrapping a 1-5 homestand and one loss away from falling 50 games below .500, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The quest to outrun club history isn’t looking promising. The Orioles must go 27-14 the rest of the way just to avoid 100 losses and would need a 20-21 finish to have fewer losses than the 1988 club. At least they appear safe from the 1962 Mets and 2003 Tigers?

2. Dylan Bundy’s regression has made a miserable season in the win-loss department that much worse. He’s allowed five or more earned runs in five of his last seven outings and owns an 8.33 ERA since the start of July. His stuff and command look mediocre and the results even worse.

3. Cedric Mullins needs more time to get comfortable roaming major league ballparks and his arm remains a question, but I like the energy he brings to the plate and teammates and coaches have been impressed with his poise.

4. Adam Jones didn’t have much to say Tuesday when asked about his early impressions of playing right field beyond there being “less running” for him. It’ll be interesting to see what his market looks like this winter, but easing his defensive burden should only help his bat.

5. Trey Mancini was one of several young players to struggle in the first half of the season, but he entered Wednesday sporting a .303/.344/.517 slash line with five home runs and 13 runs batted in since the All-Star break. His surge has been encouraging to see.

6. Paul Fry wasn’t exactly on anyone’s radar after being acquired from Seattle early last season, but the 26-year-old lefty has a solid 3.15 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 20 major league innings. He might be the Orioles’ best reliever at this point, which I know isn’t saying much.

7. One of the questions entering the winter will be whether Tim Beckham is tendered a contract. The 28-year-old is under club control through 2020, but he’s making $3.35 million this year and will be in line for another raise in arbitration. His defense at shortstop isn’t cutting it.

8. As time passes, the less I like the Kevin Gausman deal. Seeing what Tampa Bay got for Chris Archer — who’s actually been fairly comparable statistically the last three years — confirms that. Average starters with two more years of control are valuable, but the Orioles were more interested in shedding salary.

9. Chance Sisco has a .217/.301/.337 slash line in 93 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Buck Showalter said recent reports about his defense have been positive, but the loss of confidence with the bat – his strength entering 2018 — is one of the season’s more undersold disappointments.

10. Many grouped Mullins and DJ Stewart together earlier this summer when discussing which prospects might be the next ones promoted, but the 2015 first-round outfielder is hitting .236 with 12 home runs, a .338 on-base percentage, and a .402 slugging percentage at Norfolk. That’s not exactly screaming for a promotion.

11. Austin Hays playing again for Double-A Bowie is encouraging and he’s had some decent games since returning, but I’d like to see the Orioles refrain from a September call-up. Let him finish out the Baysox season and then send him to the Arizona Fall League before starting fresh next spring.

12. The current version of the 2018 Orioles took the team photo Wednesday, prompting some giggles and press-box discussion. If Manny Machado and others no longer with the organization are ineligible, who is this year’s Most Valuable Oriole? I’d assume Jones wins, but maybe we just sit this year out?

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Orioles continue new era as Jones moves over for Mullins

Posted on 10 August 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Watching Adam Jones trot out to right field for the Orioles was strange on Friday night.

It was the first time the longtime center fielder had started a game there since Sept. 25, 2007 when he was a 22-year-old still establishing himself in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners. The last player to roam center field for the Orioles before Jones was acquired ahead of the 2008 season was Tike Redman, who filled in for injured veteran Corey Patterson over the final weeks of 2007.

A long time ago.

Of course, making room for rookie center fielder Cedric Mullins was the right move. If Cal Ripken once shifted to third base for Manny Alexander — albeit briefly — Jones could certainly make room for the talented 23-year-old, who was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs batted in in his major league debut. It’s a credit to Jones for the manner in which he’s handled himself over these last few tumultuous weeks. After invoking his 10-and-5 right to decline a trade to Philadelphia last month, the 33-year-old not only moved off his longtime position with grace, but he’s serving as a mentor to the former 13th-round pick from Campbell University.

Those who had criticized Jones’ decision in fear of his presence hindering Mullins’ development were reminded of the team player he’s always been.

The move could also help prolong Jones’ time as a productive player, either in Baltimore or elsewhere at the end of the season. It’s no secret the four-time Gold Glove center fielder’s range had diminished in recent years as he entered Friday ranking next to last among major league center fielders in defensive runs saved (minus-18). No longer facing the physical demands of covering so much ground in center — especially with so many inferior corner outfielders flanking him in recent years — Jones could look to former All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter for inspiration as the latter played five more seasons and made another All-Star team after permanently moving to right field at age 35.

“Adam’s a smart guy. He’s a really good self-evaluator and calls it the way it is,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s a real tribute to him. He’s been talking to Cedric for a while — he knew. The thing that players don’t like is they just don’t like something thrown at them last second. He and I have been talking about it. It was a matter of when, not if.”

The start of the transition was fun to watch before Dylan Bundy and the Orioles bullpen imploded, turning an 8-3 lead into an ugly 19-12 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Not only did the switch-hitting Mullins become the first Oriole ever to collect three hits in his major league debut, but Jones added three hits and two RBIs himself. After Mullins doubled in a run in his first at-bat in the second inning, Jones drove home the rookie with a two-run single to give Baltimore a 4-3 lead. Upon the completion of the inning with Jones stranded at first base, Mullins brought out his cap and glove from the dugout as the two bumped fists and the veteran gave the rookie a pat on the backside as they jogged to their new spots in the Camden Yards outfield.

It was a special moment in a season so few of them.

“He’s been very supportive of me playing center field,” Mullins said before Friday’s game. “We’ve had a lot of contact about it, and he’s kind of guiding me through that process. It’s huge. Coming from a guy with 10 years under his belt, he’s been a huge veteran and a huge team leader for all these years. Being in direct contact with him for a huge moment in both of our careers is amazing.”

Despite the ugly finish, Friday brought some hope as the Orioles continue their rebuilding process and Mullins became the first homegrown prospect to be promoted since last month’s sell-off.

His presence didn’t prevent the Orioles from losing their 81st game and officially being eliminated from American League East contention with just over seven weeks remaining in the season. But losing with Mullins gaining experience in center and Jones playing right sure beats the alternative of the seven other players the Orioles had trotted out to right field at various times this season.

That’s why it still felt like a good night as Mullins flashed the ability that’s made him a rapid climber in the Baltimore system these last couple years. The Orioles wouldn’t have moved Jones off the position he’d manned for more than a decade for just anyone.

“It’s fun to watch it through their eyes, and I’m so happy he’s got someone like Adam to be there for him,” said Showalter, who compared Mullins’ skill set to former Orioles great Al Bumbry the first time he watched him play in the minors. “It had to be the right guy. We think Cedric might be the right guy.”

For one night at least, he looked like it.

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Checking in on recent trade acquisitions and former Orioles

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s been exactly three weeks since the Orioles traded four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado to jump-start the organization’s biggest sell-off in nearly two decades.

With the major league club continuing to flounder in last place and not exactly providing a compelling product, below is an early look at how the former Orioles have performed for their new clubs as well as how the 15 acquired players are faring at various levels of the organization:

SS/3B Manny Machado
Numbers with Los Angeles Dodgers: 84 PA, .274/.369/.425, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 21 K
Skinny: Machado’s production has been fine to this point and he’s played some third base due to a Justin Turner injury, but he’ll have the chance to come up big for a National League favorite down the stretch.

LHP Zach Britton
Numbers with New York Yankees: 4 2/3 IP, 5.79 ERA, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: It’s been a rough start for the former All-Star closer in the Bronx as he continues to deal with shaky command and blew a 10th-inning save on Tuesday night.

RHP Brad Brach
Numbers with Atlanta: 3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 32-year-old has looked more like his old self since joining the Braves and has been trusted to pitch in the late innings of close games.

RHP Kevin Gausman
Numbers with Atlanta: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K
Skinny: Gausman was mediocre in his Braves debut, but he surprisingly was asked to pinch-hit in Tuesday’s game and even drew a walk.

2B Jonathan Schoop
Numbers with Milwaukee: 25 PA, .120/.120/.120, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 11 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is clearly much better than he’s shown in his first week with a new club, but the Brewers have to be wondering what happened to one of baseball’s hottest hitters in the month of July.

2B Jonathan Villar
Numbers with Baltimore: 22 PA, .429/.455/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Skinny: The only established major leaguer of the 15 players acquired, the 27-year-old had a big series in Texas and is two years removed from posting an .826 OPS and 3.9 WAR season for the Brewers.

OF Yusniel Diaz
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 60 PA, .192/.300/.288, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 14 K
Skinny: The centerpiece of the Machado deal is off to a slow start and not making a great case for a September call-up, but the 21-year-old is hardly the first standout prospect to struggle after being traded.

RHP Dillon Tate
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 11 1/3 IP, 7.15 ERA, 17 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft and focal point of the Britton trade was efffective in his last start until a five-run sixth inning and is searching for consistency after two starts with the Baysox.

RHP Luis Ortiz
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 8 H, 4 BB, 1 K
Skinny: A top 100 prospect entering 2017, the 22-year-old has the stuff to be an effective major league starter despite concerns about his injury history and conditioning as he’s listed at 230 pounds.

RHP Dean Kremer
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 14 H, 8 BB, 17 K
Skinny: The 22-year-old has pitched well in three starts since being traded and continues to rack up strikeouts, a good sign after he averaged 13.0 per nine innings at the high Single-A level this year.

2B/3B Rylan Bannon
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 44 PA, .154/.250/.333, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 10 K
Skinny: Bannon homered in his second game with the Baysox, but he’s struggled at the plate and has mostly played second base after seeing more action at third base in the Dodgers organization.

RHP Zach Pop
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 7 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K
Skinny: Since a disastrous debut outing for the Baysox, the 21-year-old has tossed seven scoreless frames with eight strikeouts and no walks and is consistently inducing ground balls with his sinker.

INF/OF Breyvic Valera
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 61 PA, .226/.311/.415, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is back with the Tides after a brief stay with the Orioles and has already started games at four different positions as he attempts to carve out a major league role as a utility player.

RHP Cody Carroll
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K
Skinny: The 25-year-old’s fastball has averaged 96.6 miles per hour since being called up to the majors as the Orioles hope he will morph into an effective late-inning reliever at some point.

LHP Josh Rogers
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 10 H, 4 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The final results have been there, but the question is whether Rogers has the stuff to miss enough bats to consistently get major league hitters out, which makes him project as a long reliever.

RHP Evan Phillips
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: After a sharp debut in Texas, Phillips walked three and threw a wild pitch without recording an out against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, but he wasn’t helped by Chris Davis’ critical throwing error.

C Brett Cumberland
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 4 PA, .000/.250/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Skinny: Opinions are mixed on Cumberland’s ceiling, but his bat is considered his strength as he hit 11 home runs and posted a .774 OPS at Single-A Florida this season.

LHP Bruce Zimmermann
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: n/a
Skinny: The Loyola Blakefield graduate and former Towson Tiger has yet to make his first start for the Baysox, but his stuff is described as average with some pitchability, according to FanGraphs.

3B Jean Carlos Encarnacion
Numbers with Single-A Delmarva: 18 PA, .444/.444/.667, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 20-year-old Dominican is a contrast to most of the higher-floor prospects acquired, but he’s already collected three extra-base hits and should be fun to track over the next few years.

SS Jean Carmona
Numbers with short-season Single-A Aberdeen: 14 PA, .154/.214/.154, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 18-year-old Dominican is listed at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, a frame into which he can grow in the next couple years and potentially develop into a major league regular one day.

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Orioles go all in on rebuild by trading off Schoop, Gausman

Posted on 31 July 2018 by Luke Jones

Trading pending free agents such as Manny Machado and Zach Britton was a no-brainer task, but the Orioles went all in on their rebuilding effort in the final hour before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Baltimore sent 2017 All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee and pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta in separate trades for a total of seven players and international signing bonus slot money. Those deals coupled with the trades of Machado, Britton, and Brad Brach earlier this month have netted the Orioles a total of 15 new players and a reported $2.75 million in international signing bonus slot money.

Schoop was originally in Tuesday’s starting lineup before a deal was struck in the final moments before the 4 p.m. deadline.

The Brewers sent major league infielder Jonathan Villar and Double-A pitcher Luis Ortiz and 18-year-old infielder Jean Carmona to the Orioles. The Braves traded international signing bonus slot money and four minor-league players to Baltimore: pitchers Evan Phillips and Bruce Zimmerman, catcher Brett Cumberland, and infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion.

The moves were met with surprise as many remained skeptical that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would trade players under club control beyond the 2018 season before the deadline, especially since his contract expires this fall. Schoop will become a free agent after the 2019 season while Gausman won’t hit free agency until after the 2020 campaign. O’Day, out for the remainder of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery, has one year remaining on his current contract and is scheduled to make $9 million next season.

Of the 15 players acquired by the Orioles over the last two weeks, Villar is the only established major leaguer and has played in parts of six major league seasons with Houston and the Brewers. The 27-year-old has a career .256 average and .718 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2,052 major league plate appearances. In 87 games this season, the switch-hitting Villar is batting .261 with 17 extra-base hits, 22 runs batted in, 14 stolen bases, and a .693 OPS.

Villar is currently on the disabled list with a sprained thumb — he’s expected to be activated later this week — and led the majors with 62 stolen bases in 2016.

Ortiz, 22, was ranked as the Brewers’ seventh-best prospect by MLB.com and had pitched to a 3.71 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 68 innings for Double-A Biloxi. The 18-year-old Carmona was ranked the 14th-best Milwaukee prospect by MLB.com and was batting .239 with eight doubles, three triples, four home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .704 OPS in 39 games for rookie-level Helena.

The Braves trade was met with more scrutiny as the inclusion of O’Day’s bulky salary zapped some of the return value for Gausman, who hasn’t yet reached his ceiling as the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft but is an average major league starter with two more years of club control. However, Atlanta including $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money positions the Orioles more favorably in their efforts to sign Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa.

Encarnacion, 20, is regarded by some as the most attractive player returning to the Orioles from Atlanta as he batted .288 with 23 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 57 RBIs, and a .777 OPS in 97 games for Single-A Rome. He was ranked as the Braves’ 14th-best prospect by MLB.com and will report to Single-A Delmarva.

The 23-year-old Cumberland was batting .228 with 15 doubles, 11 homers, 39 RBIs, and a .746 OPS in 87 games between Single-A Florida and Double-A Mississippi. Atlanta’s 30th-best prospect in MLB.com’s rankings, Cumberland will report to Double-A Bowie.

The right-handed Phillips, 23, posted a 1.99 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett this season and made his major league debut earlier this month.

A 23-year-old lefty, Zimmerman has gone a combined 9-4 with a 2.86 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings split between Rome and Mississippi.

According to MLB.com’s updated Orioles top 30 prospect list, Ortiz ranks seventh, Carmona 14th, Encarnacion 15th, and Cumberland 30th in the system.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at non-waiver trade deadline

Posted on 30 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline upon as and three pending free agents having already been dealt, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Adam Jones has earned the right to refuse any trade and decide what’s best for him and his family, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t owe the Orioles or fans anything after representing the organization and city with great pride for a decade. It’s that simple.

2. On the flip side, the Orioles aren’t obligated to re-sign Jones if they don’t feel he fits with a youth movement that does have several outfielders in the pipeline. The organization just needs to express that in a respectful way to a man who’s been so important to the franchise.

3. Any perceived tension between Jones and Dan Duquette isn’t necessary. Whatever middling prospect the Orioles might receive for Jones isn’t making or breaking the rebuild, and keeping the veteran outfielder for two more months isn’t going to ruin Cedric Mullins’ development. A bitter breakup would be a shame.

4. I do wonder if Jones might reconsider as the remainder of his $17.33 million salary makes him a good candidate to clear waivers for a trade in August. Passing on going to a contender is a missed opportunity from a baseball standpoint, but other factors are understandably important to him.

5. Understanding Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach should have been dealt months or even years ago, Duquette still received good value for rental commodities and has surprisingly done an effective job voicing the franchise’s new direction, but it would mean more if he were under contract beyond this season.

6. It’s a new day when the Orioles are the ones acquiring international signing bonus slots and the stated intentions are encouraging, but let’s see them sign Victor Victor Mesa and increase resources and international scouting in the coming months before offering too much praise. Organizational malpractice shouldn’t be easily forgiven.

7. Brach ultimately being nothing more than a salary dump should be a cautionary tale when the organization expresses reluctance in dealing Mychal Givens — or any other reliever for that matter. Of course, the 28-year-old’s 4.78 ERA doesn’t make him a sell-high candidate at the moment.

8. Jonathan Schoop is hitting .360 with nine home runs, seven doubles, and a 1.056 on-base plus slugging percentage in July, raising his average from .197 to .244. It would have been interesting to see what his trade value would have been if he’d started that hitting surge a month sooner.

9. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy both have underwhelming ERAs hovering around 4.50 this season, but the Orioles are absolutely right to have a high asking price for two young, controllable starting pitchers, even if they’ve mostly been league-average types so far in their careers.

10. Short of signing a contract extension, Schoop shouldn’t be reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February if the Orioles have truly learned their lesson and are serious about rebuilding the right way. Waiting until this offseason to trade him is fine, but it needs to be done then.

11. I don’t think it’s impossible for the likes of Danny Valencia, Mark Trumbo, and Andrew Cashner to be on the move in August, especially with some cash accompanying the latter two. I could see Cashner drawing some interest from a contender trying to shore up the back of its rotation.

12. With trade talk about to calm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Orioles play a little better the final two months as they’ll be adding youth. Of course, that’s an incredibly low bar as they need to go 31-25 just to avoid 100 losses. I said a little better.

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Jones, Orioles weighing complicated question of whether to stay together

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Longtime center fielder Adam Jones and the Orioles could be nearing a break over the next few days.

The next few months will determine whether they break up after more than a decade together.

It’s more complicated than the last-place Orioles beginning their rebuilding process and Jones wanting to win a World Series, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old admits he’s intrigued by contending clubs’ interest in his services for the stretch run. Whether a potential deal compels him to waive his no-trade clause remains to be seen.

“It’s like the first day of school when you wear that outfit and you see what kind of interest everybody has in you — who’s flirting with you and what not,” Jones said. “It’s cool. It’s flattering. It’s uncommon territory.”

Assuming that he’s so desperate to escape a historically-poor 2018 club that he’ll blindly accept a trade anywhere shows a lack of understanding of the man. Jones will weigh all variables, starting with the comfort of his family, before making his own decision — not the one others think he should make. He sounds open to the possibility of moving to a corner outfield position for a contending club, but it must be the right fit and Jones isn’t one to delve into hypothetical talk about where that could be, leaving much uncertainty in the meantime.

This is a delicate situation for the Orioles, who have been clobbered on the diamond in 2018 and are desperately in need of some positive vibes with their fan base as the next couple seasons appear bleak. Putting aside the missteps that led to the current state of affairs, the trades of four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado and two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton were obvious decisions to make, but that doesn’t mean fans are happy with the end result. Jones is the closest thing to a true face of the franchise the Orioles have had since Hall of Famer Cal Ripken nearly 20 years ago, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. His play on the field and unparalleled work in the community should be celebrated now and for many years to come, making him more valuable to the Orioles than any other club.

If we’re being honest, Jones is unlikely to fetch all that much of a return in a trade with the potential holdup of where he would play and the remainder of his $17.33 million salary owed being the biggest obstacles. It doesn’t appear that trading him would alienate Jones, but that’s assuming he’s treated with the proper respect and courtesy in the process. He hasn’t indicated that a deadline trade to a contender would preclude him from re-signing with the Orioles in the offseason, but there’s the distinct possibility that he finds the grass to be greener elsewhere and a new team falls in love with him in a way like Baltimore has, diminishing the possibility of a reunion.

If that’s indeed what the Orioles want.

“Is the door open?” said Jones about possibly re-signing with Baltimore if he’s traded at the deadline. “You can want all you want. A lot of people want things, but if that door is not open, you’re just going to be sitting outside knocking. Who knows?”

The report of Jones meeting with executive vice president John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, indicates the Orioles being interested in continuing their relationship beyond 2018, but re-signing an outfielder entering his mid-30s may not be the best baseball decision for a rebuilding club whose deepest minor-league depth resides in the outfield with the likes of Cedric Mullins, Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, and Ryan McKenna all at advanced levels of the farm system.

Jones entered Thursday batting .277 with 10 home runs, 38 runs batted in, and a .727 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s had a solid season, but his homer pace and current OPS would represent his lowest marks since 2008, his first season with the Orioles. His .304 on-base percentage would be the lowest of his career.

According to Baseball Reference, his 0.3 wins above replacement also puts him on pace for a career low, but that underwhelming WAR is primarily a reflection of his minus-15 defensive runs saved in center field, a position he knows he’s unlikely to be playing next season. It’s reasonable to think a move to a corner spot would ease the burden on his body and allow him to maintain his production at the plate for a few more years, but baseball players have varying expiration dates, no matter how much teams try to anticipate them.

Re-signing Jones to a reasonable deal for the next few seasons to be a right fielder, a leader and mentor for younger players, and the continued face of the franchise looks great on paper and would bring value off the field, but what if his numbers decline further, creating an awkward logjam with other younger options? The storybook ending would be the Orioles once again rising to prominence with Jones still contributing in the twilight in his career, but what if the losing continues longer than the organization hopes and he grows disenchanted after a year or two?

Perhaps both sides will ultimately decide to part amicably with no hard feelings and an understanding that Jones will always be an Oriole and have a home in Baltimore and that the organization will forever be indebted to him and the long-term commitment he made six years ago.

His legacy is important to him and extends far beyond the home runs and diving catches. Jones’ commitment to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore and other charitable endeavors is another factor that could keep him an Oriole beyond 2018. And it speaks to how fortunate this community has been to have him pass this way.

“My thing is what would happen to all the things I’ve done here?” Jones said. “It would be hard. Who would pick up the slack? All the community involvement. A lot of that stuff needs to continue. Those kids are counting on the funding to continue the programs they are striving and grinding their way through. There are a lot of dynamics to me here in Baltimore. It’s not just me between the lines.”

His decision is bigger than baseball, but the thought of a player with such a desire to win being saddled with a losing club in the final years of his career is difficult to take for even the biggest Orioles fans.

Jones is on a ride with an unclear destination. But unlike Machado and Britton, he has a say in the matter, and he’s earned that much for everything he’s done over the last decade.

“It’s interesting. We shall see what happens,” Jones said. “I don’t know what the plan is here for the future or if I’m even part of it, so let’s see what interest can be generated and see how my representation and my family feel about something that could happen.”

Whether it’s just a break, a breakup, or merely the latest chapter in a terrific relationship remains to be seen.

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Orioles trade two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton to Yankees

Posted on 24 July 2018 by Luke Jones

A week after dealing shortstop Manny Machado to signal the official start of a much-needed rebuild, the Orioles have traded another former All-Star selection set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Baltimore sent closer Zach Britton to the New York Yankees in exchange for three minor-league pitchers on Tuesday night. Right-handed starter Dillon Tate headlines a return that also includes left-handed starter Josh Rogers and right-handed reliever Cody Carroll.

Britton remained in the Orioles bullpen during Tuesday’s game against Boston, but he didn’t pitch the ninth inning as Brad Brach instead recorded the save in the 7-6 win over the Red Sox. He met with reporters after the deal was announced shortly before midnight.

Ranked as the Yankees’ ninth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, Tate was the fourth overall pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2015 draft. New York acquired the 24-year-old in a trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers in 2016, but he’s dealt with shoulder issues and has not pitched above Double-A Trenton in his professional career. In 82 2/3 innings for the Thunder this season, Tate owns a 3.38 ERA and has struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings while walking 2.7 per nine.

The 24-year-old Rogers was New York’s 11th-round pick of the 2015 draft. He’s pitched to a 3.95 ERA in 109 1/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season.

Carroll, 25, owns a 2.38 ERA in 41 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level and has struck out 11.9 while walking 3.9 per nine innings.

Trading Britton for anything of value appeared unlikely in December when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. The 30-year-old returned to action by mid-June and struggled initially, but the velocity and movement on his sinker have steadily improved as he’s sat between 95 and 96 miles per hour over his last six outings. Britton owns a 3.45 ERA with four saves in 15 2/3 innings this season.

The Yankees hope Britton will only strengthen what’s already been the best bullpen in the majors in 2018. The lefty had arguably the greatest season ever for a relief pitcher in 2016 when he posted a microscopic 0.54 ERA in 67 innings and went a perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities. He was named to the American League All-Star team that season and in 2015 and ranks second behind Gregg Olson on Baltimore’s all-time saves list.

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Orioles designate veteran pitcher Chris Tillman for assignment

Posted on 20 July 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially entered a rebuilding phase earlier this week by trading four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado and have made another move reflecting their new direction.

Longtime starting pitcher Chris Tillman was designated for assignment on Friday, leaving the status of his major league career in doubt. Once an anchor of the starting rotation for three playoff-qualifying clubs in Baltimore, the 30-year-old right-hander has posted an 8.42 ERA since the start of the 2017 season and had been on the disabled list since May with a lower back strain. The organization hoped an extended minor-league rehab assignment might get Tillman back on track, but he pitched to an ugly 6.75 ERA in six starts among four different affiliates.

The writing appeared to be on the wall last Sunday when scheduled starter Jimmy Yacabonis was scratched due to illness and the Orioles elected to pitch a bullpen game even though Tillman was on turn to pitch that same day. It’s unclear whether the veteran will accept an outright assignment with Triple-A Norfolk or will elect to become a free agent.

Tillman was having arguably his best season in 2016 and coming off a strong seven-inning victory in Oakland on Aug. 11 to lower his ERA to 3.46 when he began experiencing right shoulder discomfort and was placed on the DL soon thereafter. He returned to pitch a month later and put up respectable numbers the rest of the way and even started the American League Wild Card Game despite underwhelming velocity. The shoulder problem resurfaced that offseason, prompting a platelet-rich plasma injection and forcing him to miss the first month of the 2017 season.

He hasn’t been the same since the shoulder injury as the Orioles wrongly bet that his alarming 7.84 ERA in 93 innings in 2017 was an aberration and re-signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract in February. Tillman has repeatedly insisted his shoulder has felt good over the last two seasons, but his velocity and lower arm slot reflect a pitcher either lacking the same range of motion or compensating to avoid the previous pain. In seven starts this season, he was 1-5 with a 10.46 ERA while walking 5.7 batters and striking out only 4.4 per nine innings.

His final two ugly seasons shouldn’t diminish what Tillman accomplished for the Orioles, who acquired him and five-time All-Star center fielder Adam Jones from Seattle as part of the blockbuster Erik Bedard trade in 2008. After struggling in parts of his first three major league seasons, Tillman posted a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts in 2012 to help Baltimore qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1997. He followed that with back-to-back 200-inning campaigns, making the All-Star team in 2013 and anchoring a second-half rotation surge in 2014 that helped the Orioles win the AL East championship.

In 10 major league seasons, Tillman is 74-60 with a 4.57 ERA over 1,145 innings.

In other Friday roster news, the Orioles promoted infielder Renato Nunez from Norfolk. The 24-year-old has hit .167 in 72 major league plate appearances split between Texas and Oakland, but he owns a career .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in the minors. He was claimed off waivers from the Rangers in mid-May and was batting .289 with five home runs, 25 runs batted in, and an .804 OPS for the Tides.

Nunez was starting at third base against Toronto on Friday night with Tim Beckham now back at shortstop to replace the departed Machado.

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Machado’s departure leaves behind numb feeling, concerning future for Orioles

Posted on 18 July 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have finally traded Manny Machado, who became a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

It’s a sad day bidding farewell to one of the most talented players in franchise history, but this outcome had been clear for a long time. Even if the organization had shown the forward thinking and necessary aggressiveness a few seasons ago to sign the four-time All-Star infielder to an extension and buy out his first two or three years of free agency – along the lines of the six-year contract the Los Angeles Angels did with Mike Trout in 2014 – the last-place Orioles might still be in a position where dealing their most valuable player would have been the best move for the future. Only in that scenario, they would have fetched much more in a trade.

As two last-place seasons have now shown, having Machado alone doesn’t make up for other missteps, ranging from the annual refusal to play ball in the international market and the inability to develop impact starting pitching to the disastrous Chris Davis contract that runs through the 2022 season.

It’s ironic to note that the two best seasons of the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era occurred in 2012 and 2014 when Machado appeared in a total of just 133 games and accounted for only 3.9 wins above replacement. That speaks to how much else the Orioles had going for them at that point and how little they do now as they try to outrun their 115-loss pace over the final 2 ½ months of 2018.

Machado’s arrival in Baltimore on Aug. 9, 2012 helped fortify an unexpected contender in which many were still reluctant to believe at that advanced stage of the season. His superb defense at third base transformed a weakness into a strength as the Orioles went 33-18 the rest of the way to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. It’s a shame that his only playoff appearances with the Orioles came as a 20-year-old that October and in the infamous 2016 AL Wild Card Game in which Zach Britton is still waiting for the bullpen call from Showalter. We’ll never know if Baltimore’s fortunes would have been different in the 2014 postseason had Machado been healthy.

His departure comes at the franchise’s lowest point in 30 years – possibly ever – and only tightens the lock on the competitive window that slammed shut last September. Frankly, it brings more of a numb feeling than sadness with the Orioles an unthinkable 41 games below .500 in a season that was all but over in April. Many entered the year fearing the Orioles might be just mediocre enough to keep Machado past the deadline with unrealistic hopes of contending, but this club left no doubt that trading its best player for a quintet of prospects was the only play remaining with him set to hit the open market in a few months.

Perhaps trade centerpiece Yusniel Diaz eventually blossoms into an All-Star outfielder — maybe even taking part in an exhibition being held at Oriole Park at Camden Yards one day – or Dean Kremer develops into a top-half-of-the-rotation starter for Baltimore’s next contending club in a few years. Even so, Orioles fans will still reminisce about a 20-year-old Machado’s ninth-inning deke in a critical September tilt against Tampa Bay, his impossible throw from foul ground in the Bronx a year later, or any number of other defensive gems or heroics at the plate over these last six years.

Talents like him don’t come along often.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect.

His knee injuries and subsequent surgeries in 2013 and 2014 likely killed any practical chance of an organization known for its rigorous medical reviews being as aggressive as it needed to be to extend him years ago. The bat-throwing incident against Oakland in 2014 was embarrassing, and his brawl with the late Yordano Ventura a couple years later didn’t help his reputation, which was likely a factor in Boston’s overreaction to his slide into Dustin Pedroia early last season. And he hasn’t always hustled as much as you’d want to see from a player of his magnitude.

To his credit, Machado has shown maturity and impressive patience answering questions about his future in numerous cities over the last several months, something that can’t be said about fellow free-agent-to-be Bryce Harper in Washington. And despite criticism he’s received about his desire to play shortstop this year and beyond, Machado was a professional deferring to veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy for years, even as the latter produced below-replacement-level offense in two of his final three seasons.

Whether Machado stuck around in the Charm City or not, no one should have ever expected him to be the next Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken, who created Hall of Fame standards on the field and impossible ones off it in different times. Even the best players rarely spend their entire careers with one team now, making one hope Machado isn’t treated the same way Mike Mussina was by some – even if he too signs with the New York Yankees this offseason.

It’s a business.

Many nine-figure investments over the years have proven to be ill advised, but 26-year-olds aren’t typically hitting the open market to fetch those kinds of lucrative commitments either. Time will tell whether Machado continues on a Hall of Fame path and validates that kind of lucrative payment elsewhere as Orioles fans will instead see what happens with Davis’ .158 batting average that remains under contract for the next four years.

With Machado off to Hollywood to try to win a World Series with the Dodgers, what’s next for the Orioles?

Zach Britton is expected to go along with the possible trade of Adam Jones, whose exit will bring more pain after being the heart of the club for years and being such a pillar in this community. If the Orioles are going to get this rebuild right, the deals shouldn’t stop there as the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop, and Mychal Givens should all be on the table at the right price — now or in the near future.

Of course, there’s also the matter of determining what happens with Duquette and Showalter, whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the season.

Ownership establishing a clear vision and determining who will run baseball operations – while hopefully establishing a clear chain of command – are musts for a disgruntled fan base that just witnessed a generational talent being dealt away and will likely be watching losing baseball for quite some time. Wednesday’s trade was inevitable — even necessary at this broken stage — but that doesn’t make it less difficult with the future looking so bleak in Baltimore.

The Orioles have a mountain of work to do to create that same hope that accompanied Machado’s arrival in the midst of a surprising pennant race nearly six years ago. The last remnants of that feeling and one of the best players in baseball walked out the door Wednesday, leaving behind a last-place team and a fan base numb to the inevitable finally becoming reality.

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