For the last few months, the city of Baltimore has been largely consumed with the conclusion of the Ravens 2018 campaign. However, for one week in December, Dan Duquette and company owned the Winter Meetings media after expressing an interest in dealing 3B Manny Machado. The announcement shook the entire MLB, as a franchise-changing player was suddenly on the trade market. Numerous teams made offers to the Orioles, and surely far more were closely listening to the club’s rumored asking price: two starting-caliber pitchers. Despite Machado’s prowess, the Orioles were unable to come to an agreement, leaving many fans castigating the front office. The Baltimore Orioles have severely mishandled Manny Machado, and it could easily prove to be the worst fiasco in team history, plunging the club into depths rivaling those of the early 2000’s.
There is no longer any doubt that this summer will be the last time Manny Machado will wear an Oriole uniform. For those still holding out hope, save yourself the energy. According to Duquette, Orioles management hasn’t even attempted to extend Manny’s contract for two years. Therefore, with Machado essentially gone, one would think that the Orioles are forced to rebuild, at least to some extent. Still, the brass continues to stand pat, stubbornly insisting that they will not lower their demands. If this standstill continues, such a decision will hinder the Orioles both now and later.
Sticking with the assumption that Machado leaves in free agency, the Orioles will have let their best player in decades walk with no return value, a reality that would be crushing to the team’s future. As the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have shown, a successful rebuild can lead to World Series titles and, at the least, perennial contention. Those clubs have given the Orioles a model to follow and exemplified exactly how Machado’s contract situation should have been handled. Unfortunately, the Orioles failed to trade Manny at his peak value last summer, and now will be hard-pressed to receive a substantial haul in return for him. As a result, Jason and Jerry have repeatedly condemned Duquette for his inability to recognize the proper time to strike a deal and his faults since. The Orioles cannot let their superstar depart without compensation, yet his value decreases with every passing day. Simply put, if Manny Machado remains on the Orioles roster on Opening Day, their ability to quickly rebuild will be significantly lessened. Yet, rumors of a Machado trade have quieted a great deal, and that appears to be a reality we are moving towards.
While the inability to trade Manny Machado could potentially harm the Orioles’ long-term plans, it has undoubtedly made immediate impacts on their offseason plans. Following the 2017 regular season, the Orioles had multiple needs to address, but none were bigger than the starting rotation. Believe it or not, the 2018 O’s rotation appears to be on its way to sporting an ERA even worse than the dreadful 5.64 number they posted last summer. At this point, with 33 days left until their first spring training game, the Orioles rotation has two returning starters: Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Sure, most were pleased to see Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and maybe even Chris Tillman make their way out of Baltimore. However, those feelings would have been backed with confidence that management would bring in superior replacements. Well, as the bulk of the offseason has been spent navigating the Machado case and determining the direction of the club, the O’s haven’t made one signing worth consideration for a rotation spot.
Now, with about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report, the Orioles are likely rushing to fill the three spots remaining. In reality, such a proposal is nearly impossible, and as a result, O’s fans may be subjected to watching a pitching staff with the likes of Gabriel Ynoa or Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes. One thing’s for sure: nobody wants to see that. So, what can the O’s realistically get done in the next two weeks?
Barring a sudden trade of Machado, the Orioles will likely make one final push at a World Series. Under that assumption, Dan Duquette must target one consistent starter and two back-end arms that could act as innings-eaters. In my opinion, Alex Cobb, who the club has been rumored to be interested in, makes perfect sense. Though he hasn’t performed as well as he had in years past, Cobb is a proven starter in the AL East and could anchor a young pitching staff. Other options include Jason Vargas and Hector Santiago. To round out the staff, Duquette could target Andrew Cashner, who has been connected to the Orioles previously, and Chris Tillman, who may be willing to return on a one-year, “prove it” contract. Many fans may be reluctant to welcome Tillman back to Camden Yards, but his return could prove to be rewarding. Tillman’s 2017 season was marred by injuries, and while he struggled to find the strike zone consistently, his track record warrants a second chance.
The Orioles are in a precarious situation. Machado is a cornerstone player who anyone in Baltimore would hate to see go. Still, Dan Duquette and the rest of the club’s management staff must determine the direction of the team, and correctly recognize that Machado simply cannot leave Baltimore without a return of some sort. With the offseason coming to a close, moves must be made to make this team competitive; they must be made now. The Orioles had trouble filling the seats last year, and that team was “contending,” according to Duquette. With two viable starters on the roster, an unstable future for the club’s franchise player, and two weeks remaining in the offseason, it’s unlikely that their troubles will go away. While a packed Oriole Park would be a sight for sore eyes, it doesn’t appear to be a sight we’ll be seeing anytime soon.