A week after the Memorial Day marker he set to evaluate these 2018 Orioles, executive vice president Dan Duquette on Sunday delivered the overdue assessment that many others have made of the club with the worst record in the big leagues at 17-41 — this is nowhere near good enough, and it's time to turn the club's attention toward the future.
"Obviously, we haven't had the kind of season that we were hoping for, and it's time for us to look at our competitive position and see where we can help our ballclub internally and for the future," Duquette said during a break from draft preparation Sunday. "We've had a couple of months to look at our team and see how competitive our club is, and our club is not up to the competitive standards of previous Orioles clubs or the top clubs in the division, so we've got to take a look at all the options and see where we can strengthen the team."
Asked what kind of timeline such improvement took for him, it was clear that the present wasn't a big factor in that.
"These things are cyclical," Duquette said. "They generally take a bit of time, but, like I said, you're either trying to help your team today or help your team get better for tomorrow. It looks to me like we've got to put a little bit sharper focus on the future."
For the Orioles, who thanks to Sunday's rainout against the New York Yankees head into Monday's day off on their second second-game losing streak of the season, it's high time for such a declaration. An offense that features five players with All-Star appearances on their resumes has produced the fewest runs per game in the American League at 3.71 as well as the lowest on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.682), with a team batting average of .231.
The pitching staff has shown plenty of glimpses of being better than years past, especially of late, but a staff ERA of 5.00 and a rotation ERA of 5.48 has the club near the bottom of the game. The defense has been no better.
Truly, the only bright spot has been shortstop Manny Machado, who is batting .327 with 18 home runs and a 1.030 OPS and is in his last season of club control. That makes him a prime trade candidate for a contending club.
Same goes for center fielder Adam Jones, who has been the club's second-most productive hitter this year, as well as relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach. Brach had a 0.90 ERA in May after a shaky start, while Britton is nearing a return from offseason Achilles tendon surgery.
Duquette praised Machado's consistency at the plate and the maturity that's been required to play under such circumstances, with his future constantly subject to scrutiny and his status as the team's best hitter giving him fewer pitches to hit than ever before.
However, Duquette declined to say whether Machado's superlative season was going to raise the asking price from when the team solicited trade offers for him in December.
"I don't know," Duquette said. "I don't know the answer to that question. He's having a good year. He's one of the better players in the league."
Asked how prepared he was to make deals for players such as Machado and the remaining free agents, and whether the completion of the draft this week would free up some of the organization's attention to do that, Duquette said the Orioles are "working on those things" now and evaluating such situations all the time.
"We have to look at our club and see where we can upgrade our current club, and not just for this season, for the long-term," Duquette said. "Those aren't necessarily exclusive exercises. They're not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes, they are, when you move a young ballplayer.
"But the way I've always looked at it, there's two ways to look at it. You're trying to improve your team to be competitive and win now, or you're trying to improve your team to be competitive for the long-term. And we've always tried to be very competitive here during my time here in the present. But it doesn't look like this 2018 ballclub is going to have what it takes to be that type of contending club. So, we're faced with the reality of seeing where we can improve it so that we can get back and be that contending club."
Trading departing stars for prospects is only one facet of that. The Orioles have already given extended chances to some of their more seasoned prospects such as David Hess, Chance Sisco, and Tanner Scott this season. While highly-touted outfield prospects Austin Hays and DJ Stewart are dealing with injuries, they'll likely be given extended looks this season, as could recently-promoted Triple-A outfielder Cedric Mullins.
On the pitching front, though the Orioles have a stable starting rotation for the first time in years, top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey is biding his time in Double-A as well.
Whether it's by plugging in young players acquired in trades quickly, asking for improvements from some of the fixtures on their rosters that aren't going anywhere, or giving their own prospects a chance, Duquette knows that better is required on all fronts.
"We just have to do a lot of things more consistently," Duquette said. "We just have to do a lot of things better so that we can get back into being a first-division ballclub, but we're going to have to improve all areas of our ballclub to be a contending team. I'm talking about our defense, our ability to get on-base, our ability to score runs, our pitching — all areas, across the board, will need to improve and will need to be upgraded in order for us to get back to being a contending club."