The predicament the Orioles face – forced to ponder whether to trade franchise cornerstone Manny Machado one season before he can hit free agency – should serve as a cautionary tale about the team’s lethargic approach in keeping its best players in orange and black long term.
Machado might not be the best example to use because a star like him doesn’t come around often, and several offseasons ago it became likely that he would eventually challenge the record $325 million commitment made to Giancarlo Stanton because of his quickly rising star and the fact that he would reach free agency at age 26.
Maybe the Orioles were resigned then that they wouldn’t be able to keep Machado after the 2018 season, or that fiscally speaking, giving him a 10-year deal isn’t a prudent move for the franchise. And maybe that’s why the club never engaged Machado in any real extension discussions over the past three years.
But if they knew that, they also should’ve had a plan regarding the future. If they weren’t going to build a franchise around Machado, then who should they build around? They’ve had time to make a blueprint.
Now, any discussions about the post-Machado Orioles should focus on the consideration for giving his buddy, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, a long-term extension.
The Orioles will likely attempt to engage Schoop next month when the arbitration process gets going, but according to sources, it’s been baffling how little dialogue there’s been about extending the 26-year-old, especially as the club considers saying goodbye to their best and most popular player in Machado.
Even though Schoop still has two years remaining before reaching free agency, the window to sign him to a long-term deal is shrinking. Coming off the best season of his career in which he set career highs in nearly every offensive category, Schoop is set to receive a significant raise, projected to make $9.1 million next year in his second season of arbitration eligibility.
That’s more than double what he made last season ($3.475 million). Schoop also participated in a unique agreement with Fantex in which he received an upfront payment of $4.91 million last year in exchange for 10 percent of his future earnings.
Schoop is beginning to make lots of money, as Machado did before him – Machado is projected to make $17.3 million in 2018 — and like most successful players do during their arbitration process. Also like Machado, the more success Schoop has, the less reason he has to engage the Orioles in any long-term discussion.
Even though the Orioles have said that extending Machado is still “under consideration,” there is nothing to indicate his representatives would engage in that kind of talk at this time. They have nothing to gain from giving an Orioles’ potential trade partner a 72-hour window to negotiate a long-term deal because they have nothing to gain by limiting themselves to one team when they can test the entire open market one year from now. So, why would they engage the Orioles in talks?
The Orioles’ window to extend Machado likely closed when nothing came to fruition last season, because in his case, once he went into his second arbitration season, he was so close to that there was little reason not to wait out reaching the market.
Now, Machado is coming off an off year by his standards, so there’s no reason to talk about anything long term while his stock isn’t at its apex. He has little to lose by playing it out, getting paid a hefty sum, hoping for a monster year and preparing to back up the Brink’s truck.
Schoop doesn’t have quite the earning potential that Machado does, but if the Orioles don’t lock him up this offseason, he’s in a similar situation in terms of having nothing to lose by letting his contract play out. He’s not in need of upfront money. He’s learned how to preserve his body after coming back from a knee injury in 2015. And even if he doesn’t duplicate the numbers he put up this past season, he’s still in line for a generous raise next year before free agency.
But, over the past six years, the Orioles have signed just one player to a long-term extension as he’s reaching his prime. That would be the six-year, $85.5 million deal signed by center fielder Adam Jones at age 26 in 2012, one year before he was eligible to become a free agent.
During the 2014 postseason, the Orioles signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million extension. But Hardy signed that deal at age 32, just weeks before he was set to hit free agency.
But since the Jones extension, the Orioles have done little to lock up their key cornerstone players before they reach free agency, on some occasions willing to overspend in free agency — like they did after the 2015 season, when they re-signed first baseman Chris Davis and reliever Darren O’Day to contracts that some might say were over market value.
This is where the Orioles have rarely been proactive. A long-term deal with Schoop would involve buying out his final two arbitration years. But if that’s what it takes to keep him in an Orioles uniform for the long haul, give some much-needed stability to the future and send the right message to the fans, there seem to be few arguments against making a hard run at Schoop now.