When the Orioles and Kansas City Royals met in the 2014 ALCS, it was the culmination of a pair of lengthy rebuilds that brought small-market teams to the forefront of the game with exciting homegrown cores.
Kansas City reached the pinnacle a year later in winning the World Series, and now a season later are reaching the logical end of it. After the 2017 season, many of their top players — including outfielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas — will be free agents.
That looks a lot like the Orioles' 2018 free agent class, headlined by third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton and center fielder Adam Jones.
That makes for a big difference in philosophy, having one year left to make a run vs. two, and the contrast at last week's winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., showed that. The Royals, who dealt soon-to-be-free agent closer Wade Davis to Chicago at the meetings, were willing to address both 2017 and beyond head on.
The Orioles didn't really see much reason to.
When asked about Machado only having two years left on his contract, manager Buck Showalter glibly noted that he did too, and joked he'd leave if Machado does. Executive vice president Dan Duquette said, "We're going to try to have a contending team every year," before turning the question toward the problems facing the 2017 club.
With holes in their outfield and at catcher, plus a questionable rotation returning, you could forgive the Orioles' brass for not looking too far down the line, but it all stands in stark contrast with those who are a year closer to franchise Armageddon.
When Royals general manager Dayton Moore traded Davis, he was asked about balancing competitiveness with getting value for all of their players who will be leaving.
"That's the challenge, obviously, but we think it's important to try to accomplish both," Moore said. "We certainly expect to win in 2017; put a competitive team on the field that can compete to win our division. It's going to be a challenge."
Royals manager Ned Yost was a bit more expansive.
"We don't know what's going to happen after next year," Yost said. "We know who we have under control for next year and it's a really, really good core nucleus of championship-caliber players. Our focus this year is, you know, to get back to where we've been the last couple of years competitively to where we can compete for a championship, and we think health is going to be a big part of that. And [we will] worry about 2018 when that time comes.
"We do have the majority of our core after 2017, you know, are all going to be free agents," Yost added. "Dayton is a great guy that can look into the future and figure out how do we make our club better now and for the future. I think he's very open-minded and I think he's been looking at everything, you know, that could accomplish both of those goals — to make us better now and for the future."
The Davis trade was more than just a tacit acknowledgment that the future at least has some stake in the room in Kansas City, where like in Baltimore there's just not the wherewithal to compete for top free agents on a regular basis. Getting outfielder Jorge Soler from the Cubs gives the Royals a piece they hope can start in their outfield for the next five years — long after those free agents potentially leave.
There were plenty of calls for the Orioles to at least shop closer Britton given the exorbitant prices that cost-controlled players were getting on the open market and in trades at the winter meetings, but Duquette made it clear that Machado and Britton were names he wasn't even comfortable mentioning with other clubs, for fear of the wrong idea getting out there.
That means the right idea is that the Orioles are going to ride this two-year window out and see where it takes them. If it's the playoffs, their bullpen over the next two years will give them a chance to make things interesting. That tune could change next offseason, when the opportunities to get impact prospects in return for an expiring contract begin to wane.
But those calling for any kind of meaningful trade to break up the Orioles' core and build a new core for the future this offseason don't have much to hang their hat on if they're holding out hope that will happen this winter.