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Before long, Orioles' uncertain future will drag top arms Gausman, Bundy into rebuild conversation

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

On one side this week in Philadelphia was an Orioles team whose rebuild was jump-started by the 2009 trade of star pitcher Erik Bedard, who, with two years of club control, netted a pair of cornerstones of the club’s resurgence in Adam Jones and Chris Tillman.

On the other, an upstart Phillies team whose turnaround came when they shipped franchise left-hander Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers for a five-player package, including starting catcher Jorge Alfaro and right fielder Nick Williams.

The two were at different stages of their careers — Bedard was entering his age-29 season and coming off a career year, while Hamels, 31, was on a massive second contract with a World Series Most Valuable Player to his name.

Together, though, they’re two of several examples of an undeniable attribute of the modern baseball trade market: club control dictates return as much as talent. And as the Orioles talk of sell-offs and rebuilds with short-term assets such as Manny Machado and Zach Britton, the scope of what they need to do on an organizational level brings players whose futures with the club extend much further — Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.

Gausman, under club control for two more seasons after this one (he was a few days shy of the requisite service time for a full season when he joined the rotation in 2016), said it’s hard not to think about the future when the present is going the way his team’s is.

“I think anybody on a team like the way we’re scuffling, I don’t think anybody feels comfortable and confident to say that I’m going to be here next year,” Gausman said. “You definitely think about things, and I’ve thought about that this year, whether maybe I’ll get moved or not.

“But, you know, other than just thinking about it, there’s nothing you can do about it. So, there’s not really much reason to waste your time thinking about it because it’s out of your control. It’s tough, but you think about it. At the same time, there’s not much you can do. You’ve just got to control what you can control.”

With rare exceptions, the Orioles haven’t gotten pitching as consistent from anyone in years as they have from Gausman and Bundy this year. Gausman lowered his ERA to 4.04 on Sunday and has 10 quality starts, a total matched by Bundy, whose ERA is 3.75. They’re doing it in front of a subpar Orioles defense, and doing it with their futures somewhat unclear.

Bundy, who has compiled 6.3 bWAR (Baseball-Reference.com wins above replacement) in less than three seasons with a 4.03 lifetime ERA, will have three more seasons of club control after this year. Gausman has pitched for much longer, with 10.5 bWAR and a 4.16 ERA. Bedard, for comparison, had complied 12.8 bWAR and a 3.83 ERA when he was dealt.

Both have proven to be durable, and have played significant roles in the 2016 playoff-bound rotation. Gausman also was a relief weapon in the 2014 playoff run.

They’d be assets on any team, including the Orioles, should the team be planning on contending in a tough-and-getting-tougher American League East. While most of the Orioles’ intentions at this deadline are transparent, there’s been little indications whether their plans to sell extend to players in that club-control middle ground that Gausman and Bundy live in. Rival evaluators love them both, but the Orioles have given no indication their timeline to compete stretches far enough to not include those two.

Just how long it is until they’re competitive, though, is something every player in the clubhouse can’t help but look at. Gausman, for his part, has liked what he’s seen in some places.

“I’ve felt like we’ve had some young guys who keep coming in here and showed really well,” Gausman said. “[Steve] Wilkerson, I thought he looked great. There have been some guys who have come up, and I’ve really been impressed. That’s also in the back of my mind.

“I know we have some players, and we’ve also got some other guys where it’s kind of unfortunate. You look at Hunter Harvey, and [Ryan] Mountcastle, what happened to him.”

Harvey suffered a shoulder injury trying to dodge a foul ball in the dugout last month in Bowie and only just resumed throwing, while Mountcastle missed the first month of the season with a wrist fracture.

“Those types of guys, if they’re healthy, maybe they’re here right now, because everything that’s been happening. You’re frustrated, but there’s also some positives to look at.”

There’s also the matter of the Orioles finally having a somewhat stable starting rotation for the first time since Gausman and Bundy have been a part of it. Andrew Cashner lowered his ERA to 4.48 coming into July, and will be around for 2019 with a team option for 2020. Alex Cobb has been inconsistent, but has shown signs of putting things together in the first of four years under contract with the Orioles.

The fifth starter has included David Hess, Yefry Ramírez, and Jimmy Yacabonis — all worthy of chances and with the possibility of seizing a permanent spot in the team’s circumstances.

A 5.12 starter ERA doesn’t exactly scream stability, but that’s inflated by some struggles filling out the fifth spot and Cobb’s April struggles after signing late. After years of instability, breaking up the rotation after finally building it into something the group feels good about, and that gives the team a chance to win every night, would be difficult for the current starters to swallow.

Cobb knows all about those dynamics. As a product of the Tampa Bay Rays, he has seen Matt Garza, James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson all dealt when their salaries got too high or the Rays’ window of contention closed. Even Cobb, in his last year of club control in 2017, dealt with it. They’ve used some of those trades for cornerstone pieces along the way, and Cobb saw there’s only one way for a pitcher to deal with that.

“Kevin and Dylan, this is the only organization they’ve been with,” Cobb said. “It can kind of seem like this is your whole world, this organization, and you’ve yet — although you’ve heard — you’ve yet to really experience the business side of baseball and understand that there are 29 other teams and certain situations will dictate your future, whether it’s here or somewhere else.

“That doesn’t just translate to the trade deadline. That goes for a situation that you’re going to be facing for the rest of your career. I think the only time you’re really safe, and you’re not even safe then, is when you first come up and you kind of feel comfortable and loyalty to your organization. But whatever the situation is, you have got to find a way to block out the outside noise and know that what your job description calls for is for you to go out on the mound every day and put up a good performance. You find a way to find your focus and all your energy to compete, just being a competitor.”

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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