The Orioles introduced top draft choice Grayson Rodriguez to the media late Tuesday afternoon, providing a fleeting glimpse of the team’s long-term future.
It wasn’t that future, however, that Dan Duquette was talking about when he said recently it was time to refocus the efforts of the front office beyond the final months of this very discouraging season.
Duquette was talking about remaking the current roster into something that might be ready to be competitive relatively soon — maybe even next season — so he was talking about Manny Machado and the Orioles’ other pending free agents who might help him make that happen.
He said again Tuesday that there has been significant interest in Machado, which would only be a major revelation if there wasn’t. If anything was surprising about his comments, it was that the Machado auction has not yet reached the point where Duquette is fielding specific offers.
"He's having a great year,” Duquette said, “so I'm sure that will take care of itself in time."
Well, you’d think time were of the essence, especially after Duquette was asked how soon he projected a younger Orioles team to be “competitive.”
“As soon as possible,’’ he said.
So, what’s the holdup?
The Orioles are so far out of contention already that the real value of the 96 games that remain on the regular-season schedule is the opportunity to evaluate the club’s top minor league talent at the big league level along with whoever else drops in over the next six weeks.
The Orioles have good pieces to trade and it’s about time to trade them. Machado obviously is at the top of the list and should bring in some players who fall into the category above, but it’s unclear whether the apparent lack of urgency surrounding his availability comes from inside or outside the organization.
It seems logical that the Orioles would want to move on from Manny soon, since every day reduces the amount of service he will provide to the team that acquires him. There’s also the risk of an injury keeping him off the market until after the season. In other words, the O’s need to get while the getting is good.
The last thing they should do is hold out through the middle of July and let more decisive teams skim off some of the best available talent.
Maybe Duquette is just being coy and he’s rounding up the usual suspects after shopping Machado during the winter meetings. Maybe he truly believes the team’s interests will be better served by waiting until the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline and trying to play several teams off each other, though it seems likely he could do that now if he shopped Machado aggressively.
He has good reason to slow-play the Zach Britton situation, because Britton needs to prove that he’s still the same Zach Britton after coming back from Achilles tendon surgery, but there’s no reason to wait around on the other pending free agents. Brad Brach, despite a few rocky save situations, has value as an All-Star-caliber setup man. Adam Jones presents a trickier situation from a public relations standpoint, but the team needs to decide soon if it’s going to keep him past this season or try to get something for him.
Making some of those moves soon would serve a double purpose, because that would free up roster space for some minor league players to audition for a future that might not be that far off. The Orioles finally appear to have a well-stocked starting rotation under club control for an extended period, which should make it easier to be competitive with a young team.
“At some point, we’re going to take a look at some of the guys we have in the minors to see where they can help us,’’ Duquette said. “We’ve got some pretty good ballplayers in the minors. Obviously, they need more seasoning or they’d be up here now.”
Specifically, he’s talking about outfield prospects Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart, who have been moving up through the organization and figure to show up in the majors at some point this season. The Orioles view Mullins as a potential center fielder of the future, but aren’t sure he’s quite ready to come up and crack the outfield alongside Jones.
“We just moved Cedric Mullins up to Triple-A,’’ Duquette said. “He did really well in Double-A. His body of work was very impressive. If he can get on base a little more consistently, he’s got a chance to be groomed as a legitimate leadoff hitter. He shows power from both sides of the plate. He’s got the good speed and he can hit. I think he’s going to be an above-average defensive player for us.”
The only question is how soon the Orioles want to find out if all that is true.
“There’s plenty of the season left this year to evaluate some of our younger talent when we have the opportunity,’’ Duquette said. “If you’re in contention, you don’t really have that opportunity to take a look at some of the young talent you have. You keep it down in the farm system and then take a look at them in the spring. It looks like we’ll have that opportunity this year.”