The Orioles enter the All-Star break preparing to navigate one of the club’s most pivotal stretches in determining its future in the weeks leading up to the nonwaiver trade deadline, moves that will serve as the building blocks of the team’s rebuild.
They still have the top trade chip on the market in shortstop Manny Machado, who, at this point, likely won’t be traded before playing in his fourth All-Star Game for the Orioles down the road at Nationals Park. And the trade value of closer Zach Britton, who is just a month into his return from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, increases with every strong late-inning outing he produces.
The Orioles are working offers from eight teams for Machado, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers leading the pack, in no particular order. The gap between those teams is currently “too close to call,” according to an industry source. The Atlanta Braves are also considered in the mix.
All four teams have among the best 11 farm systems in baseball, according to Baseball America.
The club has also fielded offers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees for Machado, but the Orioles appear to be more engaged in dialogue with the other four teams, switching players in and out of offers looking for the right fit. The strength of the Yankees’ offer appears to have been exaggerated, according to a source.
Many of those teams — some of which are in tight division races in the Nationals League — were interested in acquiring Machado earlier this month so that they could benefit from having his services for three months instead of two. But an evolving trade market has many evaluating their priorities for the final two months of the season.
With the Orioles long buried at the break — their 27-69 record after Sunday’s win is the second worst in baseball — the team has received much more attention for what they could potentially do at the deadline than anything going on between the baselines.
However, Sunday’s game drew attention when Machado abruptly exited before the top of the fifth inning after a 26-minute rain delay, sparking buzz that he had been traded. But he was removed from the game as a precaution because of the wet field conditions.
Still, the Orioles have two of the top trade chips in Machado and Britton, and the team’s two other pending free agents, center fielder Adam Jones and reliever Brad Brach, could be on the move, too.
Meanwhile, inside the Orioles clubhouse, manager Buck Showalter prepares for the possibility of coming roster changes — whether that’s losing veterans to trades or the addition of prospects to the big league roster.
"That's my job,” Showalter said before Sunday’s final game of the first half. “If and when there are adjustments in our roster, [executive vice president] Dan [Duquette] will let me know and we'll make the adjustments. We talked some today in my office about when he thought he though we should talk more about any adjustments we want to make in the current roster with the current organizational roster. There was some talk about that.”
Before Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers, Machado was presented with his American League All-Star Game jersey. And before he smoked the first pitch he saw from Rangers right-hander Mike Minor into the left-field stands for his 24th homer of the season, the Camden Yards crowd’s ovation to his introduction had the feel of a goodbye.
The uncertain feeling within the Orioles clubhouse is different for players, who have seen the team upgrade over the past six seasons. For many, this is the first time the Orioles are sellers, let alone looking to move some of their core players.
“I’ve been here where we’ve traded guys and stuff, but it’s never been guys who were the core players,” right-hander Kevin Gausman said. “So that will be a little different. You see some of the void there will be if guys like Jones leave. … Things like that, we can only just wait and see. Unfortunately as a player, I think it’s out of our control. Literally all we can do it wait. We won’t know anything until one of [the reporters] says something or we see it one TV.”
Among the fluid situations in the trade market is the surging popularity of Britton, who appears to be returning to the form he had in 2016, when he had one of the best seasons for a reliever in baseball history. Entering Sunday, Britton hadn’t allowed a run in his past six outings, retiring 17 of the 21 batters he faced over that span while recording a spike in velocity. Over his past four outings, Britton’s sinker velocity is averaging 95.85 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, up from a 94.28 mph in his first 10 outings.
And given the interest late-inning relievers such as Britton have received at recent trade deadlines — along with value placed on having lockdown arms in the postseason — the Orioles believe his stock can still grow.
The Phillies, one of the front-runners for Machado, are also interested in Britton, but the Orioles, recognizing Britton’s improving stock, would prefer to deal the two players separately rather than send them to the same team in a package deal. Still, the Phillies should be expected to be a top suitor for either player until proven otherwise, especially since the Phillies know both players well given the strong Orioles ties that exist in their front office.
The Houston Astros have recently re-emerged in the market for Britton. The Orioles nearly sent Britton to Houston at last year’s nonwaiver trade deadline, but a deal fell through. The Astros have inquired about Britton, but an offer is not believed to be on the table, according to a source.
While evaluating the markets on Machado and Britton, the Orioles will continue to weigh interest in Jones and Brach.
The Orioles have received interest on Jones from the Indians and San Francisco Giants, but have yet to receive any formal offer on Jones, who can determine where he goes because he has the right to refuse any trade as a player with 10 or more years of service time, including five or more with the same organization.
Brach’s inconsistent season might have hindered his trade value, but his track record should draw interest as the deadline approaches and more teams consider the value of late-inning bullpen upgrades that can bridge games.