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What the Blake Snell trade means for an Orioles team looking to emulate the transactional Rays

In their first year in charge of the Orioles, the front office led by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias frequently pointed to the scouting and player development machine they helped build with the Houston Astros as an example of what could happen in Baltimore.

That tune changed some in the second year as he frequently cited the transactional nature of the rival Tampa Bay Rays when pointing to an example of how the Orioles will try to refresh their organization and keep a pipeline of young talent flowing by trading players off the major league roster.

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The methodology behind selling high on their most valuable resources and trying to restock for the future reached new heights for the American League champion Rays earlier this week with the reported trade of former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres for four prospects, the latest example of the Rays opting for future value from several young talents over the expensive primes of their homegrown players.

Others in recent years who haven’t finished their time with the Rays include star pitchers David Price and Chris Archer, and the list of players traded or let go after productive years because Tampa Bay opted for younger and less expensive players grows every winter.

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The result has been a team that has mixed in plenty of winning seasons with some disappointing ones, but only came close to a championship in the shortened 2020 season.

And while it’s hard to envision, an Orioles example would be moving someone such as Grayson Rodriguez or DL Hall after he has a Cy Young under his belt and has signed a team-friendly extension before the team wins a World Series or makes several playoff runs with the core they’re trying to build around top pick Adley Rutschman and those two promising young arms.

Such a move wouldn’t happen for years down the road, but if there are two end games to rebuilding, that’s certainly one of them. The former is the one so often touted by the Astros imports to the Orioles, as well as manager Brandon Hyde, who went through a similar process with the Chicago Cubs. In those situations, things get bleak until a core of young players arrive and, supplemented by some star acquisitions, win a championship.

It’s clear the Padres and Chicago White Sox are trying to take that path now with splashy offseason additions to their star-studded young cores.

The other ending to a rebuild is teardowns large and small, the kind that come when the window of peak-aged young talent doesn’t produce playoff appearances or gets too expensive and players with good baseball left are cast off for the next wave of talent. Teams such as the Rays and Oakland Athletics have played this game for the better part of a decade, and there’s been some good baseball resulting from it.

But far more teams try to go young, and with two or three years of control left on their star players’ contracts and no winning on the horizon, get scolded into trading them by the same national voices who then deride the teams as cheap or ambitionless for not spending to win.

This is what happened to the Orioles with Manny Machado, Zack Britton et al, but it’s hard to imagine how much more winning they would have done in the ensuing years if both of those players were moved for mega-hauls in 2015 or 2016 anyway. All it would have done was make the collapse of 2018 less dramatic.

The difference between the teams that use their rebuilds to propel to a championship and those who use them to develop talent they’ll later use to acquire younger talent and perpetuate that cycle seems to be money. They got good, then spent to get better and ultimately stay good.

Until their project at Camden Yards is far closer to completion than it is now, the Orioles don’t seem to be a candidate to prove they’re in that category for a while. It might be years before they are, when the early success stories of their rebuild — such as Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin — are at the point in their careers in which trading them to continue to refresh the roster might be valuable.

Only then will it be clear how the Orioles will view such a competitive window. Until then, citing a transactional club like the Rays leaves plenty to the imagination as to what path this Orioles rebuild will take.

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