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A different reality ahead for Orioles under long-term control should club rebuild

Amid a months-long groundswell for the Orioles to close their contending window ahead of its natural conclusion at the end of the 2018 season, a considerable core of the club has been left to wonder what it all means for the rest of the team.

From their highest-priced free agents such as sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo to backup catcher Caleb Joseph and long-term foundation pieces Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, the team's frustrating 2017 season has put players who will be around for years to come in a position to ponder the team's future without forsaking the present.

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Part of the idea of trading off players such as relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach, or third baseman Manny Machado ahead of their walk years next season would be to build toward a future that still includes a decent part of the core. Same goes for this year's expiring contracts of catcher Welington Castillo and outfielder Seth Smith.

The Orioles welcomed the addition of pitcher Jeremy Hellickson as players cling to slim playoff hopes

But that still leaves the players who would remain to confront an uncomfortable idea — a team that's going in the wrong direction and sacrificing a chance, however remote, of maintaining its run of contention for one down the road that isn't guaranteed.

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"It's tough, especially for guys like Darren [O'Day] and myself," Davis said, "who are going to be here for a few more years and who have been here for a long time and who have been around the game long enough to kind of see the waves of players come and go, and even coming back here [to Texas], looking over at the other side and only seeing a few faces that I played with over there — it's a reminder that there has to be a sense of urgency to win."

The Orioles have more than just a few players' futures to consider ahead of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, which they approach losing touch with both the American League East and wild-card playoff races.

Their season has been disappointing on all levels, with their young building blocks, well-paid veterans and pitchers trying to prove something in a walk year all underwhelming. The bright spots have come mostly courtesy of All-Star Jonathan Schoop and rookie Trey Mancini.

But even with the likes of Machado and center fielder Adam Jones, plus Brach and Britton, and starters Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jiménez and Wade Miley all set to be free agents within the next two seasons, there's plenty who won't be going anywhere and have to digest the potential change in direction.

Davis has been on both sides of the equation in his career — the upstart rebuilding team and the perennial contender. And he acknowledges just how tough of a season it has been for the Orioles, whose attempt to play winning baseball since their league-leading 22-10 start has been Sisyphean.

But having signed through 2022 thanks to a seven-year, $161 million contract signed ahead of the 2016 season, Davis has to weigh both the short-term desire for the season to turn around with the organization's long-term health. His preference seems clear.

"I think when you have the opportunity to put a winning product out on the field, year in and year out, especially in this division, you want to do everything you can to keep that going," Davis said. "I've been very fortunate the entire time that I've been here to be a part of a winning team, a playoff team, a successful team. And I don't think that this is the time to start talking about rebuilding. Especially when you look at the process, and what it entails to really rebuild and entire organization.

"It's a long process, and I think that the 14 years of losing and all the heartache and everything that the fans endured, I think it's still fresh, somewhat. You don't forget that that easily. So yeah, I think we need to continue to move in the right direction. It was refreshing to hear Dan [Duquette] say that that's kind of their thought process right now, and I hope that thought process stays the same."

For someone like Gausman, the whole experience is unique. The 2012 first-round draft pick is under club control through 2020, and all he has known are playoff pushes and buying at the July 31 deadline; not selling. He understands other teams' interest in the team's most valuable pieces, and said in time they can probably be replaced and the Orioles can contend again. But he's prepared for anything.

"I feel confident that even if we lose some guys, we'll still be able to be a competitive team and a playoff team," Gausman said. "It's tough to think about, and it's one of those things where you're always surprised, no matter what. You can never try to figure out what they're thinking, so you try not to think about it honestly."

Former Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim had a tumultuous time in Baltimore, but energized the fanbase in his own unique way.

No matter how far ahead some can look, though, there's still the very real prospect of the core that grew into a contender together breaking apart. Joseph, who was drafted in 2008 and has played with Britton for eight years of that, said those who will be around long beyond the proverbial window for contention are beginning to brace for the finality of a possible trade.

"The 25-man roster is sometimes a revolving door, so you do lose players here and there. It does happen," Joseph said. "You have injuries and you have new players come in. You get kind of used to it, but the permanency of a player possibly being gone is what kind of hits me for the reality part of it. If you trade a player, they're not just going to spend 10 days on the DL and come back, or they're not going to make an injury rehab and come back, or you're not going to see them in September when the rosters expand. It could be a more permanent move, and that's not something I'm particularly used to."

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