Orioles' executive vice president Dan Duquette talks about several moves the Orioles made before the trade deadline including picking up pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and shortstop Tim Beckham. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' core remained intact as Monday's trade deadline passed with the club firmly focused on a mission that it can make the postseason, albeit a seemingly unlikely scenario given their place in the playoff picture.
Closer Zach Britton stayed put, as did right-handed reliever Brad Brach, and while American League rivals muscled up for the stretch run, the Orioles allowed the non-waiver deadline to pass without making an impact move that could shape their future.
Instead, the Orioles acquired former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham from the Tampa Bay Rays to man the shortstop position. The Orioles sent 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Tobias Myers to Tampa Bay.
The move was a bold one because combined with Friday night's deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for pending free-agent right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, it indicates that Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette is still in win-now mode despite the club playing inconsistently since mid-May.
"We're going to take a shot at getting the most out of this season," Duquette said. "I mean nobody's running away with the American League East. The teams are so evenly matched if you make a move here or there and it jells, who knows? We still have some hope that we can make the playoffs.
"We like our guys and we like our team," he added. "… You do one or two things right and you get on a roll, there's still hope. There's still hope. And that wild card keeps hope alive for a lot of teams. Frankly, I'm glad that we're adding. I'd much rather be adding this time of year than subtracting."
Instead of laying the groundwork for remaining competitive in light of potentially losing several cornerstone players over the next two years, the Orioles hope to compete for a postseason berth by patching some holes. The Orioles are on the fringe of the playoff race, going into Monday's series opener against the Kansas City Royals four games under .500, 5½ games back of the second American League wild-card spot and 6 ½ back in the division race.
"I think we have the people in there, with some health, some additions that people may think are small but could be big, and some things that can happen tomorrow and the next day and the next day," manager Buck Showalter said. "But I look more about making what we have [better] — we need to get a little better in some areas and we can get in the fight a little bit more."
After the Orioles' 2-1 walk-off win over the Royals Monday night, Britton said he was relieved to see the deadline pass and remain with the only organization he's known.
"I think there was a period where I was like, 'OK this is where I'm going to stay,' " Britton said. "I can relax and just pitch well and help this team win and get to the postseason. The thought of going somewhere else was completely done. It just got rid of maybe some of the awkwardness that I felt like was in the clubhouse before the deadline was over. Everyone just got back to normal."
Speaking to reporters in Tampa Bay, Beckham said he was looking forward to "a new chapter" in his career by joining the Orioles.
"… Looking forward to helping Baltimore win some ball games," Beckham said. "... I'm looking forward to going to Baltimore and getting after it … I'm ready to go play ball in Baltimore and get my mind off all this trading stuff. ... I'm ready to get after it."
Duquette said there was much interest in the club's late-inning relief arms – specifically Britton, Brach and also Mychal Givens – and while it appeared that the team was doing its best to showcase Britton in the days leading up to the deadline, Duquette indicated that he didn't receive an offer tantalizing enough to subtract from one of the Orioles' greatest strengths.
In order to move Britton, the team needed to see a significant haul to benefit the immediate and long-term future – much like the New York Yankees received for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller last year – but that never materialized.
"Zach Britton was one of the top pitchers in the American League last year, and because he had an injury this year, he hasn't quite returned to that form," Duquette said. "But I think he's going to return to that form and that to me is what Zach Britton is. He's one of the top relievers in the American League and in baseball. There was a steep price paid for the relievers who were traded last year and that really wasn't the market [this year]."
Beckham, 27, was the top pick in the 2008 draft, and through parts of four major league seasons is still attempting to reach the promise placed upon him as a Georgia high school senior after he was selected in front of future all-stars like Buster Posey and Eric Hosmer. His development was stunted by injuries and a 50-game suspension for a positive test for a "drug of abuse" in 2012.
A free-swinger who reached the best power numbers of his career this season, Beckham hit .259/.314/.407 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 87 games for the Rays. But he also had 110 strikeouts in 345 plate appearances with just 24 walks.
He is a career .247/.299/.421 hitter in 238 career major league games.
He opened the season as Tampa Bay's starting shortstop, but was absorbed by a recent roster crunch. Beckham hit 10 homers in his first 68 games, posting a .278/.327/.437 hitting line over that span, but since moving from shortstop to second base following the Rays acquisition of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, he's hitting just .185/.264/.292 in his last 19 games, including 24 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances.
Duquette is intrigued by Beckham's No. 1 overall pedigree – he's had a penchant for former first-round picks – and noted that his numbers away from pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field –his career .807 road OPS is 171 points higher than at home, an indication his emerging power will play well at Camden Yards.
"He's got a good bat," Duquette said of Beckham. "He's got excellent power numbers for a middle infielder. He's proven to be solid defensively at second and at short and I think he's just starting to come into his own as a ballplayer.
"He was the first player taken in the draft several years ago, which tells you the kind of talent that he has. And he's starting to learn how to hit. … He does a good job, [plays] solid defense wherever he plays on the diamond. So we're looking forward to him joining the ballclub and see if we can get more production from our shortstop position and maintain some solid defense."
Beckham is an upgrade at shortstop over Ruben Tejada, who has filled in for starter J.J. Hardy – out since June with a right wrist fracture – and because the club is unlikely to pick up Hardy's $14-million option for next year, he offers an internal option at shortstop for the foreseeable future. He remains under team control for the next three seasons beyond this year.
"What I like about Tim Beckham is he's 27 years old and to me, it looks like he's just learning how to hit," Duquette said. "He has an opportunity to help our ballclub not just this year, but in the future."
Myers, who went to the Rays for Beckham, turns 19 on Aug. 5. He was the Orioles' 2016 sixth-round pick out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High School, the same school of Orioles rookie Trey Mancini. He owns a 3.94 ERA in 29 2/3 innings pitching for Short-A Aberdeen this season. He holds velocity well on his 93-96 mph fastball, and also is developing a changeup and curveball.
The Orioles also acquired 23-year-old right-hander Yefry Ramirez, who Duquette called a "future candidate to help in our rotation" from the Yankees for international signing bonus slots and optioned him to Double-A Bowie.
But all in all, the fact that the Orioles kept their core together at the deadline was somewhat of a surprise, especially since outside the organization, they haven't been given much of a chance to make the postseason. They entered Monday with a 3.9 percent probability of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs.com, which is the fourth lowest likelihood in the AL. Baseball prospectus gives the Orioles a 3.7 percent likelihood.
Duquette resisted the temptation to move pieces to begin a rebuild, focused on this year and 2018 before the Orioles could lose key players like MannyMachado, Adam Jones, Britton and Brach to free agency.
“Well, there's interest in, varying levels of interest in a lot of our players,” Duquette said. “But I still like this team. I like this team for this year. I like this team for next year. You've seen fits and spurts of this team playing very, very good baseball. The consistency will come when we get a consistent, stable rotation.
"There's still hope for 2017," he added. "The Orioles believe there's hope for 2017. The ownership group believes there's still hope for 2017. So we're going to keep playing the schedule. We do have some reinforcements I think in the minors that are going to be able to come up and help us between now and the end of the year. We're keeping our eyes on players in Double-A and Triple-A who we think might be able to help us down the stretch."