The Orioles went through June only sort of shifting their focus to the future, as executive vice president Dan Duquette said would be the new organizational directive, without much taking them off the pace of the game’s worst season in the process.
But the month came and went without the Orioles doing anything to capitalize on the value of some of their top stars, meaning they enter July shopping two- and three-month rentals instead of four-month rentals, with the likelihood of their big asks being met dropping by the day.
The waiting game could work in their favor in terms of the amount of suitors. The longer surprise teams such as the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies keep winning, the longer their management will have to look at legitimately trying to take advantage of this season.
Likewise, teams that are on the fringes or trying to hang onto a playoff spot could look to bolster their chances, the way the Washington Nationals did by acquiring reliever Kelvin Herrera a few weeks ago.
With four weeks left to improve their farm system and move some of the pieces they’ll be set to lose in free agency anyway by the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, here’s where the Orioles are in some of their discussions and how they can expect to get the best possible outcomes from moves the entire industry expects them to make.
1. The relief market will get everything going
Since the Nationals traded for Herrera, sending away three prospects in the process, teams have started to get serious about their own potential deals. There are a few complicating factors for the Orioles, who have several teams bearing down on their relievers right now, including the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians, among others.
First is the season-ending hamstring injury to Darren O’Day, which stripped them of a valuable piece. That, combined with the early-June lat tear that took Richard Bleier from them, has made it more difficult to put Brad Brach and Zach Britton in good showcase situations.
That’s the second issue — they didn’t really get the best looks for Brach in June, or from Britton since he returned from his Achilles tendon injury. On Brach, there’s the notion that regular close-and-late game situations will get him back into gear, as the workload and situations for the Orioles bullpen hasn’t been ideal for getting into any kind of groove.
On Britton, it will take a powerful scout to sell his team on what they’re getting for what the Orioles will likely ask for in return. He’ll have to be able to see the glimpses of Britton’s top-level form and project that to be the norm by September. He’ll also have to convince his team that Britton working toward that top form won’t affect a playoff race. The Orioles have nothing to play for, so if an outing doesn’t go Britton’s way with the bigger picture in mind, everyone kind of just shrugs. On a contending team, it wouldn’t work that way.
2. Manny Machado will probably deliver more value to his new team than it will give the Orioles
Two things stand out about Machado this season, the first being the return of his easy power as he’s on pace for over 40 home runs. The second are those little moments when he looks out of control in a game or an at-bat and then stays back on a ball and shoots it for a single to right field.
That’s how someone carries a .310 average this deep into the season, and combined with the inherent post-trade motivation to prove himself, that’s what will make Machado so valuable down the stretch to a contending team.
On the flip side, that’s what will keep the Orioles’ ask high. They might not need the major league ready pitching they asked for this offseason, and they might not get the two or three premium pieces they probably deserve, but they have every right to treat Machado as more than an ordinary deadline dump. Even with that, the fact that the rental is getting shorter by the day, and likely won’t give an advantage to signing Machado in free agency, means getting fair value will not be easy.
3. Adam Jones will help someone this summer, if they let him
As he told The Baltimore Sun, the Orioles and Jones haven’t discussed waiving his vested no-trade rights. If it comes to that, it should be an easy decision for both sides.
Center field is a premium position that, not coincidentally, most contending teams are set at. But if Jones is traded as a rental to a team that already has one, he can be moved to a corner spot in a manner that doesn’t look like a demotion the way it would here in Baltimore.
Like everyone else on the Orioles, he’s showing moments where the losing is getting to him. Teams have to look no further than the success of Team USA at last year’s World Baseball Classic and Jones’ role in that to see what adding him to a title-chasing club can do.
He might not bring the biggest haul back to the Orioles, but he’s the type of player for whom the qualifying offer might be tempting for come free agency. He’s been a consistently tough at-bat this season, and if he shows teams what he looks like as a complementary player on a hungry team as opposed to the face of a franchise whose struggles go far beyond him, it’ll only make him more attractive in free agency this winter.
4. One or two packaged trades might make for a bigger return than individual ones
The longer the Orioles wait, the more this all seems like it will evolve into them packaging some of these assets together to bring back as much value as possible. A team might only be willing to give up one premium prospect and a couple of lottery tickets for Machado, but throw in Brach and maybe one of the back-end pieces gets upgraded a bit.
Package Brach and Britton together and they’ll be able to ease each other’s transition to a new team, with the Orioles maybe getting more for a team who they’re possibly giving a total bullpen upgrade to rather than two individual trades.
This, too, is where mixing in Danny Valencia or, if anyone has seen enough to be interested, Colby Rasmus, might become plausible. On their own, only Jones and Machado might command a decent haul. Mixing in other pieces so a team can address multiple needs while only trading away one prospect package might be the way the Orioles get the best return possible.
5. They have to do something
Considering the 11th-hour reversal on trading Britton last July, and the team’s general aversion to trading its stars, there’s plenty of heft to the idea that the Orioles won’t make any of these moves. Keeping this team intact and getting draft picks for their departing free agents would be helpful to a new front office if there is one next season, since they’d have plenty of picks for a foundation-setting draft class.
That won’t exactly fly in the here-and-now, though. Part of the issue with this team is that now that the losing has set in, they look around the club and the farm system and see that there’s not much youth to hang their hat on. Big league players will take big leaguers over prospects any day, but these circumstances seem different. The Orioles players are plenty aware of the lack of direction they’re in, and as they slog toward an inevitable 100-loss season and maybe worse, standing pat would be not only a bad-faith showing to the fans, but the clubhouse as well.