15 December 2017

A Quick Rebuild

It appears as though the Orioles are admitting what many have suspected for several years: Manny Machado will not be an Oriole long term. Indeed, the chatter during the Winter Meetings has begun to make it clear that, rather than sticking with their original plan to run it back for one more year in 2018, the team is considering a rebuild, with trade rumors concerning Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach dominating the offseason headlines.

This is, sadly, the correct choice. Even with Machado, it seems unlikely that the Orioles were going to be legitimate contenders in 2018, and Machado could still command a good haul in prospects even as a rental. If Machado goes, there's not much reason to keep around guys like Britton, either, and as a result the Orioles could improve their farm system fairly dramatically in the course of one off season.

Total rebuilds are very much in fashion in MLB these days. Both the Cubs and Astros went through multiple miserable seasons before their young cores coalesced and won championships, and teams like the Yankees, Twins, and Padres are looking to follow in those footsteps. It seems logical, given the budgetary constraints under which the Orioles operate as well as the team's declining performance, that the Orioles would go this same route. Of course, Peter Angelos has long been opposed to a complete teardown, and before this week there was little indication that Dan Duquette would execute one.

Now, though, that calculus seems to have changed, but in a pretty interesting way. At the same time they are discussing trading one of the top 10 players in franchise history, there are also rumors that the Orioles are pursuing Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy. This would, certainly, be an odd move to make under the circumstances, as you generally don't trade for a veteran starting pitcher in the middle of a rebuild. 

Of course, maybe they don't HAVE to tear it all down. In fact, an interesting path would be to punt on 2018 while gearing up for a big run in 2019 and beyond. Let's assume that Machado, Brach, and Britton are all dealt, and they bring back at least 1-2 MLB ready players along with higher upside prospects that aren't likely to be immediate contributors. The Orioles would certainly prefer that one of those players is a starting pitcher and if they somehow acquire Duffy, the 2018 rotation looks already a good deal better than 2017, with all the major components under team control until at least 2020.

You may have heard, but the 2018 free agent class is potentially the greatest ever, and even if the Orioles aren't competing for guys like Machado, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw, there are plenty of good to great players left over. If the team has a solid rotation in place and prospects like Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Ryan Mountcastle are ready to make a big impact, there's a real case to be made that adding a second tier, but still big name, player like Josh Donaldson or Charlie Blackmon and pairing him up with a Gio Gonzalez/Garett Richards/Patrick Corbin type could push the team into immediate contention. These players would obviously be very costly, but with over $30 million coming off the books in the form of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley, the Orioles could save up and make a big splash next winter.

This would be somewhat predicated on the Orioles signing Jonathan Schoop to an extension, hopefully moving Mark Trumbo's contract, and determining what to do with Adam Jones, but given the improving farm system and the jolt it would receive by trading Machado et al., as well as much lower payroll commitments, this seems like a viable path. It will certainly be hard to watch Machado playing anywhere but Oriole Park, and there's no guarantee that the young players will progress enough to make this plan viable, but it certainly beats the alternative of Machado and Britton leaving in free agency and receiving only comp picks in return. Rebuilds are always painful, but maybe this pain wouldn't have to last more than one year.

The Orioles Can't Lose Machado And Contend

The Orioles have developed two potential hall of fame players, Mike Mussina and Manny Machado, over the past twenty years. Mike Mussina was the Orioles ace during their last playoff run in 1996-1997, and received over 50% of total votes for the hall of fame in last year’s voting. Manny Machado has been a star for the Orioles since 2012 and is just about ready to reach his prime years as a player.

Let me make something clear. For the analysis below, I’m looking only at production from 1997-2017. This means that I’m only looking at Cal Ripken’s production from 1997-2001, when he was 36, and not over his entire career. I’m not saying that Machado was the Orioles’ best player since 1997, but rather that from 2012-2017, he was more productive than Cal (or anyone else) from 1997-2001.

Machado has only been an Oriole for five and a half years, but he’s been one of the Orioles best players when measuring production over the past 21 seasons.  According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth 26 fWAR as an Oriole, and only trails Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Melvin Mora in fWAR by an Oriole position player as an Oriole. Machado is just 3 fWAR off the lead (although Jones is only .1 fWAR off the lead, and will likely be the leader by the end of 2018 if not traded), but has roughly 58% of the plate appearances that the other three players have.

In other words, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue that Machado is on pace to be nearly twice as productive (when you consider that Machado can still get even better as he hits his prime) as the Orioles’ best position players over the past twenty years. The only Oriole over the past twenty years that has been as good as Machado according to Fangraphs has been Mike Mussina, who was worth 46.7 fWAR over nine and a half seasons. When he was 32, he left the Orioles in free agency to join the Yankees, and the Orioles didn’t make it back to the playoffs for a long time.

The Orioles have had many players that they’ve hoped would turn into elite talents. Remember hearing about Matt Wieters being “Mauer with Power” when he was a prospect? Wieters was a star player for a few years, but wasn’t the franchise changing player that people thought he might become. People were dreaming about Nick Markakis after his strong 2007 and 2008 seasons, but he was unable to remain elite and now should be seen as nothing more than a good but not great player.

The Orioles have developed a number of starting pitcher prospects who were legitimately hoped to become aces. Some have been successful starters for a time, like Gausman, Bundy and Tillman, but the one that truly became a top of the rotation pitcher was only successful as a Cub. The Orioles have been waiting a long time for an elite player like Machado.

The Orioles haven’t had as talented as a player as Machado since Mussina, and he’s still only 25 (turns 26 in July). In theory, if the Orioles were able to extend him, he could be the best player on the Orioles for the next ten years. A player like this doesn’t come around often in free agency and especially not when he’s just 26. So, of course, we’ve discovered this week that the Orioles don’t think that they’re able to extend Machado and are therefore looking to trade him.

It’s even more frustrating since the Orioles show they understand that free agency isn’t where they’re going to find excellent talent. Dan Duquette has noted that signing pitchers to four-year deals hasn’t worked out for the Orioles and doesn’t really work out for other teams either. The Orioles understand that trying to build their team with free agents is simply going to be expensive and disappointing. The problem is that if teams are not going to build their team with top free agents, then they need to use cash to extend their own talent. If the Orioles think they can’t win with Machado taking up a quarter or even a third of their payroll, then they’ll soon discover how difficult it is to win with Brian Roberts Jonathan Schoop as their best player.

Now look, if the Orioles can’t extend Manny then it makes sense to trade him instead of letting him leave for just a draft pick. The Orioles can’t force him to sign an extension if he wants to go elsewhere. So, if the Orioles want to put themselves in a position to receive draft picks in the top five each year for the next decade so they can find the next Machado, then they might as well start adding young talent now. But it might be awhile before they find a player as good as Mussina Machado that can lead them back to the playoffs.

If the Orioles trade Manny, then they need to do a complete rebuild. I have my issues with Fangraphs’ projected standings for 2018, but they have the Orioles as a 76 win team even with Machado. This does make sense as the Orioles currently only have two starting pitchers (but of course Jason Vargas is going to save the day) and neither of them are top of the rotation starters. The Orioles would still have a good second baseman in Schoop, but what else exactly? A decent but not great hitter in center field who is past his prime? A few potential bounce back sluggers who showed significant signs of decline last year?

The Os potentially have a strong bullpen, but Britton is a big question mark. And Givens struggles against lefties when he doesn’t allow a .212 BABIP against them. This team probably isn’t competing in 2018 unless everything goes right. After 2018, Britton, Brach and Jones become free agents. Does it make sense for the Orioles to spend big money to keep any of these players?

Furthermore, the Orioles only have Schoop under control for two more years and people question how long he’ll be able to stay at second. Is he a long-term building block if he has to be moved to right field or first base? Jones is at the point in his career where he’s too slow to play center field. His bat still is decent at a corner position, but realistically his days as a star are coming to an end. His leadership has some value, and he’s certainly important to Baltimore. How much does it make sense to pay for sentiment?

Gausman and Bundy are fine middle of the rotation starters. At their current salaries, they’re good bargains. But they’re going to be getting expensive. How likely is it that the Orioles will pay full price to keep them? Are these pitchers you want to build around? Britton is a potential elite reliever, but he’s also expensive and has health concerns. Who exactly is management going to decide to build around? Chris Davis? Caleb Joseph? I’m running out of names here.

Teams like the Orioles need to keep their young, talented players because they can’t just add new ones in free agency. Added to this is the fact that they just don’t have enough talent to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees if they lose Machado. If they’re unable to extend Machado, it’s time to go for a complete rebuild.

14 December 2017

The 29 Trades of Manny Machado (NL East edition)

Yesterday, the news appeared to break that the Orioles will now listen intently on what other teams are willing to offer him. The post will simply look at Machado's value and see how every other club would match up without really considering whether or not they want or could afford Manny. Machado is currently projected as a 6.9 WAR player, which is roughly worth about 56 MM in value. This is an underpriced value because a premium would be placed on a player that can give this level of performance while only occupying one slot in the lineup. That extra value probably ups his true Market price to around 70-75 MM.

However, Manny has to be paid and that cuts down the value of that 70 MM valuation. He is expected to earn 17 MM in arbitration, so that cuts his value down to 53-58 MM. It has been reported that the Orioles are asking for two starting caliber players, so that will be a major limitation on any deal. Anyway, here we go with this issue in which we focus on the NL East:

Philadelphia Phillies
J.P. Crawford, SS
Scott Kingery, 2B
Drew Anderson, RHSP
The Phillies have curiously been a name frequently connected to Machado. The club is populated with Orioles refugees, so they are well aware of the older parts of the system. However, they do not exactly seem ready to take on teams like the Nationals. Regardless, they could offer a few pieces. J.P. Crawford could step in now as a shortstop and Scott Kingery would be a potentially capable second baseman. Anderson is a viable pitcher who could be thrown into the fifth slot competition.

New York Mets
Ahmed Rosario, SS
Chris Flexen, RHSP
The Mets are not a great fit. Rosario would be an obvious choice, but then things fall apart from there. Perhaps they would seek out Chris Flexen and press him into a starter's role. Not sure what else would really make much sense. Maybe Brandon Nimmo if Mark Trumbo departs somewhere.

Miami Marlins
This one really seems like a waste of everyone's time.

Washington Nationals
Joe Ross, RHSP
A.J. Cole, RHSP
Carter Kieboom, SS
The Nats, after dealing out prospects left and right, no longer have many mid tier near MLB ready talents in their system anymore. For the Orioles to reach their two starters request, they would have to sink their teeth into the highly questionable pair of Ross and Cole who have delighted and tormented Washington fans. Some value would be left over, I think, where a fringe top 100 talent like low level SS Carter Kieboom would fit nicely in the Orioles' system, but be several years away.

Atlanta Braves
Kolby Allard, LHSP
Mike Soroka, RHSP
This would be a rough pair for Atlanta to give up. Perhaps add in Nick Markakis and maybe that primes the pump a bit. Allard and Soroka at potential top 50 arms and have done well in the upper minors. Neither of them are definitive mid-rotation mainstays, but they could be. The Orioles would likely be happy to have them both in the fold.

Suitors Are Lining Up To Trade For Manny Machado

The Orioles may have waited too long to put Manny Machado on the trade block, but several teams are jumping at the chance to acquire him now. According to Bob Nightengale, the O's have received more than a dozen offers and could be nearing a deal soon:
As reported from the start, the Cardinals remain interested in Machado and have apparently made a "strong offer" for him. While the Yankees, Phillies, and now Giants are among the interested teams, the White Sox, surprisingly, appear to have made the best offer.

As we've previously discussed, if the O's are not interested or are unable to re-sign Machado -- and that appears to be the case, since they incredulously haven't had serious extension talks for years -- then they must deal him now for the best possible return. Letting Machado walk via free agency and getting only the draft pick compensation would be a failure of epic proportions.

If or when Machado is dealt, as painful as it would be, others need to follow him out the door. That means entertaining offers for Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Adam Jones, Mychal Givens, and others. And yes, that even means Jonathan Schoop. With two years left on his contract and him coming off a career year, Schoop has a lot of value. The O's shouldn't make the same mistake they made with Machado; Schoop should be moved for the best group of players. Don't be surprised when more players aren't moved, though, with more mind-numbing logic like this.

None of this would be easy, of course. Watching a winning ballclub is fun! Losing all of the above players would lead to a not very good team in a strong division. But it's the best course of action for a team with an uncertain future and several important impending free agents (including both Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter).

One final run at least sounded interesting when it was assumed the O's would take upgrading their starting rotation seriously. Unfortunately, that is not the case, with ownership again souring on three- or four-year deals after the failed Ubaldo Jimenez experiment (or simply just using that as a convenient excuse). The upper tier starters are always off limits, but now so is the tier below them (Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and the already signed Tyler Chatwood).

Duquette may not like the word rebuild. Peter Angelos clearly doesn't like to rebuild, either. Well, that's too bad. The O's inaction put them in this position, and the only way to get themselves out of another looming stretch of futility is to put their trade pieces together and get the strongest return. Add as many intriguing players as possible and hope a few of them pan out. The O's should have already considered this and been proactive, but it's better late than never.

13 December 2017

How to Compete without Manny Machado (or not)

This time was to come. We all knew it would happen, eventually.  Good things always end and end more quickly for some.  Manny Machado was going to leave at some point, sooner or later.  Apparently, much sooner than later. 

Last year's increase in payroll led to dreams of a 160-180 MM roster.  The idea that a top ten payroll was indeed sustainable even though the Orioles market area is 25th out of 30 in all of baseball.  That the Baltimore area has not felt that rejuvenating economic jolt that other places have experienced.  That the club's owner demands the club pay for itself after his free wheeling mid-90s spending sprees.  That viewership and attendance has not performed as well as one would hope for a club like that Orioles who largely depend on revenue from those sources.  Perhaps, it was all a grand delusion.

So Manny is leaving, soon or sooner.

Using FanGraphs estimates, the Orioles are roughly an 81 win team (assuming a neutral division, which we know is an optimistic assumption).  Counting deferred pay and buy outs, the Orioles appear to be sitting with a payroll of around 115 MM with perhaps 15 MM in room to spend, so a 130 MM payroll limit.

Losing Manny and replacing him with a replacement level player would be a loss of 5 wins and payroll sinking to 98 MM.  If we assume that the Orioles strike gold and deal him for two cost-controlled 1.5 WAR pitchers, then the team will sit at a 99 MM payroll and 79 wins.

The club could fill in third base with Todd Frazier at around 12 MM a year and push the win total back to 81 wins.  Add in Jaime Garcia, knocking out some inferior pitching, for 12 MM to be at 83 wins.  Slide in Jarrod Dyson as a left handed outfielder in place of Joey Rickard and see the club sit at 84 wins and a payroll of around 128 MM.

Maybe you get adventurous and slip into a fever dream, finding a salary dump location for Mark Trumbo.  Trey Mancini moves into the designated hitter role.  Adam Jones sucks it up and moves to left field.  The club signs Lorenzo Cain for 15 MM a year.  That pushes the win total up to 86 wins.

86 wins.  That is where you can whisper playoff aspirations if everything hits right.  Oh, wait, maybe Buck is still worth about three wins a year.  So, 89 wins.  I am light-headed.

Maybe it all works out.

12 December 2017

The 29 Trades of Manny Machado (AL East edition)

Yesterday, the news appeared to break that the Orioles will now listen intently on what other teams are willing to offer him.  The post will simply look at Machado's value and see how every other club would match up without really considering whether or not they want or could afford Manny.  Machado is currently projected as a 6.9 WAR player, which is roughly worth about 56 MM in value.  This is an underpriced value because a premium would be placed on a player that can give this level of performance while only occupying one slot in the lineup.  That extra value probably ups his true Market price to around 70-75 MM.

However, Manny has to be paid and that cuts down the value of that 70 MM valuation.  He is expected to earn 17 MM in arbitration, so that cuts his value down to 53-58 MM.  It has been reported that the Orioles are asking for two starting caliber players, so that will be a major limitation on any deal.  Anyway, here we go with this issue in which we focus on the AL East:

Boston Red Sox
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHSP
Michael Chavis, 3B
The Red Sox have this left handed starting pitcher by the name of Eduardo Rodriguez.  He has had some health and performance issues in Boston with the club somewhat souring on him (the Orioles soured on him too before sending him there).  He would provide more stability to the rotation for four more years.  Michael Chavis is a solid bottom 100 prospect who can play either third base or second base depending on the Orioles needs.

New York Yankees
Chance Adams, RHSP
Miguel Andujar, 3B
Some of the chatter in National media like to say Gleyber Torres is the best player to target, but he is too good.  He is a top ten guy.  In order to get two starters, there needs to be lower level targets.  Chance Adams is a pitchability guys with a solid breaking ball.  He dominated AAA last year and would be an easy fit into the Orioles' rotation.  Andujar has a gun at third and an offensive skillset where you could hope something develops.  He held his own last year in AAA and could break open with an MLB club.

Tampa Bay Rays
Brent Honeywell, RHSP
Jake Bauers, RF
Don't ask me why the Rays would ever want him.  If they did, then going after one of the better starters in baseball prospect circles would be a good idea.  Honeywell will be pushing for the rotation with the Rays this upcoming year and would almost assuredly get a place with the Orioles.  Jake Bauers has some impressive tools that play well in right field.  Right field is not exactly a place of need, but could be worked out if Hays shifted to left and Mancini could DH.

Toronto Blue Jays
Anthony Alford, CF
Logan Warmoth, SS
Well, the two starters idea fell apart with this club.  Alford is an obvious get, but nothing much sticks out beyond him.  He would be a great heir apparent to Adam Jones.  Beyond that, the Jays system is thinned out in comparison to what they had in the past and is pretty much concentrated in low minors positional talent.

Trade the Pen: Rusty Trucks Do Not Need Shiny Rims

Let us get one thing quickly out of the way: the Orioles have a few interesting bullpen arms, but they no longer have an elite bullpen.  That good, but not great, pen backs up a starting rotation that currently is filled with craters, whispers, and tissue paper.  The club has announced they are looking for starting pitcher, two to be exact with one being left handed, and could not secure either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Fiers.  Yes, if we take things at face value, Mike Fiers was expected to be half of the starting rotation overhaul.  And, yes, it appears the solution to the fifth slot is internal. Somehow.

And that leads us to this: trade potentially extra weight in the bullpen for starting pitching elsewhere.  That really just boils down to once and potentially still great Zach Britton and once and still potentially very good Brad Brach.  Both can slide into a closer role or a set up job.  Darren O'Day last year effectively pitched to his contract after being a bit subpar in 2016.  With two years and 18 MM coming to him, it seems unlikely that he could bring back much.  Mychal Givens is someone who would be highly desirable to other clubs, but the Orioles still are trying to compete somewhat and that means to me that he remains and takes over the closer position.  Then again, Buck and Duquette are in their final contract years, so maybe they go for broke choosing Britton over Givens.  In this post though, we will assume that the Orioles are acting somewhat rational.

The suitors for Britton and Brach would be as follows.  The Cubs, Dodgers, and Rockies are known to have pinged the Orioles about Zach Britton.  The Mets are known to have inquired on Brad Brach.  The Cardinals are actively looking for late inning help.  The Diamondbacks and Astros are also looking for suitable pairings in their respective pens.  I think we can safely ignore the Nationals as a trading partner even though they are still looking for relief help.  So, who can the Orioles pry from each club?

The Britton Market
Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are said to be looking for another starting pitcher, which would make one think they would not have a player available in a trade.  Though it may also suggest that the club is willing to deal out someone like Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery.  Both have shown promise at times and both are likely strong components of a 2018 bullpen that provide backup options in case they have trouble with a member of their starting rotation.  That said, adding Zach Britton may be a cause worth going after.  The team is often thought to be made of money, but often try to be rather prudent at times.  Britton's salary, along with his uneven 2017, might give some pause.  Brad Brach might be of interest, but the club would likely have to tack something on.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles has eight starting pitchers and a few in their pen capable of starting.  The obvious arms to be dangled would be Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and even Julio Urias who is not held as tightly as he was before the season.  The Dodgers were one of the finalist last summer for Britton before the Orioles ghosted them and they turned their sites on Yu Darvish.  They still have a need for relief arm and have comparable salary ballast to exchange.  Pitchers like Kazmir and McCarthy have injury and physical concerns, so the Orioles might focus on Urias but then settle for Ryu.  Maeda would be a pie in the sky option who has pitched well despite having some potential shoulder concerns when he initially signed.

Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have called to check in with the Orioles and have been aggressively contacting closer arms in the market.  The two arms the Orioles would likely target are Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman, the pitcher who the Orioles tried to get from the Blue Jays when the Jays wanted Dan Duquette.  Of those two, the rumblings are that the Rockies have considerable doubts about Hoffman, so that could present him as a potential get.  The Rockies have the payroll space to acquire Britton's 12 MM salary, but would probably want the Orioles to buy down on it or to include someone else in the mix like Hunter Harvey or Tanner Scoot but more likely Cody Sedlock or Keegan Akin.

The Brach Market
New York Mets
The Mets seem to always be calling the Orioles about Brad Brach.  The really like him, but do not exactly love him.  So, the market is there, but the market may be somewhat limited in interest.  The Orioles, at this point, are also known to be inquiring on Matt Harvey.  Harvey, the once insanely promising starting pitcher, has fallen in the Mets doghouse on several occasions for reasons often not related to how dreadful he has been the past couple years.  The Mets value him, but seem to prefer to be in someone else's clubhouse while also getting something of similar value without the headaches.  A Brach for Harvey deal straight up seems to be a decent match between the two, but I imagine that the Mets also really like Givens and would try to pry him from the team.

St. Louis Cardinals
The front office seems to think that Oh's troubles last year spelled post season issues for the club, so they have been active in the closer market.  Looking at their starting pitching situation, they are not really filled with options.  The only one I see that could fit is the 23 year old Jack Flaherty, but I think that is a stretch.  He is a hard throwing righthander who has glided through the minors.  His ceiling is limited, but that is a good sixth or seventh option to have.  I figured you would need to see a Brach plus a prospect trade to pry him from the Cardinals and they would have to really want Brach, which is something I have not heard at all.

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are also looking to create an intimidating bullpen and have some cost concerns, so a pitcher like Brach fits right into their wheelhouse.  That said, there are not any easy matches here for the Orioles needs.  One interesting name would be Shelby Miller.  He had Tommy John surgery last May, but has experienced an accelerated rehabilitation and is already throwing well off flat ground.  It might be difficult for him to make opening day, but he may be an option for May.  Miller will make about the same as Brach in arbitration this year and has one more team controlled year for 2019.  This might make a lot of sense.

Houston Astros
Last summer, after a great deal of hemming and hawing over whether Zach Britton was really worth his deal, the Astros were in on him and were waiting for the deal to be finalized.  But, it was not.  In the aftermath, the portion of the front office that was against the move felt pretty vindicated yet they still recognize that the pen was a weakness that needs to be addressed.  Without copious amounts of money at their disposal, Brad Brach may look like a good match for them.  A piece supposedly in the deal was Francis Martes, who is a decent prospect who lost a bit of luster last season.  I could see a potential one for one deal on this or the Orioles would have to hand over an additional low minors lottery ticket.

What Happens?
I have no idea.  However, I think you could see a number of ways the Orioles could deplete their bullpen while securing starting pitching.  Doing so would likely decrease their payroll by an additional 10 MM or so, perhaps opening up space to sign one more starting pitcher or to find a few veteran arms in the pen.

Rolling the dice, let us say the Orioles were able to deal Zach Britton and maybe some international bonus pool money to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Julio Urias.  People will be shocked that Urias, who was recently a highly touted pitching prospect, would be gotten for only one year of Zach Britton.  However, the Dodgers figured Urias was not a major piece moving forward and that Britton would bring them closer to the World Series.  The Orioles then press their luck with Urias and hopes he is more than the frustrating late inning relievers some scouts are beginning to think he is.  He also ticks the box for a left hander.  On the Brach market, the Orioles trade contract for contract and acquire Matt Harvey from the Mets for a one year rental.  They see a lot to like, such as the low cost for a potentially useful starter, and figure he is worth the performance and injury concern for just one year.

Now, the club has a bullpen problem having dealt out two of their four best relievers.  However, they have an additional 12 MM from dealing Britton and a lot more from not having to sign a free agent starter.  What do they do?  To replace Brach, they sign Brandon Kinstler to a three year, 21 MM deal.  To replace Britton, they sign Tony Watson for two years and 15 MM.  At that point, they probably have enough money to sign someone like Andrew Cashner or Jaime Garcia.

OK, Duquette.  Do that.  Convert your potentially elite bullpen into a potentially decent starting rotation with some dependable arms.

11 December 2017

Pick One, Orioles: Trade Manny Machado Now Or Pay For Pitching

Last January, Jon did an excellent job of framing the Orioles' dilemma with Manny Machado and laying out the difficulties and possibilities. Of course, we know the O's have held on to Machado and now have him under control for just one more season, and that they're unlikely to sign him to an extension.

The Orioles have gotten off to a slow start this offseason to address their needs, and there's nothing surprising about that. Under Dan Duquette, the O's typically wait out the market while they search for potential bargains and players they feel have slipped through the cracks. Sometimes it works, and it seems to fit how O's ownership operates.

There are a few differences between the team's situation now and previous years, though. The O's clear weakness is starting pitching, and they currently only have two starting pitchers they can rely on for 2018: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. There's nothing new about this deficiency, and there was no question that the Orioles absolutely, positively had to address this to have any chance to compete for a playoff spot in the upcoming season.

There's also the matter of the team's impending free agents. It's not just Machado, whose probable departure would be stressful enough on its own. There's also Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach who could be on the way out of Baltimore. Again, none of this is a new development. Duquette talked a couple months ago about the team's need to reload, not retool. Considering the weight of the roster decisions, then, you'd figure that would lead to some sense of urgency. It hasn't.

It's almost mid-December, and the O's haven't done anything to address the rotation. Tyler Chatwood seemed like a sensible target, and he signed with the Cubs on Thursday for three years and $38 million. The Cubs, apparently on a mission to destroy O's fans' dreams, also have strong interest in Alex Cobb to complete their rotation. There are other free agent pitchers out there who the Orioles could pursue -- Lance Lynn, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Vargas, Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner, CC Sabathia, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, and others -- but Cobb and Chatwood are two of the better choices after the top two options in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, who the O's will avoid because they're going to command lots of money and plenty of years.

You're already hearing some of the same, old things from years past: that the O's "had interest" when someone signs with another team (Chatwood, Mike Fiers), and now that improving the rotation is going to be a challenge. This is the problem when the O's version of going "all in" is more or less the same way they operate in a typical offseason. How can you reload if you're going to sit out while the best starters go elsewhere? The O's don't just need to add a fifth starter or some maybe underappreciated, low-tier pitching option. They need multiple accomplished starters.

If the Orioles are not going to do everything possible to upgrade the starting rotation, including outbidding other teams for desired players, then why hold on to Machado, Britton, and others and pretend like they have any real chance to compete? The Yankees just added the reigning NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton. The O's won't even pay for three or four years of Tyler Chatwood. Considering the full picture, why would anyone think this is going to end well?

The Orioles are not going to pay what it takes to keep Machado. It would be painful, but if they trade him right now, at the very least the O's could get a few valuable prospects in return. Machado is currently healthy and will be in demand for some team. The same goes for Britton, Jones, and Brach, just to a lesser extent. Don't want to trade Britton and hope that he re-establishes his trade value enough to deal at the trade deadline? Sure, whatever. The others have value, but Machado is the big piece.

One problem with this whole thing is the O's can't be trusted to rebuild in any meaningful way. A fire sale is not the organization's style under Peter Angelos. But besides that, they're not going to reverse course and start spending in the international market. They're not going to tear everything down in an effort to correct whatever has been wrong with their pitcher prospect development for years. And they're not going to get the most out of whatever promising pitchers are currently in the lower levels of their system. In that sense, maybe you can see why the O's would be stubborn and just roll the dice one more time. But how in the world can you expect to tangle with the rest of the AL East and come out on top when you're not going to give Bundy and Gausman some major help?

Scared of signing the next Ubaldo Jimenez? Not going to pay what real starter upgrades cost? Planning to count on Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa, or Mike Wright to be meaningful rotation contributors? Trade Machado and co. right now and jump-start a possible rebuild. The Orioles had a wonderful run under Buck Showalter and Duquette, and it was a lot of fun. But those two might not even be in Baltimore after next season. It's time to stop punting and make some real decisions.

10 December 2017

Sunday Comics: Thank You, Mr. Halladay

After a lengthy hiatus for graduate school and weird library work hours, I'm finally back with art! I've missed everyone here and it's nice to be back working on baseball cartoons again.

Kevin Gausman's tweet about his uniform number change definitely made me emotional, so this week's drawing was to be expected.

07 December 2017

Baseball America's Orioles Prospects Top Ten

In years past, I would present my own top ten as well as composite top tens.  I do not really do that anymore.  I am a novice evaluator at games, but a pretty decent source aggregator.  It helps develop my view, but I think I should more tip my hat to those who are investing far more energy than I am into these lists.  One of the first things to remember with any list is that the ranking numbers do not represent equidistant distances in value between the players.  The space between a number 1 ranking and a number 2 could be narrower than 3 and 4.  It may well be that someone ranked 7th could easily be ranked 15th.  Things get jumbled, so try not to be so narrow in your focus.

The List

Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun is the messenger of news this year and it has been pretty refreshing.  He shows a great deal of inquisitiveness and really tries to nail down what we know or what we do not know.  Enjoy him.  I imagine he is going on to better things, so read it.

Major points:
  • Austin Hays has emerged as the best Orioles prospect.  It is good to remember that does nothing particularly well, so he snuck up on a lot of evaluators.  In general, average tooled players tend not to be able to keep all of their tools at level as they move forward.  Scouts like to see a loud carrying tool to serve as a bearer for the rest of the player.  That does not describe Hays.  That probably still follows him with his top 100 ranking which will be released next year.
  • Mountcastle also leapt over Sisco.  I have been a long pessimistic voice on Sisco.  His defense still aspires to be adequate behind the plate.  He has improved in framing and blocking, but his arm still looks simply passable.  If he gets pushed out from behind the plate, the suggestion is that he is stuck to left field.  My read on him is probably more pessimistic on his catching and more optimistic that he could play second or third where the bat would not need to carry him as much. Mountcastle though looks like a strong bat first player who should be able to hit enough to play any position.  I think finally people have stopped repeating the company line of him being a shortstop since the company finally moved on with what everyone with any knowledge of him had already concluded.
  • I think the top ten works in a couple ways.  Now, it is important to note that scouts' opinions can vary widely.  For the most part, you have a top tier of Hays, Mountcastle, and Sisco.  Harvey, for some, dips into that group. Scott, for some, does as well.  The next group are guys with lower ceilings or are a little bit further away with Harvey, Scott, and Hall.  All of these guys have some measure of high ceiling, but have distance ahead of them.  After that you have a list that probably jumbles back to 15 with names like Keegan Akin or DJ Stewart not present on the top ten, but likely there in the next five.
  • The club's minor league situation looks light years better than it was a few years ago.  The club has several good position player prospects and really a legion of interesting arms below that.  One of the deficiencies is that the pitching largely is located in the low minors, but it certainly seems more robust than it has been for the past decade or so.  It may have taken five or so years, but Duquette's group has really stabilized the minors to some extent.  That said, being handicapped in the Latin American market really hurts, but so far they have adapted well.  It is an impressive change of events to what things looked like in 2015 or 2016.