Orioles fans let out a collective groan when Dan Duquette said the team would have to be creative in trying to meet the challenge of finding much-needed starting pitchers to bolster the team for the 2018 season.
That groan grew to some wailing when Duquette came forth with the announcement last week that an avenue to acquire that pitching could be trading fan favorite Manny Machado.
Trade Machado? While it’s an unspeakable outrage to some, it’s a practical and reasonable plan to others. In fact, many baseball people would consider it a no-brainer.
Practical is not always popular, in fact it can be downright painful. There’s a saying in Major League Baseball: spending money doesn’t guarantee that a team will win, but winning guarantees a team will have to spend to keep the players who made them successful.
The Orioles had a good five-year run from 2012 to 2016 that included three playoff appearances, and the cost of that success is seen in the contracts that were paid out to J.J. Hardy (now gone), Chris Davis (now problematic), Darren O’Day (rough 2017) and Mark Trumbo (ouch), in addition to the escalated arbitration payouts to several young stars over the past few years, Machado among them.
The O’s had the 10th highest payroll in MLB in 2017, so the complaint that they don’t spend money doesn’t ring true. Machado will command a contract in the neighborhood of $300 million dollars when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. I say “when” he becomes a free agent because Duquette admits there’s been no attempt for the past two years to negotiate a contract extension for Machado and it’s unlikely the O’s would be willing or able to meet Machado’s price. So that leaves few alternatives.
One is to keep him for the final year of his contract and let Baltimore enjoy a Machado farewell season that’s destined to be a rough year given the lack of pitching and the rising dominance of division foes New York and Boston. Another option is to seek a significant trade for Machado that could bring young, talented pitchers to Baltimore in return- thereby getting a jump at filling a long-time need and beginning the process of building a team post-Machado. Of those two options, both are actually quite painful but only the second one is practical and includes a plan. But- as we all know- that plan works only if the players gained in exchange prove to be standout Major League pitchers who help the Orioles win (at some point).
Orioles fans have been fearing the day since 19 year old Manny Machado made his debut in August 2012. Many whispered even then: he’s ours for awhile until he becomes a Yankee. Duquette hasn’t ruled out trading Machado to New York or Boston, he just wants the best return. Practical yet painful, and even more painful if his home ballpark is Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in 2018.