Last week in this space, we talked about how one of the biggest frustrations for Orioles fans is the lack of transparency within the organization and an unwillingness–to this point–to make any changes to a ballclub that finds itself with the worst record in baseball at 23-54.
On a regular basis, the Orioles trot out failing hitters and faltering pitchers as the team descends below mediocrity into what can only be described as a laughing stock.
In the offseason, the team addressed its biggest weakness by signing Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner (or Yovanni Gallardo 2.0). Yes, the moves needed to be made and the starting rotation was the weakest link on a last place ballclub in 2017.
What we didn’t expect was for the offense to be as bad as it has been in 2018.
After a sizzling August where the Orioles averaged 6.03 runs per game, the club stumbled in September, averaging just 2.96 R/GM in the season’s final month (if you count a 6-0 loss on October 1st to end the season), a stretch that saw the team go 7-21 and fall out of playoff contention.
The thinking upon signing Cobb and Cashner was that with a now formidable rotation, the offense would have some of the pressure taken off to do what it does best: slug opponents into submission.
Unfortunately for all of Baltimore, that hasn’t happened. Through 77 games, the offense is averaging 3.68 R/GM and has been held to three runs or fewer 47 times, including two runs or fewer 31 times.
Of the Orioles’ 89 home runs (14th in the majors), a whopping 62 of them have been of the solo variety.
Basically, a team that has been known for its mashing has been mashing at a very pedestrian rate while doing so mostly with nobody on base (because once again the Orioles are dead last in MLB with a .293 OBP).
Rather than continue to lament the Orioles’ shortcomings in 2018, I think it’s high time the team figures out what to do about them. And since we have no idea who’s running the show or when whoever that may be will be making any moves, perhaps I should take it upon myself to get the ball rolling.
Now, before I save the Baltimore Orioles from another 14-year stretch of losing, I would like to reiterate for the umpteenth time that I firmly believe the best course of action is signing Manny Machado long-term and building around him.
But since nobody (myself included) thinks that’s a likely scenario, I’ll leave it out of this piece.
1. Relieve Dan Duquette of His Duties
Dan Duquette, the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Baltimore Orioles, is in the final year of his contract with the ballclub, a final year that is about three years too late.
After winning Executive of the Year in 2014, Duquette was courted by the Toronto Blue Jays to become their President of Baseball Operations. The move most certainly would have been a promotion with a higher salary, and Duquette was rumored to be extremely interested in the position despite the four years remaining on his contract with the Orioles.
Not only that, but the rumors were leaked to the public the Sunday before the Winter Meetings were set to begin; not exactly the ideal time for your de facto general manager to be taking meetings with a division rival.
Peter Angelos, a staunch and savvy lawyer and businessman, refused to let Duquette out of his contract without proper compensation, namely Jeff Hoffman, Max Pentecost, and Mitch Nay, all of whom were top prospects for Toronto at the time. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Jays balked at the idea and Duquette stayed in Baltimore.
What the Orioles should have done was either trade or fire Duquette on the spot and find an immediate replacement. That brings back the issue of the timing. The team couldn’t very well enter any Winter Meetings in such disarray, let alone the Winter Meetings following an appearance in the ALCS.
We all know what happened next. Nelson Cruz signed with Seattle, Nick Markakis signed with Atlanta, the Orioles tried to sell Baltimore on Duquette crush Travis Snider, and the team needed a five-game winning streak at season’s end to finish .500 at 81-81.
My point? The time has come for the Orioles to rid themselves of Duquette. Rumors are again swirling, this time that the Orioles have interest in Ned Colletti, who is currently serving as the senior adviser to the president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they have reportedly already interviewed him.
Colletti served as the Dodgers’ general manager from 2006-2014. In those nine seasons, the Dodgers made the playoffs five times and won 14 playoff games. For comparative purposes, the Orioles have won 16 playoff games in the last 35 seasons (assuming they don’t make the greatest run in the history of professional sports this season).
There is no telling just how serious these rumors are, and even if they are true, Colletti would likely want to be the President of Baseball Operations. Furthermore, I can’t imagine he’d agree to take a job with Brady Anderson meddling in the background. My speculation is that he’d want assurances that the club is his to run how he sees fit, and Anderson would have to take a diminished role.
Still, a move needs to be made here, whether Colletti or someone else, and it needs to be made soon. The trade deadline is just five weeks away and the Orioles need people who will be with the club beyond this season calling the shots.
Dan Duquette should not be one of those people.
2. Trade Adam Jones and Zach Britton to the Cleveland Indians
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
I have been on record as saying the Orioles need to trade Adam Jones. He, along with Zach Britton, is in the final year of his contract and a player of his caliber with his veteran leadership could yield a solid return from a contending team trying to make a playoff push. That is where Britton and the Cleveland Indians come into play.
The Indians were eight games up on the second place Minnesota Twins entering play on Monday despite a bullpen ERA of 5.21 and getting next to nothing from any outfielder not named Michael Brantley.
A package of Jones and Britton solves both of those problems. Britton would alleviate some of the pressure put on a rotation that is second in all of baseball in ERA (3.29). Jones would provide veteran leadership and protection to a top-heavy lineup. Plus, it would be nice of the Orioles to give the greatest outfielder in team history an opportunity to chase a World Series ring before he enters the twilight of his career.
In return, the Orioles should center any deal on Indians prospect Nolan Jones. The number five prospect in the organization, Jones is a big third baseman, standing 6’4” and weighing 185 pounds. Though a natural righty, Jones, 20, bats left-handed and should pack on some weight as he matures.
Drafted out of high school in the second round in 2016, Jones has a quick swing that should generate more and more power as his career progresses. In addition, Jones has a keen eye at the plate. In three professional seasons, he has amassed a career OBP of .405, including .387 this season.
Lastly, Jones would appear to be blocked within the organization. The left side of the infield is off limits as perennial MVP candidates Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are manning shortstop and third base.
If the thought is to move Jones to first, Edwin Encarnacion and his big contract are over there, and the Indians have a powerful top prospect in Bobby Bradley waiting to take over once Encarnacion is off the books.
Yes, the Indians could move Ramirez back to second to create room for Jones, but I doubt the organization chasing their first World Series victory since 1948 would nix a deal that could land them Adam Jones and Britton because of a player who is in high-A ball at the moment.
3. This One is Going to Sting
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
Trade Manny Machado to whatever team offers the absolute best package.
While trading Machado will be a gut punch to a fan base that has not seen a World Series in 35 years, it is the one move that could conceivably get a franchise that has zero chance to sign the superstar back into contention. And that gut punch of trading Machado would be nothing compared to the blow of letting him leave at season’s end for nothing more than two compensatory picks.
The most popular teams linked to Machado are, in no particular order, the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies. If the Phillies put Sixto Sanchez on the table, they will become the front runner. Otherwise, the Orioles could watch those teams get into a bidding war and then have their pick of the best offer.
At 25-years-old with his best baseball still in front of him, Machado leaving is a sickening thought to those in Baltimore. But it is a move that must be done if they have no shot of re-signing him. A deal involving Machado could hasten the rebuilding of this franchise by multiple years, which is also another reason why the Orioles need to get their front office in order.
They simply cannot afford to screw this up.
4. Extend Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Schoop
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
Like so much in life, losing is contagious. Dylan Bundy, despite a terrible three-start-stretch in May, seems to have the vaccine. Jonathan Schoop, on the other hand, does not. Still, everybody not named Bundy, Jones, or Machado is struggling in 2018. A fresh start in 2019 could cure what ails some of them, especially Schoop.
After three consecutive solid seasons from 2015-17, Schoop has regressed quite a bit in 2018. Voted the Most Valuable Oriole in 2017, Schoop looked to be establishing himself as a $20+ million annual player before the plague that is 2018 took over.
With his value dropping at the moment, the time is now for the Orioles to buy out Schoop’s final year of arbitration and lock him up long term before he re-establishes himself and prices himself out of Baltimore.
Bundy, 25, is under team control through 2021 and is what every team dreams of: a young, workhorse pitcher that gives you innings and a chance to win every fifth day.
I’ve seen a number of people on social media suggest that the Orioles trade Bundy. To me he is as close to untouchable as they come. What would they be trading him for? Younger, less established pitching with loads of potential? Why trade a young, controllable pitcher when that is what you and everybody else is desperately searching for?
The Orioles should be doing everything in their power to keep Dylan Bundy and anchor their staff, not get rid of him.
5. DFA Chris Davis, Craig Gentry, and Colby Rasmus, place Trey Mancini on the DL
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
I firmly believe that Colby Rasmus’ days are numbered in Baltimore. It just doesn’t make sense for the Orioles to keep a guy who strikes out more than he does anything else, especially when they have capable replacements at the minor league level knocking at the door.
Chris Davis, on the other hand, would be a huge financial blow. The Orioles have invested $161 million over seven seasons in Davis only to watch a steep decline year after year in every major offensive category.
The team gave Davis eight games off in a row to try to coach him back into the player he once was. Upon his return, he homered in his first game and doubled in his second while collecting five RBI. But that was it. Davis has gone 2-15 with seven strikeouts in four games since returning to the lineup despite his claims that he feels like a completely different player than the one he was prior to his benching (he’s not).
The Orioles need to swallow their pride and cut the fallen slugger. They’re paying him regardless. It truly is addition by subtraction to just eat the contract and move on. His replacement is already on the team (Mancini) and won’t cost them much more than they’re already paying.
Craig Gentry is simply a victim of a roster squeeze. No rebuilding team should employ a 34-year-old fourth outfielder. It doesn’t make any sense. Cut the man and let him see if he can catch on with a contending team that could use the depth.
Mancini was batting .284 when he bashed his knee into the wall against the Indians back in late April. Since then, he’s batting an even .200 in 52 games. It would behoove the Orioles and Mancini to give the man time to rest and regroup. If he comes back from a rehab assignment and still struggles, then it might be time to demote him.
6. Let the Dominoes Fall
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
If the Orioles make the preceding moves, then a number of corresponding moves will need to be made. If I’m Buck Showalter, Cedric Mullins and D.J. Stewart would almost assuredly make their Major League debuts, with Jaycob Brugman and Joey Rickard being recalled along with them. No Anthony Santander just yet; he still needs seasoning in the minor leagues.
Mullins becomes the everyday centerfielder with Stewart manning left and Brugman in right. Rickard becomes the fourth outfielder. In the infield, I’d move Tim Beckham back to shortstop, play Danny Valencia at third, and make Mark Trumbo my everyday first baseman until Mancini returns, at which point Trumbo goes back to DH.
The Orioles should also recall Chance Sisco and Steve Wilkerson. For Sisco, there is nothing more for him to prove offensively at the minor league level. In four games with Norfolk, he’s 6-14. I get that he has only caught three attempted base stealers since May 1st, but come on already, this team is 23-54.
As for Wilkerson, he would become the utility infielder with the rest of 2018 serving as an audition to see if he can stick with the club and possibly even earn an everyday role in 2019 and beyond.
In the bullpen, Tanner Scott should never see the shuttle again, and Jimmy Yacabonis should also be in Baltimore. To get Yacabonis in the fold, the team would likely have to DFA Mike Wright, a move one could argue should have happened weeks ago. Still, Wright has been decent lately, so a move might not be in the cards there just yet.
I don’t know how much the Orioles could get for Brad Brach at this point, so it’s conceivable that he could spend the full season in Baltimore and leave as a free agent at season’s end. He also would seem to have the highest re-signability of any free agent the Orioles have, given his struggles this season.
All-in-all, it’s time for the Orioles to make some drastic changes. Nothing they do will make them better in 2018 as this season is already lost. But the time is now to see what they have in players like Mullins, Stewart, Brugman, Wilkerson, Scott, and Yacabonis.
Fans are clamoring for any reason to watch this team at this point, and an infusion of young talent could be just what the doctor ordered.
Honestly, they couldn’t get much worse.