This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver–Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.
1. The Orioles have been a team this season that continually finds new and innovative ways to disappoint. This past week, however, they went back to an old faithful way to disappoint.
The lack of attention that the O’s put into the international market is officially staggering. This season alone, the Birds have made a number of trades that shipped away international bonus slots, or “pool money” as it were. According to Baseball America, the O’s were among the teams with the most international pool money to spend at $5.75 million. Yet to this point, there aren’t any known international acquisitions the Orioles have made since the signing period opened up this past Sunday.
The most recent trade came down yesterday, when the O’s acquired 21-year-old Milton Ramos, a shortstop from the Mets. He’s headed to Single-A Delmarva. They’ve previously acquired relievers Jason Wheeler from the Dodgers and Matt Wotherspoon from the Yankees in the same manner. Both pitchers are in Triple-A, and neither carry much potential going forward. They also previously acquired Damien Magnifico, Paul Fry and Alex Katz by giving up international money.
It’s almost as if the Orioles want nothing to do with the international market, a method that has many questioning just what on Earth they are thinking. It’s a well-known fact that the Orioles don’t have much of a farm system. For years now, they’ve only been filling up the sink with one faucet, when there’s another perfectly good faucet that they could turn on.
I’m not saying the quality of the water in the other faucet is any better than the one they are using, but it would at least fill up the sink quicker. Baseball prospects are an incredibly fickle bunch. Some hit, and most don’t. But why aren’t the Orioles buying up as many lottery tickets as they can? Just because not all of them will be winners, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep scratching the tickets.
It’s even more puzzling when you step back and realize that the lone All-Star representative for the Orioles this season will be a player they signed on the international market in 2008, which brings us to our next topic…
2. I wrote at length earlier this week about Jonathan Schoop’s All-Star Game nod over at MASNSports.com. The only real other thing that needs to be said about Schoop is that he’s an important player to watch in the second half of the season. With all the negatives surrounding this team in 2017, ensuring that Schoop’s first half wasn’t only a first half burst is important. If he starts to slump in August or September, it could go a long way into our continuing doom as Orioles fans.
On the other hand, Schoop continuing to emerge and show himself as an All-Star caliber player even beyond this season would go a long way toward making him an Oriole long term. In a season that appears to be going down the tube quickly, that could be a decent consolation prize.
3. It was really nice seeing Zach Britton back on the major league mound last night. His season has quite obviously been a disaster thus far (just ask my fantasy team), but there’s still time for him to rescue the bullpen. Without Britton as the anchor this year, the O’s have fallen to a below average relief unit. They’re 18th in bullpen ERA this season.
Now obviously, the struggles of the bullpen can’t all be placed on Britton’s left arm. There have been struggles at times from Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Brad Brach. Not to mention the number of other pitchers who have been tasked with being on the Norfolk shuttle. But there’s no question that Britton’s absence played a role. It seemed to set off a chain reaction when he was injured, and it’s been a boat that has been off course ever since.
What’s even more important than Britton steadying the bullpen is his health. It’s crucial that he pitch the rest of the season without any elbow issues. That’s the only way he’s going to re-up his value to potential trade partners. That’s not to say the Orioles must trade him this offseason, but it would at least give them the leverage and option to do so.
If a re-build is coming, it could start with the closer.
4. The only thing (and I mean only thing) keeping every single Orioles fan from wanting the team to sell, is the fact that they are just a handful of games out of a playoff spot. In fact, the worst team in the American League is the Oakland Athletics, and they are just 7.5 games out of the Wild Card. That may seem like a lot, but in early July it means there’s still time. The AL is a muddled mess this season. Outside of the Astros, no team is absolutely killing it. Houston will coast into the postseason by winning the AL West, probably by at least ten games. Every other team is going to have to work for it.
But the truth of the matter is that because there are so many teams in it, it makes the chances of the Orioles being one of those playing in October even smaller. It’s all fine and dandy to look up and see yourself just three or four games out of that second Wild Card position, but the Orioles aren’t playing remotely close to that well. It’s going to take the Orioles rattling off something like 17 out of 23 wins in order to really make an impression that they can be a winning ballclub.
If they can’t manage to do that, there’s no chance they are separating themselves in this league right now.