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O's roster dilemma presents fascinating case

Time could be right for Baltimore to trade some of its stars
April 11, 2018

It is far too early to look at Fangraphs' playoff odds, which gives you daily updated probabilities that a given team will reach the postseason. It's April 11. The season isn't even two weeks old. It's insane to look at postseason odds already. But let's look at postseason odds.You'll notice

It is far too early to look at Fangraphs' playoff odds, which gives you daily updated probabilities that a given team will reach the postseason. It's April 11. The season isn't even two weeks old. It's insane to look at postseason odds already. But let's look at postseason odds.
You'll notice a few clubs with playoff odds of less than five percent, but most of them won't surprise you. Teams like the Marlins and Royals, for example, are clearly rebuilding, putting together the building blocks for a theoretically brighter future in the same way the Cubs and Astros -- the past two World Series winners -- did a few years ago. Each of those teams would prefer to be undefeated and running away with their divisions right now. But that they are not is no reason for panic, both in the short- and long-term.
And then there are the Orioles. Baltimore is not in "stepping back to build toward a better tomorrow" mode. The O's are in the "one last charge up the hill" mode, embarking on another run at a pennant with the current roster before they likely begin a rebuild of their own. The Giants and Blue Jays are both kind of in this mode, too, but neither club is under .500. The Orioles are.
Baltimore isn't just under .500: It is already six games out of first place in the American League East (and four out of the second AL Wild Card spot). That's not all that easy to do when you have only played 12 games. After winning two out of three versus the Yankees this past weekend, the Orioles have dropped back-to-back games against the Blue Jays and are facing down the barrel of a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park where they take on the Red Sox, the hottest team in baseball. Things could get worse before they get better.
It's not as if the Orioles are just catching bad breaks in the season's first week and a half. The O's have been outscored by an average of two runs per game; only the Rangers trail that mark in the AL. Baltimore has a team ERA+ of 91 and an OPS+ of 80, far below league average (100) in both. The club's record reflects its performance.

The Orioles could not have foreseen at least a portion of their struggles. Timothy Beckham was outstanding for them last year, but he is off to a slow start; 3-for-37 is a nasty skid even for Chris Davis; Jonathan Schoop might have been their best player in 2017, but he has been wobbly early. But on the whole, this isn't far from what you might have expected from the O's heading into the season. If anything, there have been some pleasant surprises: Manny Machado is a star, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy look like legit starters, Pedro Alvarez looks like a real power bat for what was a minimal investment. And here the Orioles are, 4-8, six games out of first, with the Red Sox in serious danger of putting them in a massive hole by Patriots' Day.
And for Baltimore, in this "Thelma & Louise" "let's do it and be legends" season, it starts getting late early. Every game the Orioles fall behind further, the more urgent the calls for the inevitable moves to trade off assets become. The O's have put off a restructuring until this season, but this year is now here, and the scaffolding and foundation still need work.
After all, many baseball observers felt executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should have been shedding pieces this offseason, or even before. And Baltimore's losses are not just a matter of falling behind in the standings; every day the calendar turns, the Orioles' assets become less valuable to a contending team. Sure, the team could wait until the non-waiver Trade Deadline and see where they stand, but teams will give a lot more for five months of a player than they will two.
The Orioles have plenty to trade, too. They could have gotten a lot more for Machado had they traded him two years ago -- since few expect the slugger to re-sign with the O's when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season -- but that doesn't change the fact that he'd be the hottest trade commodity on the market if the club puts him up.
Machado moving forward after trade rumors
There isn't a team that has existed in baseball history that couldn't use Machado. Even for four or five months, you'll get something useful back for the stud shortstop. But there are other pieces. Zach Britton will be back in a month, immediately making he or Brad Brach perfect bullpen Deadline pieces. Adam Jones has a no-trade clause, but he's also one of the most respected veterans in baseball who would be perfect for a team making its own pennant chase. (Heck, remember the 2017 World Baseball Classic? He's Captain America!)

Even someone like Cashner, who is signed through next season, will have his fair share of value if he can continue to pitch well. Alvarez? Schoop, even? If the Orioles are going to jump-start their next era -- like the White Sox, Brewers and even Yankees before them -- now is the time to do it. Now is probably the last time to do it.

There was a certain logic, one supposes, to Baltimore giving this one last try in 2018. It's the final year of Machado's contract, and Jones', and Britton's, and even Buck Showalter's. Those four men, more than anyone else, have represented the success the Orioles have had over the past decade, which includes playoff appearances in '12, '14 and '16. O's fans love them, and you can sort of understand letting them have their last ride.
But it's not like the Royals of last year, who let all their pending free agents have one final season that was in part a way of honoring their World Series title team. The Orioles never reached the mountaintop; you're not breaking up a championship core. The O's have put off the rebuilding long enough. We're only 12 games in, so it might seem too early for Baltimore to start the transition. However, if things don't turn around soon, it might be too late.

Will Leitch is a columnist for