LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For all the rumors floating around the Swan and Dolphin concerning the Orioles this week, there’s one question that has risen above all else.
It even goes beyond, “Will the Orioles trade third baseman Manny Machado?”
What everyone here wants to know is this:
“Will the Orioles deal their 25-year-old superstar to the rival Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees?
I’ve heard talk that the Yankees’ brass thinks the Orioles would send Machado to New York in the right deal. I’ve heard talk that Boston’s brass believes Machado ends up with the Yankees, so they’d like to do something to counter that.
I’ve heard lots of things.
On Wednesday evening, we went directly to the man that should know best, executive vice president Dan Duquette, and asked him the question during his daily media briefing.
“We’ve made trades with the Yankees. We’ve made trades with the Red Sox. I just think it’s in the club’s interest to see what the market is and canvass the entire market and see what the opportunities are and what the options are,” Duquette said. “So, we’ve made a few trades with both of those clubs recently.”
That is true.
In 2014, the Orioles sent pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston for stud reliever Andrew Miller.
In 2017, the Orioles acquired reliever Richard Bleier from the Yankees for future considerations. There have been other small deals involving those teams during Duquette’s tenure.
But this wouldn’t be a small deal. It would be shipping away your franchise player to your rival – and then facing him 19 times in 2018.
“Well, right now, we control that,” Duquette said. “A year from now, we’re not going to be controlling that.”
That’s a tremendous point. The Orioles can make sure Machado doesn’t play for the Yankees and Red Sox in 2018. But then all bets are off.
He could end up at one of those places for the next decade without the Orioles being able to do anything about it. In fact, it would almost be surprising if Machado isn’t in Yankee pinstripes in 2019.
So, by not dealing with the Yankees and Red Sox now, the Orioles might simply be delaying the inevitable. And, potentially, settling for a lesser package of players in return.
That might be OK if those teams didn’t have the balm that could fix the Orioles: Young, MLB-ready starting pitching and athletic outfielders/third basemen.
The Yankees, in particular, could jumpstart the Orioles’ rebuilding effort in one flourish.
They have two, high-ceiling starters, 23-year-old right-hander Chance Adams, and 21-year-old lefty Justus Sheffield, who could both be in the majors at some point in 2018.
Duquette made a point of saying Wednesday that the No. 1 target in any deal involving a star like Machado would be big-league-ready arms.
“We’d like to try to staff our club to be as strong as it can be this year and (acquiring starting pitching) would be our first choice,” Duquette said. “Whether we can do that or not, that’s another story. But that would be our first choice.”
The Yankees deep system goes beyond the mound. They also have dynamic infielder Gleyber Torres, who turned 21 on Wednesday and is among baseball’s top prospects, as well as intriguing, 23-year-old outfielder Clint Frazier – to name a few.
You’d have to think the Orioles could get a package with at least one of those guys highlighting it if they’re willing to ship Machado to the Bronx.
It would be a bitter pill for Orioles fans, of course.
And that’s why this gets dicey.
As much as Duquette correctly points out that the Orioles are looking for the best fit, and as deep as the Yankees are in areas of Orioles’ need, there is an emotional barrier that Duquette may not be able to cross – with the fans and with team ownership – that could prohibit such a deal.
The long-held belief is that majority owner Peter Angelos will not let the Orioles broker a deal that clearly makes one of the club’s hated rivals better.
It’s bad enough that dealing Machado to anyone sends the message that the Orioles can’t afford the franchise’s best homegrown talent since Cal Ripken Jr.
But to see him in pinstripes? Brutally painful for a fan base.
Let’s not fully dismiss that. It’s a legitimate concern – and it’s understandable to take the fans’ emotion into the equation.
Remember, exactly a year ago, Duquette made headlines in two countries when he said at the winter meetings that the Orioles weren’t interested in free agent outfielder Jose Bautista because the hometown fans at Camden Yards couldn’t stand the long-time Toronto Blue Jay.
And I can’t tell you how many Orioles’ fans I’ve talked to that are still bitter toward Mike Mussina, not because the star right-hander left Baltimore as a free agent, but because he left it for the Yankees.
So that emotion is real. I get it. And it should be a factor that is considered.
But, ultimately, Duquette’s job, and the Angelos family’s responsibility, is to put the best possible team on the field.
That should mean that Machado is an Oriole for a long time; yet, that’s not going to happen.
So, the Orioles have to do the next best thing.
They have to get the most talented return possible for Machado, even if it is from within the division.
Good organizations put winning ahead of everything, including emotion.
Including hatred for division rivals.