More thoughts from Fanfest: Machado's contract; baseball's slow offseason; Britton's return; Joseph's mentoring - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

More thoughts from Fanfest: Machado’s contract; baseball’s slow offseason; Britton’s return; Joseph’s mentoring

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

While much of the attention of the Orioles’ 2018 FanFest was on those who declined to attend, there were a few notable story lines. Here’s a look at a few:

The Orioles boxed themselves into a corner with Manny Machado — and know it

It’s no secret that Manny Machado, who’s entering his final season before free agency, has likely priced himself out of the Orioles’ comfort zone. He’ll be hitting the market at age 26 and already has three All-Star appearances, three top-10 MVP finishes and two Gold Glove awards on his mantel. He could command close to $300 million from deeper-pocketed teams in free agency, which would mean 2018 is almost certainly his last year in a Baltimore uniform.

Club Vice President Brady Anderson said Saturday he thinks the Orioles could have avoided Machado’s impending departure by signing him to an extension earlier in his career, before he’d racked up so many accomplishments.

“We might have just not come up with quite enough [money] years ago,” Anderson said. “Personally, I think it’s a bit of a losing game to chase your own free agents around. But certainly, retrospectively, you think, could we have given him more early on and had him for two or three more years? I think the best time might’ve been right after his second knee surgery [in 2014], when maybe he was feeling a little unsure of his own future.

“But once a player gets close to free agency like Manny has, he’s put in the work, he’s established himself as the elite of the elite, you have to test free agency. You have to see what’s out there. And once you do that, and other teams start bidding against each other, sometimes the price just becomes untenable.”

It’s hard to argue with Anderson’s reasoning. It seems the Orioles could have been more proactive in locking up Machado years ago, when they wouldn’t have had to bid against anyone else for his services.

It’s a course of action that plenty of successful teams have taken with their young stars. The Los Angeles Angels, most notably, agreed to a six-year, $144.5 million extension with Mike Trout in March 2014, after his second full MLB season. Thanks to the Angels’ foresight, they now have the best player in baseball under contract through 2020. Without the extension, Trout would’ve been eligible for free agency this offseason, likely earning a record-breaking contract on the open market.

Executive Vice President Dan Duquette said earlier this winter that the Orioles haven’t discussed a long-term agreement with Machado in “a couple of years.” We don’t know the specifics of any contract talks the club might have had with Machado previously, but the notably risk-averse Orioles’ ownership might have been hesitant to guarantee him big money after he had surgeries on both knees in 2013 and 2014.

In hindsight, though, the club likely could have kept Machado in Baltimore for a reasonable price if it had acted earlier.

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The Orioles weren’t willing to take that gamble. And now they’re paying the price.

Nobody knows what to make of the slow free agent market

The Orioles have been dormant this winter, adding only one player with major league experience to the 40-man roster (reserve outfielder Jaycob Brugman, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in November).

But the Orioles aren’t alone in their inaction. The MLB hot stove has gone ice cold this winter, with many prominent free agents still unsigned with less than a month until spring training begins.

“It seems like the market’s a little bit odd in free agency,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of starters out there who aren’t getting the offers, it seems. It’s probably been the oddest offseason that I can remember as far as free agent signings, who’s got the deals and who hasn’t. … Just the lack of signings for some of these big names is sort of unprecedented in my memory.”

“In terms of the free agent market, I don’t know what’s going on. I have my theories,” said veteran righty Darren O’Day. “I guess the silver lining is we’re probably not the only team in that situation. Nothing’s moved. So, I think that’s going to start happening here soon.”

The Orioles, during Duquette’s reign, have typically been one of the slowest moving teams in the offseason, even in years where the market is busier. They often prefer to wait until the final weeks and look for bargains. So, the good news about this slow market is that there are more players than usual still available. On the other hand, there are still plenty of teams with holes to fill, which could make it harder for the Orioles to land their targets.

“We still have some work to do, obviously, in the market to staff our team for this season,” Duquette said. “The key will be addressing the starting pitching. If we can do that, and I’m confident we can — don’t ask me how, exactly — but if we can do that, we can have another good season.”

Zach Britton could contribute sooner than later

The Orioles suffered a costly blow this offseason when closer Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in December while working out.

Britton’s injury initially was estimated to sideline him for six months or more. Britton, though, said during a conference call at Fanfest that he’s making good progress in his recovery and could be back sooner than expected.

“I’m feeling really good,” Britton said. “I saw the doctor again for my second follow-up of three follow-ups that I’ll have, and he was really happy with where I’m at. Maybe a little ahead of schedule. Not skipping any steps, but just picking up the pace on things that I’m doing now. More walking, getting comfortable in a tennis shoe again, and things like that.”

Britton will be at spring training with the Orioles in Sarasota, although he won’t be full-go.

“I see the doctor one more time on Feb. 9th, and then I’ll fly out right after that to Sarasota,” Britton said. “I’ll be walking. I’ll be back into throwing. Brian Ebel, the head trainer now, he was out here for the last three days with me, speaking with the doctors, speaking with my physical therapist out here in California, so we have a really good baseline on what we’re going to do, and what we can accomplish in spring.

“Hopefully, before spring’s over, for the most part I’ll look like a healthy player, minus some of the things that we’ve got to make sure that the ligament’s completely healed.”

If Britton can return ahead of schedule, perhaps by late May or early June, the 2018 Orioles could take on a very different complexion. The bullpen faltered when Britton was shelved in 2017 with a left forearm strain, so his return would bring much-needed stability to the relief corps. A healthy Britton, if he can resemble the dominant closer he was in 2016, would be one of the Orioles’ top weapons — or, if the club is out of the race by midseason, a valuable trade chip for a contender.

Caleb Joseph is emerging as a leader

For the first time as a big leaguer, Caleb Joseph is entering a season as the Orioles’ presumed starting catcher. After three years of backing up Matt Wieters and one season splitting time with Welington Castillo, Joseph is the No. 1 catcher following Castillo’s free-agent departure to the Chicago White Sox.

“This is my 11th season with the Orioles. Pretty cool,” Joseph said. “Every single spring training that I’ve come to, I’ve still felt uneasy. And I think that’s a good thing. I think there’s a lot of drive and desire in there. But this year, I’m not necessarily worried that I’m not going to make the team. But now it’s like I’ve got something extra to push forward.”

The 31-year-old Joseph is embracing the opportunity not only to get regular playing time, but also to serve as a mentor for the Orioles’ younger catchers, Chance Sisco (22) and Austin Wynns (27).

“I think one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid was this past offseason, when [Trey] Mancini said some really nice things about me (being a mentor). And I still owe him that $100 that I told him I’d pay him when he said that,” Joseph joked.

“That’s the kind of reputation that makes me feel better than the accolades and stuff, because I feel like Trey will remember that long after we’re done playing and the games are over. So, to have that opportunity like Matt was to me, and John Russell and Don Werner, hopefully be that to these young guys. I feel like that’s a huge responsibility and a huge honor. Five years ago, I was in the opposite foot, so now it feels good. I’m excited about it.”

 

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    January 29, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Is it just me, or does $300 million at this point seem a bit much to be giving Machado? I understand the Angels ponying up early to lock up Trout, but to compare Machado’s career, or a least his first 2 years, to Trout’s is a bit of a stretch. Trout is already a proven all-timer. It remains to be seen if Machado will ever climb into that kind of company. Did the O’s make a mistake not trying to offer him a long term deal a few years ago? Absolutely. But is he really a $300 million man right now? Some team may pony it up, but looking strictly at his performance up to this point … I don’t see it.

    • Paul Folkemer

      January 29, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Even if he doesn’t get $300 million, I still think he’ll crack $250 mil, considering his age and his performance and upside. And that’s too rich for the Orioles’ blood, it seems. Think how much cheaper they could’ve gotten him if they’d been more proactive about an extension earlier in his career.

      And this isn’t the first time the Orioles have cost themselves a ton of money by waiting until one of their own players went to FA. Chris Davis is a notable example. I fear they’re going to make the same mistake with Jonathan Schoop (granted, Schoop won’t get anywhere near the same kind of money as Manny in FA, but the Orioles could save themselves some dough by signing him now instead of waiting two years).

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 12:16 pm

      It’s impossible to know what he’ll go for because this current market has been so different than in past ones. But what’s in his favor is that he doesn’t turn 26 until July. He is entering his prime (along with Harper). Consider that Manny is a couple months younger than Trey Mancini and Aaron Judge. They were rookies last year; he was in his 6th season in the majors. The payday — if he is healthy — will be huge.

    • thebookdoc

      February 2, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      I think the market is finally doing a correction. NO PLAYER is worth the numbers you hear tossed around. You can get about 30 mancinis for one machado? give me 30 mancinis. That’s not even math — it is not being stupid.

      paul, I wonder why Schoop shouldn’t get manny money — he is actually playing better ball. I’m looking forward to the market correction and these zillion dollar handcuffing contracts to stop.

  2. Orial

    January 29, 2018 at 8:07 am

    In the O’s defense it is hard to give a long term deal to a player after 2 knee operations(a catch 22). What I did notice is Brady’s willingness to criticize the organization’s inability being that he is the “Yes man” for Angelos. Impressed with his outspoken rhetoric.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 12:18 pm

      See, that’s when I gamble and give a Long-term deal. You have to take the player’s mindset into consideration too. Manny is a very confident man, but anyone’s confidence would be shaken a little at that uncertain time.

  3. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    January 29, 2018 at 9:59 am

    I felt the Orioles should have signed Manny after the 2015 season instead Davis. Manny is a superior talent and is much younger. However, the Orioles had reservations because he missed most of the 2014 season with a knee injury.

    Also, the Orioles didnt resign Nelson Cruz after the 2014 season. They refused to give him 4 yrs and he left. It turned out to be a big mistake. The Orioles didnt want to make the same mistake and wound up over paying Davis. Now they are likely to lose Manny a franchise player.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 12:18 pm

      Hard to quibble with your thoughts here.

  4. bickel57

    January 29, 2018 at 10:58 am

    I know that Angelos meddles with the big stars about signing them or trading them. I think Duquette has been giving him bad advice. I think Duquette should be fired immediately. How can a GM at this late date in the off season not have a clue on what he should do to get pitching help for this team. This is inexcusable. Ever since Angelos stopped him from going to Toronto a few years ago his judgment hasn’t gotten worse and so has this team. Put Anderson or the Head of the minor leagues in charge until you find a replacement. He lied this team isn’t any where close to being competitive. I will root for this team ymwvery year no matter what. This year will be no different. But that I can’t be frustrated with this team is an understatement. Where do you stand Paul or Dan. Give me something I can put my hat on that this team is headed in a positive direction

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 12:21 pm

      I’m not here for positives or negatives. I do my best to look at it objectively. The best thing I can say is that there is still a lot of talent on the board. And Duquette makes moves late — really, throughout the year. I’m not confident significant money will be spent. But I don’t think this is the Opening Day roster yet.

    • thebookdoc

      February 2, 2018 at 12:26 pm

      I actually like the team AS IS. I want new arms in there … bring em up. You have a great infield, a mix of vets and youth, and no one is really that old. the management needs to push something given their tenure is over… I think the Os are doing more this year than anyone expects.

      Honestly, I think quite a few of you are shameful as fans… Like your team or abandon it. I don’t understand the psychology at all.

  5. Bancells Moustache

    January 29, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Whoo boy. I got to tell you guys up until this point I have been stressing patience with the Orioles organization. But man this weekend shine a very unflattering light on the boys at the warehouse. Schoop ditching FanFest to the obvious displeasure of Showalter. Adam Jones seeming like a man not happy at all with his professional situation. Buck very obviously throwing some shade at DD in his comments to the media, sound an awful lot like he wants that job in 2019. The Specter of Machado hanging over all of it. And oh there’s currently two starting pitchers on the roster. last Friday I thought the Baltimore Orioles had some issues to work through. Today I’m wondering if we aren’t seeing a full on implosion.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 12:53 pm

      It certainly doesn’t appear to be running on all cylinders. Again, tho, some solid pitching and some wins and the cracks get filled. I just don’t know if those ingredients are on the horizon. Haven’t been yet this offseason (or the last one)

  6. Dblack2508

    January 29, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Fanfest was a PR nightmare for the Os. I can’t really fault Duqutte or Angelos for the issue at fanfest. I do fault ownership for being a reactive owner instead of a proactive owner. This was an issue since he acquired the team. Personally, if they are out of it in July, I would consider moving Jonathon Schoop as well. His value will never be higher and his actions certainly speaks volumes about his future with the Orioles.

    • Birdman

      January 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      Yeah, looks like the handwriting is on the wall regarding Schoop. Since he is the second best player on the team, it would have made sense to sign him to a long term extension. But if they can’t (or won’t) sign Schoop to an extension. trade him sooner rather than later.

      As for PA being a “reactive” owner, I think that’s a charitable characterization. His overall record speaks for itself. He bought a franchise which was at, or near, the top of attendance in the major leagues, and in short order produced 14 consecutive losing seasons. All things being equal, I’m sure PA would rather have a winning than losing team, but putting a winning team on the field has never seemed to be a particularly high priority for him.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      Listen fellas: I think we are being a little too reactive on Schoop’s decision not to be at Fanfest correlating to him not wanting to be an Oriole long-term. That’s a bit of a stretch. This is one of those “let the situation play out a little” scenarios. You guys could be right. But I’d give it a few months. As DBlack said, if the team is terrible in July and Schoop seems reluctant to sign an extension then, sure, explore the trade route. But let’s not close this book now based on a Fanfest decision for goodness sakes.

      • thebookdoc

        February 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm

        I disagree Dan… It was a bad move, a bad decision and a childish thing to do. You are not there for the fans…quit. The fans are the ones who come to see you play, and that is how you get paid.

  7. ClyOs

    January 29, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I feel the free agent market is going slow this off season because teams are looking ahead to next off seasons free agent market. Why spending money this year for Yu Darvish when you can save your money and go after Clayton Kershaw next year. Why sign Mike Moustakas to 5 years when Machado, or Josh Donaldson will be on the market next year. The likelihood is Machado’s free agent signing next offseason won’t even be the biggest. Bryce Harper will be looking for $350/$400 million, and I think he’ll get that before Machado gets $300mil.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 11:38 pm

      I think next year’s class certainly is part of the equation, but I also think the mindset is changing some, too. Especially with mid-level free agents. Spending big money for average and/or aging players is rarely a good investment.

  8. Zoey Dog Says Throw Strikes

    January 29, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Did the Orioles try to extend Manny, and if so, how hard did they try? To me, that is the question. In my limited view from cheap seats, it doesn’t appear they spent much time at all trying to lock him up. If that’s the case, that’s just poor management.

    But the question lingers. Perhaps they did and Manny was not receptive to the idea? I feel like Trout’s extension, while viewed by many people as a blueprint for a Manny extension, may have perhaps influenced him not to take the team-friendly extension and hold out for free agency. Many people feel that Trout is underpaid by that extension, and maybe Manny and his agent feel that way? Perhaps they skipped the ~$140M extension to go for $300M in a few years, while still earning a kings ransom in his arbitration years.

    • Dan Connolly

      January 29, 2018 at 11:40 pm

      The Orioles made an attempt, but obviously it wasn’t good enough to get it done a couple years ago. And it really hasn’t been revisited since. So I’m assuming the chasm was rather large.

  9. thebookdoc

    February 2, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Let them all go. Keep building the farm. Keep players that want to stay.

    Remember the year Bumbry and Coggins came up? I’d rather have that every year than this fighting, negotiating and nonsense. PLAY BALL.

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