I’ve covered postseason baseball for years, and I’ve always had friends tell me they’ll watch some of the playoffs, but the games drag on and they have to go to sleep. I’d nod and think, ‘Suck it up, buttercup. The games don’t go that late.’
I get it now. I tuned out of Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game in the seventh, at about 11 p.m., with the New York Yankees leading the Minnesota Twins by three runs. They won by four, and the game officially ended at 11:51 p.m., ET.
It lasted three hours and 51 minutes, which is a long, nine-inning game, but that’s to be expected for playoff baseball, which often features lots of pitching changes (11 pitchers threw for the Twins and Yankees on Tuesday).
My first thought is what it is every year around this time: Start the games earlier. I know that is kowtowing to us East Coast types, and I don’t care. We have a generation growing up that isn’t baseball fans, and we need to give it postseason memories. Start the games at 7 p.m. – the West Coast kids can come home from school and watch.
My second thought after seeing – most of – the wild card game Tuesday night: Dan Duquette has a point.
Toward the end of the season, Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president, and I talked at length about what he needs to do to improve the team’s rotation for 2018.
Although there is a contingent that believes the Orioles should scrap this team and rebuild, that’s not going to happen, at least not by dealing off top talent for youngsters before next season. Duquette made that clear.
And since I don’t expect this club to change philosophy and spend top dollar on ace types in free agency – and there really are only two, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish – Duquette’s options are limited.
He’s hoping the farm system can provide some help, but its crop of rotation arms at the top level of the minors is thin (or non-existent) right now. Help isn’t coming for the rotation from down below in the first part of 2018, at least not in a form you haven’t seen before (Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa, Alec Asher, et cetera).
It’s obvious that the trade market is the way to go for the Orioles – and maybe any team at this point. Consider that the Cleveland Indians had the best rotation ERA in the AL this year. They had five pitchers make at least 20 starts in 2017; four of those were acquired via trade. The only one that wasn’t was Josh Tomlin, and he had the worst ERA of that group.
The 2017 Orioles, boasters of the worst starters’ ERA (5.70) in the majors in the past five seasons, had six pitchers make at least 10 starts this season: Three came via trade, two were homegrown and one was a free agent.
Trading for rotation help is pretty standard these days, but it’s harder than it seems.
The Orioles don’t have a top-heavy farm system that could be tapped in exchange for an ace – the way the Boston Red Sox landed Chris Sale last winter.
Their trade pieces are limited.
The Orioles would certainly ship away Mark Trumbo for a starting pitcher, but it would likely be for a pitching version of Trumbo – someone with a hefty contract that failed to meet expectations in 2017. And any team that would trade for Trumbo would either have to be an AL squad with an open designated hitter slot or a NL team convinced Trumbo can play outfield or first base.
So that one gets complicated. The same with dealing Chris Davis. That contract is likely unmovable.
There’s the Manny Machado avenue – the superstar third baseman certainly would fetch a couple quality arms in return. But Duquette has already said he wants to try and sign Machado to an extension before he’s a free agent after the 2018 season. And, since we know this team isn’t rebuilding for next year, I don’t see Machado being used as bait to fortify the upcoming rotation.
To me, that leaves only one legitimate path for a trade involving a rotation boost: Dealing one of the club’s top bullpen arms, closer Zach Britton or set-up man Brad Brach. They are both free agents after 2018, and though neither was as good as he was in 2016, trust me, either would bring a strong return in a trade.
But when I asked Duquette about that possibility recently, he said he would “probably not” deal either, and then he made a point to say he does not feel the Orioles have “a surplus” of bullpen arms. He supported his claim by using the Yankees and Red Sox bullpens as examples.
“I’m not sure it’s surplus, OK?” Duquette said. “You see these teams that come in here that we just played. The one from New York and the one from Boston. You think we have surplus?”
The Yankees made Duquette’s point Tuesday night. After starter Luis Severino could only get one out, manager Joe Girardi brought in four relievers who combined to give up one run on five hits and three walks while striking out 13 Twins in 8 2/3 innings.
The Yankees’ bullpen got the team to the next round of the playoffs. Simple as that. That wasn’t surplus talent; that was essential for survival.
So, yeah, Duquette’s right. Maybe having Brach and Britton – and Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens – isn’t a surplus. It’s what you have to have in your bullpen to compete in the big leagues.
But you also need quality starting pitching. And I don’t see how the Orioles get that without making a fairly significant trade or two – and Brach and Britton are still the Orioles’ best veteran trade chips not named Machado.