LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Heading into this year’s winter meetings — really, heading into Tuesday — I would have said there was almost no shot that the Orioles trade their 25-year-old star third baseman Manny Machado.
Based on the developments Tuesday, and specifically the tone and measured words of team executive vice president Dan Duquette, I now think it is more likely than not that the Orioles deal Machado before Opening Day.
“Well, I think we’ve got a better gauge about the market for some of our players,” Duquette said. “There seems to be significant interest. So, we just have a better idea of what the market is.”
Perhaps all of this should be tempered. It’s possible a Machado deal doesn’t happen. These kinds of transactions are always tricky, especially with a 400-pronged organizational hierarchy like the Orioles have and, especially, with an owner who in the past has felt it is disingenuous to the fan base to rebuild.
But the door has been cracked open and Duquette nudged it further with his cryptic but telling comments to the Baltimore media gathered here Tuesday evening.
“There is a lot of interest in Manny and a couple of clubs requested a meeting, so we met with a couple of clubs on that issue. We’re gonna continue to explore the market and see where it takes us,” Duquette said. “I think when you make a deal, you’ve got to look at how that strengthens your club. And the important thing when you make a deal is knowing what you are going to give up and what you’re going to get back.”
What the Orioles get back is key here, obviously. A Machado trade has the potential to positively or negatively affect the organization for years.
Machado’s the top player on a last-place team. He’s also a free agent at season’s end, is expected to land a contract in the $300 million range, which is too rich for the Orioles.
At least that’s the perception.
Duquette admitted Tuesday that he has not had any recent extension talks with Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano. I give Duquette extra credit for his honesty. But he gets a big, fat “incomplete” for the overall assignment.
“I’ve talked to Machado’s agent periodically,” Duquette said. “We have not explored a long-term agreement with Manny since we tried a couple of years ago.”
There was a follow-up question to that statement:
“That’s obviously a big decision for the Orioles organization and that’s one that, it’s still under consideration,” Duquette said.
OK, so it officially needs to be known whether Machado’s price can be met before the Orioles trade him. Maybe it’s a foregone conclusion that Machado is taking the millions elsewhere. But that has to be sufficiently relayed before Duquette goes to Step Two.
Step Two won’t be as simple for the Orioles. Nothing is ever easy for this club. But the Orioles need to get the best trade proposal from each suitor and make sure every decision-maker in the organization, along with any scouts the Orioles still employ, are on the same page – that means Duquette, manager Buck Showalter, VP Brady Anderson, owner Peter G. Angelos, and his sons, Lou and John — before the other team thinks there is an agreement.
Proposals aren’t ratified deals. That shouldn’t be forgotten. But having it come out later that someone in the Orioles’ organization shot down a deal that another club thought was set is always embarrassing.
Yet, that’s not the thing the Orioles must get right here. They need to make sure they land legitimate prospects or major leaguers for Machado, preferably high-end pitching prospects.
They get one bite at this apple, and Duquette and company need to get it right.
That’s a concern of course. Really, this is all fraught with danger. Duquette said the clubs he talked to Tuesday about Machado did not ask for a window to negotiate a long-term deal. He wasn’t crystal clear on whether he would allow that.
“That’s interesting. They have a provision where you can allow a period of time for a potential trade to work out a new contractual agreement. Most trades are made and the buyer will take the contract. In some cases, they allow the new team to try to work out a deal with the player,” Duquette said. “My experience with those is they don’t generally work out that well, but there’s a window that allows that in the basic agreement.”
Yeah, more wrinkles aren’t needed here.
Duquette was also asked whether he was concerned about the message he thought this would be sending to the fan base.
“Yeah, well, I don’t know that we need to speculate about that. Manny’s an Oriole. I really don’t think you need to speculate about something like that,” he said. “If something happens, and we have a trade, of course, we’re gonna address the issues. I’ve said all along, this is an important year for the Orioles in a lot of different areas.”
Well, he’s got that right. His contract is up after the 2018 season. So is Showalter’s, who said Tuesday he’d like to return in 2019 as manager.
Closer Zach Britton, set-up man Brad Brach and center fielder Adam Jones can be free agents next winter, too. And, if Duquette is dealing Machado, it sure makes sense for him to trade at least Britton, who will make in the $13 million range through arbitration in 2018.
“We have a number of players in the last year of their deal. Britton was one of the best pitchers in the league in (2016), didn’t have as great of a year in ‘17 as he did in ‘16 because he was stalled by some injuries, starting in the spring,” Duquette said. “But he is one of the elite relievers. I mean, he’s a left-handed power reliever, very uniquely skilled player. So, there should be a lot of interest in him.”
There should be plenty of interest in most of the Orioles’ pending free agents. Machado and Britton, though, lead the way. Separate deals for those two might be able to get the Orioles to compete again, sooner rather than later.
Duquette, on Tuesday anyway, was clinging to the idea that trades can be made and the team can still be a factor in 2018. He still was trumpeting the Orioles as playing for 2018, but it wasn’t nearly convincing as it had been in the past few months.
Changes seem to be coming to these Orioles.
In theory, that sounds sensible.
In practicality, so much is at stake and making the right choices will be the ultimate test of Duquette’s (and Showalter’s and Anderson’s) Orioles’ tenure.
They simply can’t afford to screw up this one.
“Our challenge is significant. No doubt about that. But if we can add the right pitching and make the right (moves) and we can get our team to gel, we can still compete,” Duquette said. “The pennant’s not won in December, the playoff spots aren’t defined either in December.
“Yeah, we have a lot of work to do, right? The rich got richer. Some of the teams in our division have gotten better. We haven’t completed our offseason work, but we are in process.”
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