After the Orioles closed out the first half of the season Sunday afternoon, players prepared to scatter to the winds, going their separate ways for the time being.
It could be a good practice run for what’s about to happen over the next two weeks.
The Orioles’ four-day reprieve for the All-Star break won’t quell the trade rumors that continue to fly around many of their veteran players, headlined by shortstop Manny Machado. And with the Orioles on their way to their worst season in franchise history, it’s a good bet that Machado and several others will find themselves in new uniforms by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
It’s the only reasonable course of action for a 2018 Orioles team that’s making history in all the wrong ways.
To call the Orioles’ season nightmarish would be to sell it short. Their level of futility is nearly unprecedented. Despite two wins in a row to close out the half, the club is 41 games under .500, carrying a 28-69 record into the All-Star break. If they remain on their current pace for the rest of the season, their .289 winning percentage would be 15th-worst in modern MLB history. That would give the Orioles a season-ending record of 47-115, making them just one of six teams with 115 or more losses.
A deep dive into their season stats is sobering. The Orioles have had three winless road trips of six games or more, and their road record of 12-36 is the worst in the majors. They aren’t much better at Camden Yards, either, with a 16-33 home record that rates better than only the Kansas City Royals (11-35).
The Orioles have been outscored by 159 runs this year. They’ve had seven losing streaks of five games or longer. They haven’t topped nine wins in any month, and went the entirety of June without beating an American League team. They’ve swept only one series — a two-gamer, at that — and gotten swept 15 times.
The Orioles’ offense entered Sunday with the second-fewest runs scored in the majors at 339 (again, ahead of the Royals, who had 336) as well as the worst batting average (.227) and on-base percentage (.290). Their .669 team OPS was better only than the Royals (.668) and San Diego Padres (.664).The pitching staff hasn’t been much better, carrying a 4.87 ERA into Sunday that ranked ahead of only the Chicago White Sox (4.96) and — you guessed it — the hapless Royals (5.34). Orioles’ pitchers have been victimized by a porous team defense that a recent article in The Ringer called “the worst we’ve ever seen,” based on advanced defensive stats.
So, yes, things have been a little rough.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable is that, to this point, the Orioles have made no significant personnel changes amidst their horrid season. The coaching staff and front office remain intact, and of the 44 players who have made an appearance for the club this year, 42 are still in the organization. The only two exceptions are former Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes Jr., who was returned to the New York Yankees in April, and outfielder Colby Rasmus, who left the team July 3 and returned home.
As an interesting contrast, the St. Louis Cardinals fired their manager, Mike Matheny, as well as hitting coach John Mabry and assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller late Saturday night. The Cardinals were a game over .500 at the time of the moves, 21 1/2 games better than the Orioles.
The Orioles’ lack of activity, though, figures to change soon. The Orioles seem committed to trading pending free agent Machado, whom the club has no chance of re-signing in free agency. The fact that the Orioles removed Machado from Sunday’s game after a fourth-inning rain delay, not wanting to risk him getting injured on the wet field, all but proves the Orioles have designs on sending him elsewhere soon.
“That’s part of it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re all adults here, some more than others. We know what’s going on, the potential (trade). Obviously there’s a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that. That had a lot to do with it.”
“I don’t know why he did it or not,” Machado said. “He just told me, ‘I’m going to take you out. You had a good first half, and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'”
If this was Machado’s last game as an Oriole — or at least his last game in Baltimore, where the Orioles don’t return until July 23 — he went out with a bang. Machado homered in the first inning of the Orioles’ eventual 6-5 win over the Texas Rangers.
“Just looking back at everything that’s happened this year, trade rumors, everything, just overall playing with this team has always been incredible,” Machado said. “I’m going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It’s just always a blessing. I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization, I mean it’s just been very incredible.”
Machado isn’t the only Oriole on the trade block. Closer Zach Britton, another impending free agent, figures to be on the move, too. Slowly but surely, he’s been improving his command and velocity — and boosting his trade value — since returning from the DL on June 11 following offseason Achilles’ surgery. He nailed down his fourth save of the year Sunday, getting help from Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph, who combined to cut down the game-tying run at the plate.
Other names bandied about in trade rumors include reliever Brad Brach, infielder Danny Valencia and the face of the Orioles, Adam Jones, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the season.
Expect the rumors to keep swirling for the next 16 days leading up to the deadline.
“Dan (Duquette) and his group are working very hard on a lot of things to make us better today and down the road and the timing of that is always a challenge,” Showalter said. “I just make sure he doesn’t have to worry about anything down here and make the adjustments that need to be made.”
The second half could be a time of upheaval and transition for the Orioles — and that’s as it should be. The current core of the team helped revitalize the franchise and bring winning baseball back to Baltimore, including three postseason appearances since 2012. But as this disastrous 2018 season has made painfully clear, it’s time for the Orioles to rebuild.
By August, don’t be surprised to see some fresh faces on the field, whether they’re current Orioles’ prospects — such as outfielders Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart — or newcomers acquired in trades.
The end of an era may soon be approaching, and it’ll be an adjustment for many Orioles’ fans, not to mention the players themselves. But it needs to happen, and an infusion of youth could do this team some good.
When you’re already at rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
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