Early in Wednesday night’s conference call to discuss the Orioles’ biggest trade in his seven years as the team’s top baseball decision-maker, Dan Duquette signaled that dealing Manny Machado was just the beginning of a sea change in Baltimore.
“Today is the start of the rebuilding process,” Duquette said. “We aim to retool our roster and get our organization back to the competitive stature that we’ve been used to.”
Trading Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, infielders Breyvick Valera, Rylan Bannon and pitchers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop is the first step for the Orioles as they try and restock their farm system.
Duquette identified Diaz, a 21-year-old Cuban, as the top player offered the Orioles in talks that most seriously included the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Coincidentally, Machado will begin play with the Dodgers Friday in Milwaukee and move on to Philadelphia next week.
Diaz, Bannon, Kremer and Pop have all been assigned to Bowie while Valera has been optioned to Norfolk.
As the Orioles’ Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Duquette has come under attack for the team’s lack of involvement in the international market, and that will change, Duquette said.
He also said the Orioles will spend more on technology and analytics.
“That’s part of a plan we have to have to get the Orioles back to competitiveness,” Duquette said.
In his first five years, Duquette saw the Orioles qualify for the postseason three times, topping out with a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2014.
After their elimination by Toronto in the wild-card game in 2016, it’s been downhill for the Orioles. Last year, they finished with their first sub-.500 record (75-87) since 2011. This year, their 28-69 record is the second worst in baseball and could threaten their worst year, 1988, when they went 54-107 after an 0-21 start.
With the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31 fast approaching, Duquette indicated that reliever Zach Britton would be the next piece to be shopped.
Britton returned last month after rehabbing a surgically repaired torn Achilles’ tendon and recently has begun pitching to the form that saw him convert 60 consecutive save opportunities for an American League record.
“Clubs were waiting to see how Zach was throwing,” Duquette said.
Several teams, including Cleveland, Houston and Philadelphia, have aggressively scouted Britton in recent weeks.
The Orioles also could consider trading Adam Jones, but with 10 years of service time and five with the Orioles, he could veto any trade. Another possibility is reliever Brad Brach.
Brach, Britton and Jones will be free agents this fall. Duquette said the focus would likely be on moving them instead of considering trades for starting pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
“We’re going to take a look at trading the veteran players…the ones that are nearing free agency,” Duquette said. “We’re going to look to maximize that opportunity on the market and try to find as many young players as we can to deepen our farm system.”
It’s unclear how fans will react to the trade of Machado. Orioles attendance is averaging 20,990 a game, which puts the team on a pace to draw 1.658 million, which would be the lowest since 1982.
Machado and Jones were arguably the most popular players in recent franchise history.
“Obviously, this is a bittersweet day for our organization,” Duquette said. “We watched Manny grow up with our franchise over the last eight years. We know what an exceptional talent he is.”
While the team is rebuilding, it still has last year’s only All-Star, Jonathan Schoop, and Trey Mancini, who had a strong rookie season but is struggling this season.
Duquette didn’t mention any of the team’s current players, other than Britton, and didn’t discuss Chris Davis, whose 2018 season has been abysmal. He knows major action is warranted.
“That’s a tough decision,” Duquette said of the rebuild. “Clubs have to make the right decision, the hard decisions. When you do that, you can be rewarded in the future. It became clear to us it was time to turn our attention to the future…Trading veteran players for younger players, that will be up to us to develop that talent.
“We want to acquire as many young players as we can.”
Machado had moved to shortstop this year while Tim Beckham, acquired at last year’s trade deadline, moved to third. Manager Buck Showalter said that he had a plan for who would play shortstop after Machado, and it presumably means Beckham will go back to short.
For now, Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson could platoon at third, as they did when Beckham missed two months after core muscle surgery. Steve Wilkerson would probably be the Orioles’ choice to play third base for now, but he’s on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle.
The Orioles have an open roster spot, and could bring up Cedric Mullins to get some time in the outfield if Valencia is moving back to third base.
Duquette and Showalter are in the final year of their contracts. When asked about his future, Duquette made it clear he’d like to shepherd the rebuilding process.
“My heart is in Baltimore, and I’d like to make the Orioles into a top contending organization again,” he said.