BALTIMORE—The Orioles have patiently waited for Kevin Gausman to become a dominant pitcher, and while he hasn’t done so here, other teams are eager to see him try to become one elsewhere.
As the Zach Britton sweepstakes nears its end, the Orioles face a fascinating dilemma. Should they be satisfied with dealing Britton and Manny Machado—and possibly Brad Brach and Adam Jones?
Or should they expand their horizons to include Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Schoop?
Teams are interested in Gausman, Bundy and Schoop. Of the three, Schoop is the closest to free agency. He’s eligible after next season while Gausman must wait until after the 2020 season, and Bundy can declare a year after that.
The Orioles could flood their farm system with young talent if they got the right prospects for those three, but Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette downplayed the chance of that happening last Wednesday in a conference call with reporters after Machado’s trade.
Duquette said the Orioles would concentrate on moving the free agents to be, and said Britton was next.
With speculation that scouts were watching Gausman, he delivered an uneven performance in the Orioles’ 5-3 loss, their fourth straight, to the Boston Red Sox on Monday.
Gausman’s ERA is 4.54, and he had to pitch through two brief rain delays before getting pulled with two outs in the fifth. He was charged with five runs.
His worst moment came when he walked Rafael Devers, Sandy Leon and Jackie Bradley Jr. in succession in the fifth, leading to a four-run inning.
“Nothing against those guys, but they’re not the top of their lineup,” Gausman said. “Those are kind of, especially in a lineup like theirs, those are your outs that you have to get. As a pitcher who does really well against lefties, to walk three in a row, it’s pretty frustrating.”
Gausman said he didn’t feel the stoppages hurt him.
“It really just seems like it added about two more innings, throwing-wise,” he said.
Manager Buck Showalter adjusted his schedule so that Gausman would get extra rest after the All-Star break. It was Gausman’s first start since July 12, when he allowed a career-high 12 hits against Philadelphia.
Showalter almost seemed to give Gausman a pass for this one, especially since the initial delay came after just two outs.
“I thought he came in with pretty good stuff,” Showalter said. “I know it’s frustrating. The first inning, and then he gets that delay. There’s nothing you can do about it.
“I thought he was sharp, but it’s tough to judge the outing with the circumstances that he had to pitch under. Back and forth and a lot of unknown, warming up on the mound, not sure if there was going to be another delay, which there was. “
But, what can Gausman fetch on the market? And, is it really in the Orioles’ best interest to deal him?
Gausman said it was a compliment to hear that he’s drawn interest.
“Obviously, I don’t think teams would be saying that if there wasn’t something there to like,” Gausman said. “Obviously, it feels good, but I’m with the Orioles now, and I’m trying to help this team win.
Of course, they can wait until the offseason when a team could have two seasons of the pre-free agent Gausman. Then they could assess the performances of the five players acquired for Machado and the additional ones in a Britton trade, and see how close they are to a rejuvenated team.
The argument for trading Gausman is, can the Orioles contend before he’s a free agent? If they can’t, they should deal him?
Showalter admitted Saturday in Toronto that he overestimated the team’s talent this year and is looking forward to a makeover.
“You need to prepare yourself to be good enough to have another good cycle and ride it as long you can,” he said. “I stand accused, all of us, of trying to get another year out of the cycle.”
There’s a good argument for keeping Gausman, too. With Bundy, Gausman, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb around next year, perhaps with an infusion of youth and athleticism, the team could be ready to surprise on the upside in 2019.
And the Orioles, who lost for the 73rd time against just 28 wins, need to try to field a somewhat competitive team while trying to build for the future.