Zach Wilt: Looking at the Orioles’ window to win

I used to be a firm believer in the “window to win” methodology in baseball. Not familiar with the “window to win?” I can explain.

The Orioles are a small market team that will never have the payroll to compete in the free agent market with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs or Yankees. That means that they have to acquire quality young talent with a mid-to-low payroll. In order to do that, they have to build through the draft or add high-upside and controllable players. As a result, they find themselves with a few select years in which these players are in their prime (usually between the ages of 26-28) and before they hit the free agent market to really compete for a division crown or even a World Series championship.

This team building philosophy is not exclusive to the Orioles. In fact, I would say that most clubs outside of those in the top five or so in payroll run their organizations in this manner. The Rays are a classic example of building a young, controllable talent team with a “window to win.” The Royals opened their window in 2013 with a winning season for the first time in a decade, won the American League the following season and were crowned champions in 2015. Now, as we close the book on 2017, it looks like that window has also closed.

So where is the Orioles window? It sure seems as though the club that won the AL East in 2014 was the peak for this group. Is that window still cracked open a bit for a chance in 2018? Can they manage to reopen it with a successful and aggressive offseason, or is it time to close it and focus on creating the next great O’s team?

After seeing the trends in baseball, I’m not so sure I believe in the whole “window to win” mindset at all anymore. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was clear that the Yankees were buying championships by dominating the free agent market, but the game has become smarter and younger, and as a result, parity is king. In this era of baseball, I truly believe that the teams that have the best chance of winning it all are the ones that build strong farm systems, develop good young talent and take the most advantage of baseball’s trends. You can’t mask your problems with money, just ask the Angels.

Now I should point out, that this does not necessarily mean that the best team, or even the most deserving, wins the World Series. Anything can happen in a one-game play-in contest or a five- or seven-game series. It’s a roll of the dice. If I were a general manager, my goal would be to build a team that is always a playoff contender in its players’ prime years and have a smart manager navigate through the challenges of October.

Thankfully for the Orioles, they can check off the manager part of that to-do list. I have no doubts about Buck Showalter. So how does the club get back to consistently making the playoffs? This offseason holds the answers to a lot of the questions about this team’s future.

As J.J. Hardy hits the open market and Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman are due to become free agents at the end of next season, there are a lot of tough decisions to be made about the core of this roster. The Orioles have to decide if Manny Machado is the centerpiece of the club or if he can bring in the controllable future talent of the next great Orioles roster. They have to discuss how their veterans fit into this equation and how much value they offer over other options both outside and within the organization.

This roster could see some change, but that doesn’t mean that they are closing a window to open another in a few seasons. That change could keep the window open longer or just force me to use another analogy altogether that more properly demonstrates how baseball organizations operate in 2017.

Baseball is a tough game, both on the field and in the front office. A good draft might not show results in the standings for years. Surrounding a talented core with complimentary pieces to continue competing is a difficult task and it is exactly what the Orioles are up against this winter. There were a lot of positives to build in from the 2017 season and the story that unfolds this winter will determine the O’s future for not just 2018, but many seasons to come.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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