MINNESOTA - The losses don’t need to keep piling up for the Orioles to remain engaged in trade discussions involving their highest-profile free agents. They’re motivated to strike a deal involving shortstop Manny Machado, and the Dodgers are viewed as the most serious suitor, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.
The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Phillies, Braves and Cubs are, in that order, the most aggressive teams in talks, according to the source. And there isn’t much of a gap.
Several other clubs have checked in and the Indians made an offer, but other suitors are “more active,” per the source.
The Cardinals made the hardest push for Machado at the Winter Meetings, according to an industry source, but they’ve backed off while situated in third place in the National League Central.
Despite the rumors and speculation surrounding Adonis Medina, the Phillies haven’t offered the 21-year-old pitcher to the Orioles, though his name has come up in discussions. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has been included in perspective packages and could replace Machado, but the Phillies may be more inclined to wait and bid on the three-time All-Star in free agency.
The Dodgers and Orioles discussed outfielder Alex Verdugo, 22, but he hasn’t been made available.
There isn’t a drastic sense of urgency to trade Machado in the coming days in order to extend his rental status, but the Orioles are intent on fielding offers and finding the most appealing deal. Young, controllable starting pitching remains a high priority, and they’d like to land a player for the left side of the infield.
The ongoing interest in Verdugo indicates that they’re willing to accept a top prospect at another position.
Closer Zach Britton continues to attract scouts to his appearances, and he retired the side in order again today with a strikeout. His fastball was 95-97 mph.
Britton also proved again that he isn’t slowed by his Achilles surgery, racing to cover first base on Max Kepler’s ground ball to Chris Davis.
“Zach’s throwing the ball good,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I’m taking it two or three days before he goes out there. Obviously, there’s not a lot of save situations. In fact, he threw 11 pitches and I would have run him back out there if we could have figured out a way to get ahead. We’re five feet from having a tie game.”
Jace Peterson settled for an RBI double off Twins closer Fernando Rodney with two outs in the ninth inning and the Orioles lost 5-4.
Kevin Gausman was cruising until a 41-pitch, three-run fifth inning that tied the game.
“He was working on an extra day’s rest and just the command got away from him a little bit,” Showalter said. “I don’t want to say he got away from some of the things that he was doing well. It’s just that each sequence calls for a little bit different look. Sometimes, you get around the order a third time, you want to show them a little different ...
“Kevin held them to three runs against that predominately left-handed lineup. He gets a big strikeout. He just threw close to 40 pitches that inning and I’m not going to let him continue. But he gave us a good chance to win the baseball game. If you’re looking for perfection ... We scored three runs in the first and then just didn’t do anything. We had a chance to open up there, but that’s the hit that’s been eluding us, to really get to that five- or six-run lead.”
Kepler homered off Gausman and five straight batters reached base. Bobby Wilson, batting .113, had an RBI single, and a wild pitch knotted the score. Wilson’s two-out, two-run double off Miguel Castro in the sixth decided the outcome.
“Obviously, trying not to give up a leadoff homer,” Gausman said. “Was trying to find my breaking ball that at-bat against Kepler and, unfortunately, kind of put myself in a hole 2-0. I tried to throw a fastball up and in and it kind of leaked middle, and 2-0 counts, fastballs in the middle of the plate to a good hitter like Kepler, those are the times you’re not going to get the ball back.
“But I had to really grind and I thought they did a really good job of just kind of sticking the bat out there and putting the ball in play. They got some hits on some splits that lefties normally don’t really get hits on, so you’ve got to just kind of tip your cap.
“You know, my first four innings, my best secondary pitch was my changeup, and even more so than my split, and with as many lefties as they have in the lineup, I knew that was going to be a big pitch for me. I think at certain times maybe I got away from throwing my fastball, but I had also just given up a home run on the fastball. I don’t think I really got away from anything. I think they just did a good job of battling and putting some long at-bats together and fouled some pitches off and really got my pitch count up.”
Castro’s wavering control continues to sabotage his outings. He walked two batters while loading the bases with no outs.
“We backed off him a little bit and tried to freshen him up,” Showalter said. “I’d like to say he’s a little rusty, but walks have been an issue for him when he has gotten in trouble. You’re looking at two 23-year-old pitchers. What are they, seniors in college by a lot of standards in Tanner (Scott) and him?
“You see Tanner growing. Two steps forward and one step back, and Miguel’s in that same mode in a lot of cases.”
The Orioles scored three runs off Kyle Gibson in the first inning, the last two on Davis’ home run, and got nothing else until the ninth.
“One of the challenges for him and for (Lance) Lynn yesterday has been the bases on balls a little bit, and we were real patient early, and then tried to get too much with one swing and let him take us out of the zone,” Showalter said.
“He throws a lot of breaking balls, he did today, which we see a lot of, regardless of what the pattern’s been in the past. With good pitchers having a good year, once they get their feet on the ground and kind of get in a groove, but you really want to try to add on there. That’s one of the keys. That’s what’s been eluding us.”
Davis has homered in three of his last 10 games and his seven RBIs are one more than he totaled in April.
“I’ve felt better since I came back,” said Davis, who sat out eight games. “Even the outs that I’m making are loud outs. They’re balls that I’m barreling up. Just don’t have a lot to show for it. But I’m going to continue to grind and try to work at-bats and continue to put swings on pitches.”
Davis struck out against Trevor Hildenberger in the eighth inning to give him 1,306 with the Orioles, passing Cal Ripken Jr. for the club record. Ripken played 21 seasons, Davis is in his eighth.
“I heard,” he said. “No, I wasn’t aware of it. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but it’s something that, unfortunately, is part of my game. It’s a big part of my game and always has been.
“With the home runs and the power, you also get the strikeouts and the swings-and-misses. If you play long enough, you’re going to swing and miss enough to apparently set some records. There’s really not much to say about that.”
Players also fumble for words to describe a season that keeps touching rock bottom. The Orioles are 40 games below .500 and stuck on only 24 wins, and they haven’t reached the All-Star break.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to believe that that’s where we’re at right now,” Davis said. “We really can’t seem to put anything together. I feel like anytime we start to build any momentum, we either give it right back to the other team or we do something to kind of take ourselves out of the game. But this early on to be in this position, it’s definitely not what any of us thought was going to happen or what any of us wanted.”
Gausman conceded that it’s hard to wrap his head around the numbers.
“Absolutely, especially when you look at all the talent we have in that clubhouse,” he said. “At every position, we have talented guys and guys who have had really good years for us. So yeah, that’s frustrating. I don’t think anybody expected us to be where we are, definitely.”