They are two of the better players on the Orioles. Maybe they are the two best. But would it make any sense to part with either in a trade - under certain circumstances?
I speak of closer Zach Britton and third baseman Manny Machado. Both are under team control through 2018 and will be free agents after that season. So they have at least two more years in the orange and black.
But why even consider dealing Britton and/or Machado? With Britton, some feel the price in deals for elite relievers has been high for players like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, and that Britton could bring a big haul at a time when his salary could climb to more than $11 million. How much is too much for a closer, even one of the best in the sport?
When it comes to Machado, the thinking is that he will command a mega-contract in free agency, one that may be too rich for almost all teams, including the Orioles. If they can’t re-sign him, some fans ask why not deal him now when his value is so high still with two years of control?
The thinking goes that dealing one or both would help replenish a farm system ranked low in organizational ratings by national analysts and depleted by trades.
There is nothing wrong with adding prospects to build for the future. But the Orioles are still in win-now mode. They’ve been in the playoffs three times in five years and lead the American League in victories since 2012. They are looking right now to reload not rebuild. Also, prospects are just that: prospects. They’ve haven’t done anything yet and many times they never do - despite the hype about their raw tools and vast potential.
Losing the production of Britton and/or Machado now for a player or players that might help down the road is risky to say the least. You weaken your current product leading to a what-if question. What if the player or players that would replace All-Stars Machado and Britton post a performance that doesn’t come close to what you already get there? Some falloff, maybe a big falloff, would seem likely. Why go backward now?
Closing games is hard. Britton saved 100 percent and you can’t do better than that. Blowing leads and games in 2017 for a team that expects to contend doesn’t sound like a great idea.
In the specific case of Britton, the fact that closers Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are free agents this winter could limit his current trade market and maybe the haul of prospects is not there at this time anyway. Why would a team give up players when they can just buy a top closer this winter?
I look at the 2017 team and see a solid trio in the rotation to start with in Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, and three veterans to round it out. Vets whose contracts are up in a year when the Orioles will be freed up to call on younger pitchers from the farm and/or pursue other options. The rotation may be the most crucial part of any team. The Orioles’ was trending up in the second half and now they have future dollars available to help starting pitching in 2018 to bolster that even more.
The Orioles seem well-positioned to be a contender for at least two more years. Nothing wrong with worrying about the future and the farm. But the O’s can improve that without adding through trades that are costly right now to the major league effort.
Pondering trades for your best talent that would fill a need (the farm system) is reasonable. It might actually be a good move to try and keep the Orioles a viable contender for years to come. But it could also derail the next season or two in the process.
With a solid core of players, an excellent bullpen, a powerful lineup, a defense that made winning plays and a rotation that got better, a blockbuster trade to acquire prospects right now seems like a bad move.