At a time when pennant races are still taking shape and a number of teams are still determining whether they’re contenders or pretenders or buyers or sellers, the clock has long been ticking for the Orioles.
The objective is obvious with the only question related to the standings now being whether Baltimore can regroup enough to avoid its first 100-loss season in 30 years. On Tuesday, the non-waiver trade deadline will be exactly five weeks away, and the Orioles have yet to move a single trade chip.
Crunch time is rapidly approaching.
We can debate how extensive the expected rebuild should be and which players under club control beyond 2018 should also be on the table, but every pending free agent on the roster should be on the move for anything resembling a reasonable return in the coming weeks. Anything less torpedoes the Orioles further into the abyss they’re already facing.
Below is a look at where each of their pending free agents stands a little over a month before the deadline:
SS Manny Machado
2018 salary: $16 million
What to like: The 25-year-old is having a career year at the plate and is a top 10 offensive player in baseball, making him a very attractive addition to any contender aiming to upgrade the left side of its infield or to add a premium bat to the lineup. He’s on pace to set career bests in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walk rate, and strikeout rate.
What not to like: The eyeball test on Machado playing shortstop has been iffy, and the defensive metrics are even worse as he ranks last among major league shortstops in defensive runs saved. This will likely be a bigger topic of discussion for his free agency, but any contender coveting his bat will need to acknowledge that he doesn’t offer the same defensive value at his new position as he did at third base.
Outlook: Teams value young players and prospects more than ever, so expecting a lucrative return for a rental — even one as great as Machado — is unrealistic. However, the Orioles should still be able to fetch some good pieces for the best player available on the market. Several teams will be interested, but Baltimore must be careful not to play its hand too strongly as it wouldn’t be the first time other clubs could grow tired of glacial-pace negotiations and indecisiveness. The organization can’t afford to mess this up more than it already has by not dealing him sooner or signing him to a long-term extension.
CF Adam Jones
2018 salary: $17.333 million
What to like: The 32-year-old is on pace to eclipse the 20-homer mark for the eighth consecutive season and enters Tuesday’s action hitting .290, which would be the highest mark of his career. A clubhouse leader with an above-average bat and playoff experience would be valuable to an ascending club making its first run at a playoff spot or looking to get to the next level.
What not to like: His defense has been debated for years, but the time has come for Jones to move to a corner outfield spot as he ranks next to last among major league center fielders in defensive runs saved and doesn’t cover enough ground anymore. His 2.8 percent walk rate is the second lowest of his career and his .320 batting average on balls in play suggest some regression at the plate the rest of the way.
Outlook: More than with any other potential chip, Jones should be handled delicately as he has meant so much to this city over the last decade and holds a full no-trade clause as a 10-and-5 player. The five-time All-Star selection deserves to play for a contender if he wishes, but his remaining salary and defensive concerns could be sticking points for potential suitors. There should be a reasonable deal out there that can fetch the Orioles a piece or two and provide Jones a chance to win a World Series, but open communication will be key here and that’s not a strength of the organization.
LHP Zach Britton
2018 salary: $12 million
What to like: Britton is only two years removed from arguably the greatest season ever for a relief pitcher and remains a premium commodity as a hard-throwing left-handed reliever. His 136 saves entering Tuesday’s action should look appealing to any contender looking for a closer or to add an experienced ninth-inning arm as part of a committee approach dictated by matchups.
What not to like: Coming back from the torn Achilles tendon is one thing, but Britton’s average fastball velocity (93.8 miles per hour) is down more than two miles per hour from 2017 (96.1) when he dealt with a forearm issue for a large chunk of the season. He’s also issued nearly a walk per inning since making his 2018 season debut two weeks ago.
Outlook: You hate to draw too many conclusions based on Britton’s first seven appearances of 2018, but a small sample size is all you have to go on with the deadline a little over a month away and you’re discussing a pitcher who’s missed sizable portions of the last two seasons. When you match that with his hefty salary, the Orioles need to see Britton get on a hot streak over the next few weeks to increase his trade value from anything more than a salary dump or a middling minor-leaguer or two. The Orioles really missed the boat not cashing in on what was some great value two winters ago.
RHP Brad Brach
2018 salary: $5.165 million
What to like: The right-hander is averaging just under 10 strikeouts per nine innings and is only two years removed from his 2016 All-Star campaign in which he posted a tiny 2.05 ERA. Brach has also converted 26 saves over the last two seasons filling in for Britton.
What not to like: The 32-year-old is averaging five walks per nine innings and has posted an ordinary 3.86 ERA in his first 32 appearances of the 2018 season. Even when he’s put zeroes on the scoreboard, the outings have been shaky as he’s posted a career-worst 1.75 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).
Outlook: There figures to be no shortage of right-handed relievers available at the deadline, making you wonder how much Brach can improve his value between now and the end of July. There should be a taker or two for his services, but this is another situation in which the Orioles didn’t sell high and are now looking at a deal more closely resembling a salary dump than anything of great value in return.
INF Danny Valencia
2018 salary: $1.2 million
What to like: Valencia has been one of the few bright spots of 2018 with a solid .280 average and .791 on-base plus slugging percentage and has played more than anticipated because of injuries. Long considered a platoon bat against left-handed pitchers, the 33-year-old has hit right-handers just as effectively.
What not to like: Even with his balanced splits this season, Valencia remains below average defensively and ideally serves as a designated hitter or first baseman, limiting his appeal to contenders.
Outlook: Tim Beckham’s return figures to limit opportunities for Valencia, which isn’t ideal when you have thoughts of moving him in a trade. His affordable salary and consistency at the plate this season could fetch the Orioles something, but this isn’t a trade commodity that’s moving the meter in any way.
Other pending free agents: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Craig Gentry, SP Chris Tillman
Outlook: These three are more likely to be designated for assignment than to find any club interested in their services the rest of the way.