Things just keep getting worse for the Orioles on the field. They blew a 4-1 eighth-inning lead in a 5-4 loss at Toronto on Sunday afternoon, completing a three-game sweep to fall to a major-league-worst 28-72 and just 1-9 against the Blue Jays this season.
But off the field, things may be getting better, as the sell-off has begun.
The inevitable became official on Wednesday night July 18 as the O’s traded Manny Machado to the Dodgers for a five-player package highlighted by Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz. Let me first say that I am glad that a necessary purge for the O’s finally and hopefully has begun. A number of others need to be traded prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline or even after that (they just need to clear waivers), including Zach Britton (for whom the trade market seems to have gotten hot over the last few days), Adam Jones and Brad Brach – all of whom are set to be free agents this offseason, just like Machado, although boy has Brach been bad this season (4.97 ERA, 1.74 WHIP). I also would trade away Mark Trumbo and would throw out even more names, but so many potential trade chips have been bad and/or injured this season (Richard Bleier, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day).
But there is so much more to the Machado trade than what it hopefully is the beginning of.
First of all, this purge by the O’s – and Dan Duquette finally is using the word “rebuilding” in public statements – should have started a year ago. Whether this was the fault of Duquette or Buck Showalter or Brady Anderson or Peter Angelos or some combination of those people we’ll probably never know, but the Orioles’ admirable-but-delusional belief that they could keep contending despite a woeful farm system from a pitching standpoint, a one-dimensional offense and a bad defense was rewarded with an epic September collapse last season and now this nightmare of a 2018 season. The O’s had a seven-game winning streak last August that lifted them to 68-65. They are 35-92 since. And while only time will tell on the return that the O’s received for Machado, it’s worth noting that the five-player package included just one top-100 prospect (Diaz) per MLB Pipeline. You don’t think that the return would have been better had the O’s traded Machado sooner as opposed to now, when he is at most about a three-month rental?
Secondly, one of the real maddening aspects of the Machado ordeal was how non-aggressive the O’s had been in trying to sign him to a long-term contract. The team seemed resigned for years to him leaving it via free agency. I always despised that. The O’s love to cry poor. And while they’re not the Yankees or Red Sox in terms of market size and payroll, the O’s, like every other team in the majors, take in a ton of money from MLB’s national-television contracts with FOX, ESPN and Turner and from revenue produced by MLB Network and MLB.com. If you’re not going to re-sign a young stud and probable future Hall-of-Famer like Machado, who exactly are you going to re-sign? And the excuse of the Chris Davis contract only goes so far. But what makes the non-aggression even worse is that the O’s almost certainly could have signed Machado to a long-term deal years ago at a much cheaper price than what he is almost certain to command this offseason. The Angels did this with Mike Trout. The Dodgers did this with Clayton Kershaw. San Francisco did this with Madison Bumgarner. Pittsburgh did this with Andrew McCutchen. The O’s were asleep at the wheel in the Machado contract situation. This trade with the Dodgers never had to happen.
Finally, I will never understand why the O’s let Machado just dictate his switch from third base to shortstop this season. Every indication has been that Machado’s move to shortstop was something that he wanted more than it was a move initiated by the team. If he was in fact as good as gone, why did the O’s just give in to this desire when it was to the detriment of the ball club? The defensive metrics aren’t gospel, but they reek of this move having been a disaster. Machado had 81 Defensive Runs Saved over six seasons at third base. He had -19 Defensive Runs Saved this season at shortstop with the O’s. That is atrocious, and I say that while recognizing that Defensive Runs Saved is a flawed stat. Also, Machado’s move from third base has created a black hole at that position for the O’s, who, ironically enough, called up Machado from Double-A Bowie in 2012 to fill what had been a black hole at third base (Wilson Betemit, anyone?). Popular justifications for Machado’s move to shortstop have included that he would get “bored” at third base and that the move has been a reason for his great 2018 from an offensive standpoint. Whatever. The move was part of the O’s being an embarrassment defensively this season. Did you see how the 8-7 10-inning loss at Toronto on Friday night ended? A walk-off single by Aledmys Diaz that deflected off third baseman Renato Nunez and then dribbled by shortstop Tim Beckham, who had made an errant throw on a two-out infield single by Russell Martin two batters earlier. Just awful. Buck after the loss: “We didn’t play very well defensively again.” And Beckham’s bad defense struck again in the 4-1 loss at the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon, as during the Jays’ three-run fourth he failed to keep his foot on second base in receiving a throw from Alex Cobb off a grounder by Yangervis Solarte for what should have been a double play or at least a force out.
The other big noteworthy item for the O’s in recent days is the team finally and mercifully designating Chris Tillman for assignment. The Tillman saga is so emblematic of why the O’s are where they are. He was the closest thing that the team had to an ace from 2012-16. He was atrocious in 2017 off missing the first month of the season due to right-shoulder bursitis, registering a 7.84 ERA over 24 games, including 19 starts. As I have said, the most disturbing Tillman stat from last season wasn’t the 7.84 ERA, it was the 19 starts – how in the world was a guy that bad allowed to make 19 starts? The O’s re-signed Tillman this past February, a move that I endorsed, but they inexplicably gave him a $3 million contract when the reporting was that his only other offers were minor-league deals. What happened? He was horrendous again, posting a 10.46 ERA over seven starts until going on the 10-day disabled list in May with a lower back strain that was about as phony as phony can be. He had been pitching on a minor-league rehab assignment and had been woeful, having produced a 6.75 ERA over six starts. And now, thankfully, he is gone. I say that with no joy regarding him personally. This has everything to do with a guy who was done but who the O’s, because they have been so bad at drafting and developing starting pitching and because they can be mind-numbingly loyal to certain players, stuck with despite every indication being that he was shot (his fastball, never lightning-quick o begin with, was clocking in the 80s at times).