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How important is it if Orioles take a fifth starter?

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How important is it if Orioles take a fifth starter?

Everyone knows that the Orioles would like to add another starting pitcher. They know that their starters must pitch better this year than last, but really how many effective starters do they need?

Everyone thinks they need five, but if you look back on recent Orioles history, you’ll find that they rarely, in their most successful years, have had five outstanding starters.

Last year, Ubaldo Jimenez won 12 games, Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman 11 each, Miguel Gonzalez had nine wins, and their fifth leading starter was Kevin Gausman, who had three wins as a starter. Gausman picked up another win in the bullpen.

Chen’s loss to the Miami Marlins is bemoaned, but he was never the team’s No. 1 starter. He never pitched on Opening Day.

Over his four years with the Orioles, Chen won 46 games, three behind Tillman’s 49. Tillman spent the first half of the 2012 season at Norfolk while Chen missed two months in 2013 with an oblique strain.

In 2014 when the Orioles advanced to the American League Championship Series, they had four starters who won 10 or more: Chen (16), Bud Norris (15), Tillman (13) and Gonzalez (10).

Their fifth most winning starter that year? It was Gausman with seven wins. Those seven wins were the most by an Orioles fifth starter since 1993 when Fernando Valenzuela won eight.

Not since 1979 have the Orioles had five starters with 10 or more wins. Even in 1983 when the Orioles last won the World Series, the team didn’t have a fifth starter with 10 or more wins. Dennis Martinez was the fifth leading starter with seven.

While it would be preferable for the Orioles to find an effective starter to go along with Gausman, Gonzalez, Jimenez and Tillman, it’s not mandatory if they each pitch well.

MORE ORIOLES: For Orioles, Rule 5's aren't the exception

In 2012 when the Orioles advanced to the postseason for the first time in 15 years, they had only one pitcher — Chen — with 10 or more wins. Their fifth leading starter that year was Brian Matusz, who won five games before he was sent to Norfolk and later converted to a successful reliever.

If the Orioles don’t add another potential starter to the mix, Vance Worley is a likely candidate. Worley won 11 games as part of a much publicized Philadelphia Phillies rotation in 2009.

But even that year, Worley was the fourth leading winner. Roy Oswalt, who won 163 games in a terrific career, had just nine wins.

Last year’s World Series winners, the Kansas City Royals had only three pitchers who had 10 or more wins as starters.

The St. Louis Cardinals had five starters that won 10 regular season games, but they lost the Division Series in four games to the Chicago Cubs.

Of course, the Royals had a terrific bullpen, and one of their starters, Chris Young, won three of his 11 games in relief.

But, the Orioles have an outstanding bullpen, too. Matusz, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day will have to take on a huge load.

If the starters are effective, the Orioles can contend. If they’re not, the exemplary bullpen can’t save them. No matter if there’s a capable fifth starter or not.

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.

Overall

This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.

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Orioles star shortstop Manny Machado traded to Los Angeles Dodgers

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Orioles star shortstop Manny Machado traded to Los Angeles Dodgers

"It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."

I can't decide which quote best applies today. No, it didn't take a "Godfather" offer to pry Manny Machado away from the Orioles. Everyone and their mother knew this day was coming. Machado, he of the .315 batting average, 24 home runs and 65 RBIs, was too big a fish to swim in a last-place pond on the final year of his contract.

Still, the front office in Baltimore knew they had to get this one right, so they held out as long as you could. Depending on who you ask, you might hear that they waited this long to allow Machado to represent the O's in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game as their lone player. I'm sure that was a nice bonus, but the truth is that waiting this long allowed them to net the greatest possible return.

With every twist and turn in the story, new leaders in the sweepstakes emerged and more and more (and better) prospects were added to team's offers. The Yankees wanted to create the most fearsome lineup since the '27 Murderer's Row. The Brewers wanted to show they were aggressive, much like their acquisition of CC Sabathia exactly a decade ago. The Phillies needed to replace the struggling J.P. Crawford at short. The Braves wanted to legitimize their division title chances. The Indians wanted to form the greatest infield in recent memory. The Cubs aren't afraid to turn a strength into a super strength.

Philadelphia was the favorite, until they weren't.

In the end, it was the Dodgers, looking to replace their own injured star shortstop, who made the offer which couldn't be refused.

Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer, Rylan Bannon Zach Pop and Breyvic Valera are headed to Baltimore in exchange for Machado and no additional cash, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. 

The Dodgers were one of the best matches with the O's in terms of prospects. Los Angeles is adept at identifying and developing talent, meaning their farm system has a wealth of talent to draw from. Their fourth-best prospect would be number one or two on many team's lists, so the Orioles were able to extract more value without the Dodgers feeling like they were giving up too much for a rental.

Many fans who think the O's would have to basically give Machado away want to remind you that he is just that; a rental. This brought his value down, though it's arguable how much. Machado isn't your average three-month player. He is a generational defender at third base and a passable defender at shortstop, all while providing a middle of the order bat. If we were ranking players on pure talent level alone, Machado would likely be in the top three in all of baseball, and at age 26 he's only now entering his prime. This is a quality of "rental" rarely, if ever, seen in baseball history.

The Dodgers didn't make this move for the next three months (though it can't be overstated how important it's become to win your division ever since the advent of the Wild Card Game and they are locked in a tight battle atop the NL West). They made this move for October.

The National League has many quality teams, but with no super teams in the ilk of the Red Sox or Astros, a move like this can serve to separate them from the pack. Los Angeles is now probably, at worst, tied with the Cubs as the prohibitive favorites to return to the Fall Classic.

For better or worse, this trade will likely come to define the next decade of Orioles baseball. They needed to nail the prospects they got back, and if nothing else, they should be commended for handling this professionally over the last few weeks. This is a quality package, representing a much-needed infusion of talent into their barren farm system.

It doesn't excuse the previous three years, in which they bungled the situation so badly they somehow managed to go 1,000 days without even talking to their most accomplished player in a generation about a potential contract extension. It's been a laughable, unacceptable, truly embarrassing failure to communicate between a decision maker and his best player.

The one silver lining to the Orioles finding themselves on a historic pace to have one of the worst seasons in Major League Baseball history is that the decision to trade Machado and officially kick off the long rebuilding process was an easy one. In previous seasons, during which the front office could have received much greater value in return for one of their stars, the team has inexplicably been unable to evaluate their own postseason chances and chosen to be buyers when they should have been sellers. 

69 losses at the All-Star break is a clear message that the roster needs a reboot, and it allowed the team to not hesitate in jettisoning their most talented player in decades. The fact that the team has been bad since Opening Day has given fans plenty of time to resign themselves to this move, and hopefully they can focus on the excitement of adding a fun, talented young core, instead of the sorrow of losing a beloved figure on your favorite team. 

In the coming years, as the team fights for the top spot in the draft and finds themselves looking up at the hated Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East, hopefully they can look back on some of Manny's greatest hits in Baltimore and appreciate what they had in the superstar from Miami.

After all, it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.