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Leyland's pick for top manager? Showalter & Melvin

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Leyland's pick for top manager? Showalter & Melvin

Buck Showalter did an excellent job of guiding the Baltimore Orioles back into the playoffs. Bob Melvin had an equally fine effort with the Oakland Athletics.

So who should be the AL Manager of the Year? Both of them, Detroit skipper Jim Leyland said.

``Not to put the cart before the horse, but I hope that Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin are co-Managers of the Year this year,'' Leyland said before Detroit tried for a three-game sweep at Oakland in the ALDS on Tuesday night. ``I think if there's a year there should be two guys getting the award, this is the year.''

The award, chosen by voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, will be announced next month.

Melvin, in his first full season with Oakland, managed the A's to a 94-68 record. The surprising Athletics returned to the playoffs for the first time in six years. His erased a 13-game AL West deficit - including five games over the final nine - and overtook two-time reigning AL champion Texas on the season's final day.

The A's became the first team in major league history to win the division or pennant after trailing by five or more games with fewer than 10 to go.

Showalter, meanwhile, helped the Orioles end 14 straight losing seasons and four consecutive last-place finishes. They won 93 games to earn a wild-card berth and beat the two-time defending AL champion Rangers in a one-game playoff to advance to the division series against New York.

The Yankees and Orioles are tied one game apiece. Game 3 is Wednesday in New York.

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BIRDS ON A BUS: Baltimore manager Buck Showalter was given an unexpected reminder of what it was like to travel in his minor league days.

The Orioles rode the bus to New York.

The alternate plans were needed when Baltimore's train stalled because of electrical problems along the line early Tuesday morning after beating the Yankee 3-2, tying their AL division series at one game each.

``The way I understand it, I think the train ahead of us, I think it was the Yankees, clipped something,'' Showalter said. ``Finally we just got on a bus, and it was about a 2 1/2-hour bus ride from there to the hotel here in New York.''

The Orioles arrived at 9 a.m. about three hours after the Yankees returned - also by bus. Both teams began their journeys shortly after 1 a.m.

This wasn't Baltimore's first brush with transportation problems. Less than two weeks ago, the Orioles team plane had smoke in the forward galley and had to be diverted.

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FIRST PITCHES, FRANK-LY SPEAKING: Frank Robinson and Frank Howard - a pair of men with strong connections to Washington baseball - will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitches for Games 3 and 4 of the Nationals' NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Robinson was the first manager of the Nationals, guiding them through their initial two seasons in the nation's capital, 2005 and 2006, after having spent four seasons with them when the club was the Montreal Expos. The Hall of Famer get the honor before Wednesday's game, the first baseball postseason contest in Washington since 1933.

``It's cool. It'll be fun to get to talk to him and kind of poke at each other a little bit,'' said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who was drafted by the Expos in 2004 and switched his uniform from No. 6 to Robinson's old No. 20 before this season as a tribute.

``When he signed up here, he had this in mind. He wanted to start something, and he did,'' Desmond added. ``He's got a stamp on this organization forever and I'm forever indebted to him, and I think D.C. will be also.''

Howard will throw out the first pitch Thursday. He played for the Washington Senators from 1965-71, hitting 44 or more homers in three consecutive seasons during that span.

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A PRINCE, INDEED: Wherever, however, the Tigers found the money to pay slugger Prince Fielder's hefty salary for nearly the next decade, Jim Leyland has no idea.

And the Detroit manager doesn't much care - Leyland is writing him into the lineup each day now. Fielder is doing his thing to get Detroit back to a second straight AL championship series.

Still, hearing that $214 million, nine-year number caught Leyland's attention, all right.

``The first thing I thought was that we found a whole bunch of money in a short period of time, because we couldn't even sign a relief pitcher for a million dollars about a week before that,'' Leyland said Tuesday before Game 3 in Oakland. ``So, evidently we sold a lot of Little Caesars in a short period of time. And I'm damn glad we did. But it was amazing.''

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is the Little Caesars pizza mogul.

With Fielder as the cleanup hitter following Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the No. 3 spot, the Tigers have one of the most feared middle-of-the-order tandems out there.

It's a big risk to pitch around both of them, too.

``It's not an easy task,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said. ``You look at the numbers and they both have knocked in over a hundred runs and both of them hit 30-plus homers, so somebody is pitching to them. ... There are times you can't pitch around those guys and you have to go after them.''

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THAT WAS FAST: If there was any sort of silver lining to be found for the Nationals after they lost Game 2 of their NLDS against St. Louis by a 12-4 score, perhaps it was the opportunity to get to see several relievers.

Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia lasted only two innings - the lefty was replaced on the roster Tuesday because he has a strained rotator cuff and inflammation in his throwing shoulder - so St. Louis needed five members of the bullpen to get through the game.

The one who made the biggest impression? Trevor Rosenthal.

He struck out three batters in the ninth, topping 100 mph.

``Rosenthal came in throwing 101 last night. That's absolute `fuego,''' Washington's Bryce Harper said. ``If you guys want to step in the box, you guys can go ahead.''

Said Adam LaRoche: ``A mop-up guy that throws 100? We were saying: `Where do they get these guys? You're kidding me.'''

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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.