Brooks. Cal. Eddie. Frank. Earl.
For most Orioles icons, last names aren’t necessary. That will never be the case for Manny Machado.
In failing to extend the most purely talented player in franchise history, the Orioles cost themselves not just another one-namer for Legends Park, but also a chance to stay competitive and reload, rather than be forced into a rebuild.
With the benefit of hindsight, every organization in baseball would love to make certain moves differently. Machado should have either been an Oriole for life or the centerpiece to a franchise-altering trade.
Instead, the front office held on too long, removing the most valuable asset teams covet: years of control. As a result, the O’s found themselves with a star they couldn’t afford and a league unwilling to pay them top dollar for a rental. Halfway through a lost season, in which the team was out of playoff contention by June, the Orioles had no good options.
So, what could they have done differently? The most obvious answer is to avoid the situation entirely.
It’s no surprise to hear the front office bungled negotiations with Machado throughout his time in Baltimore. Reports suggest they were interested in an extension but scared off after multiple knee surgeries (both of which came on fluky injuries). Other reporting claims the sides came close to an extension, but Peter Angelos balked at a difference of $10 million.
Chump change for a man like Angelos, and it may have been all that kept Machado from sticking around.
Make no mistake, the Orioles, who once went more than *1,000 days* without reaching out to their best player to discuss an extension, put themselves in this unenviable position. What could they have done differently? Just about everything, especially in the years leading into 2018.
2012 and 2014 provided incredibly memorable postseason runs that Baltimore fans will never forget. They were fun, exciting and worthy of the resources put into those teams.
But 2014 was four years before the end of Machado’s contract, and the team was never close to contention again. Instead of recognizing when it was time to start over, GM Dan Duquette decided to make trades for other team’s rentals, giving up talented players for veterans who never moved the needle. He decided (or was forced by ownership) to pay an exorbitant amount to Chris Davis, the archetype of a slugging first baseman who in the course of baseball history has never aged well.
The lack of self-evaluation cost them value in the short term and wins in the long term, and it added up to completely take them out of the running to keep Machado.
Which brings us to the trade itself.
The Orioles received OF Yusniel Diaz, SP Dean Kremer, INF Rylan Bannon, RP Zach Pop and INF Breyvic Valera from Los Angeles last July in exchange for Machado.
Five guys is a lot to get back for one, but the truth is, the haul looks underwhelming. Diaz is the only player to appear on any top 100 prospect lists, and even he brings split opinions among evaluators. It doesn’t help that he’s struggled mightily since joining the organization. Kremer is the only other one who looks like a future contributor.
In an era of baseball in which star power is more important than ever, the Orioles settled for a top 100 prospect defined by his floor rather than his ceiling, with no more than depth pieces behind him. Sure, there’s value in depth, especially considering the state of the team’s farm system. But no player the O’s got back will ever come close to the success Machado found in Baltimore, and that’s disappointing.
It’s even harder to swallow when comparing to other recent deals. Just two years earlier, the Yankees brought back Gleyber Torres for three months of Aroldis Chapman. Manny Machado, an infinitely more valuable player than Chapman, topped out with Diaz.
It’s hard to say what they should have done differently without knowing the offers on the table, but it’s clear the O’s weren’t willing to pay part of Machado’s salary or take back any bad contracts, moves that would have brought additional prospects. For a team with no designs on competing anytime soon, and therefore no reason to invest big money in the big league club, that’s another disappointment.
The Machado trade was the most important move in recent memory for the franchise, and they let a lame duck GM coordinate it. When asking what could have been done differently, this is hard to ignore.
It rarely works out to have someone make major decisions for which he or she will not be around to suffer the consequences. Duquette wasn’t trying to sabotage the franchise with this move, but his vision probably doesn’t coincide with Mike Elias’. If ownership knew they weren’t retaining Duquette’s service after the season, which seems like a safe bet, why let him orchestrate such a critical trade deadline?
It all comes back to a disturbing lack of foresight with decision-makers in the organization. Hindsight may be 20/20, but foresight shouldn’t require a microscope. It was obvious to all who followed the team where this was headed, yet the Orioles continued to dig themselves into a hole, and no one came to bail them out.
Considering the situation they were in, the trade doesn’t look like an abject disaster. It certainly could have been worse. But it would have been nice to see the team go after some players with higher upside.
Nicer still would have been avoiding the situation altogether.