Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton has ruptured his Achilles, and his injury should force the club to come to grips with reality.
Perhaps more so than they would like at this point of the offseason, the Baltimore Orioles have been front and center. Shopping All-Star third baseman Manny Machado will do that to you. Under Dan Duquette, the Orioles have typically preferred to operate around the fringes until the later weeks of the offseason and snap up undervalued assets. That approach isn’t going to cut it in a winter where the New York Yankees have acquired Giancarlo Stanton and the Boston Red Sox are angling towards signing J.D. Martinez.
It was always going to be tough to make themselves a competitive club in 2018. They need to replace three starting pitchers from one of the worst rotations in MLB history and finished 75-87 last year.
But if seeing the Yankees acquire the NL MVP without really subtracting from their MLB roster was a gut punch to the Orioles, what do you call the news that broke early Wednesday morning?
There’s really no coming back from this one for the Orioles, who were also apparently close to pulling Machado off the trade block according to Jon Heyman. Owner Peter Angelos, one of the most meddlesome figures in professional sports, will make the final call on any trade proposal Duquette and the front office field for their superstar. He nixed a deal that would have sent Britton to the Houston Astros at the deadline last year. How’s that decision look now?
Even better, franchise icon Adam Jones, who, like Machado, is a free agent after 2018, spent most of Tuesday afternoon ethering the team’s owner and front office to random fans on Twitter. Jones had been open about his desire to see the team make more aggressive moves in the past, but this was a new level of vitriol from the All-Star.
Things already looked bleak for the Orioles with the Yankees and Red Sox loading up, but the Britton news is just a deathblow. Prior to Britton injuring his forearm last May, the team was 22-11 and riding high. Things quickly unraveled. Like the Kansas City Royals of 2015 and 2016, the Orioles need an elite bullpen to have any chance of winning. Brad Brach — also a free agent after 2018 (sense a theme here?) — couldn’t handle the increased pressure, the rotation imploded and the O’s sunk to last place after finishing at least .500 for five straight years.
The writing is on the wall. It’s time for the Orioles to tear the roster down to bare bones. As painful as that will be for a fanbase that endured 14 straight losing seasons between 1997 and 2012, this is the only way for the Orioles to have any chance of returning to battle Boston and New York. Never one to rebuild, Angelos is in danger of losing his starting third baseman, center fielder and two All-Star relievers for absolutely nothing.
Let the Philadelphia Phillies teams of the late Aughts serve as a warning. Holding on too long and refusing to begin a rebuild when the warning bells are going off is a recipe for disaster. The Phillies refused to deal Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley before it was far too late and they have lost an average of 93 games the past five years and still don’t have a new core waiting in the wings.
Peter Angelos wants to win — always has. Painting the Orioles as a cheap organization, unwilling to spend money to build a winning roster has always been a lazy take. Angelos spends plenty on his MLB roster. Where he fails as an owner is in supporting all branches of the tree that grows into a World Series contender. The Orioles don’t invest in international prospects. They don’t trade established stars. They have not drafted an developed an All-Star starting pitcher since Mike Mussina in the late ’90s. You cannot possibly hope to win in the hyper-competitive AL East with a stubborn owner who refuses to allow his front office to do their job.
The Orioles can’t respond to the Britton injury irrationally. If the offers for Machado are underwhelming right now, wait until the deadline. Everyone else, however, should be available. Don’t do silly things like refuse to trade Brach because someone has to close. If Jones wants out, explore options to find him a new home without an embarrassing spat on Twitter of all places. The rebuild is now in full gear down in Tampa Bay. Already so far behind the rest of the league in many meaningful ways, the Orioles cannot afford to waste another year, finish below .500 and put themselves in a hole that will lead to another decade-plus of losing.