A few days before Christmas, and by the time Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos would have had a moment for a proper lunch, his best pitcher was headed for surgery and somebody else’s third baseman had been traded to a place that really needed a third baseman. Maybe that would be enough for him to realize, assuming he still felt the pull of 2018, there is no more time or room for sentiment.
For weeks, the Orioles have accumulated trade proposals for Manny Machado, their 25-year-old third baseman/shortstop and looming free agent. The details of those proposals – young pitchers chief among the offerings, presumably – will find their way to Angelos’ desk (if they haven’t already), and then it will be his choice.
Cling to 2018.
Move Machado, say goodbye to a reasonable period of baseball in Baltimore, get on with the business of recreating the Orioles.
By Wednesday morning, the signs were coming hard and fast.
First, the news Orioles closer Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. The world can be unfair. Britton, who saved 47 games in 2016, toiled through arm trouble a season ago. He, too, will be a free agent at the end of 2018. And if the Orioles were to challenge the goliaths in the AL East, the everything-went-right scenario included something like Britton’s perfect ’16. He was healthy again. He would be effective again. His earliest return is, perhaps, June.
Then, the third-base market – perhaps not Machado’s, exactly, but we’re sneaking up on it – loosened. The Tampa Bay Rays traded their third baseman, the only one they’ve had for a decade, to the San Francisco Giants. Evan Longoria, 32 and under contract for another six seasons, brought four Giants – 22-year-old third baseman Christian Arroyo, veteran outfielder Denard Span and a couple A-ball right-handers.
Longoria will not help the Giants get younger. He will not allow them financial wiggle room on a roster of long-terms deals for Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. He does figure to improve on the Giants’ third basemen from last season. But they were awful. Longoria hit 20 home runs and batted .261, while posting sub-career numbers in most areas. This could be a concern going forward, of course, and would be particularly uncomfortable were Arroyo to become in St. Pete what everyone hoped he would become in San Francisco.
Working from a last-place finish, 40 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants were still in there thrashing against the odds, thrashing against the luxury-tax threshold, thrashing against their own clock. The Rays, meantime, who finished ahead of the Orioles in the AL East, took a breath and traded the best player they’ve ever had, a player who consistently accepted contracts south of his value, who may be on the decline but they don’t know that any more than the Giants would.
So, Longoria to the Giants. Zack Cozart to the Los Angeles Angels. Mike Moustakas stirring in free agency. Josh Donaldson almost certainly available in a trade. Todd Frazier lurking as a reasonable fallback option, along with Chase Headley, others.
The time and place for the Orioles to choose the best return on Manny Machado, to get on with whatever’s next, seems to have arrived. Maybe after lunch.
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