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Jim Henneman Says It's Too Early For Orioles Fans To Worry About 2018

February 1, 2017
Maybe I'm all alone out on some isolated island in cyberspace (aren't they all like that out there?), but sometimes it seems like baseball spends so much time trying to get ahead of itself that it never gets caught up. And if that doesn't make any sense to you, maybe you get my point.

Case in point: The Orioles are less than two weeks away from the start of spring training, and for the second, maybe third straight year, we're likely to hear as much about what might happen after the 2018 season as we are about prospects for the coming season. 

And the Orioles aren't the only team caught up in the speculation. The Nationals, for one, are another team destined to hear more about future speculation than prognostication about the present. 

Manny Machado, the Orioles' sensational third baseman, and Bryce Harper, the Nationals' super-hyped slugging outfielder, are front and center of what is expected to be the bonanza of all free-agent classes after the 2018 season. There are 30 major league teams that have a minimum of 324 games to play between now and then, but many fans, some executives and seemingly the entire electronic media world has 2018 on speed dial.

Maybe it's time for everybody to hurry up and slow down. 

Certainly, that's the message we've gotten recently and, sadly, seem to be getting annually. When Yordano Ventura, an electrifying right-handed pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, was killed in a car crash Jan. 22, it was the second time in four months a spectacular young player's life was lost before his career had a chance to blossom.

Somehow, I don't think the Royals' fan base was thinking about what might have been two years from now any more than the Marlins were when Jose Fernandez, like Ventura, a flame-throwing right-hander, died in a boating accident Sept. 25. Perhaps these incidents are too morbid to use as examples of how to look at the future.

But they are also a reminder that it's not a bad idea to hurry up and slow down.

The Orioles, Nationals and their fanbases have to get beyond the fact Machado and Harper may not be with their respective clubs two years from now. The same should also be said for those so determined to speculate about possible landing places, which almost always include the team wearing the original pinstripes.

Remember when future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Derek Jeter was finishing his career and Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy's contract was expiring? Or when former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was deemed to be the perfect fit for the Yankees? Center fielder Adam Jones? First baseman Chris Davis?

As the Orioles put the finishing touches on their 2017 roster, it should serve as a reminder that it's too early to think about 2018. Incidentally, that is also the year the contracts of manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expire.

The Orioles may have a tight window with Machado and closer Zach Britton (also in the 2018 class), and the same can be said about right-hander Chris Tillman (potentially a free agent after this year), so the emphasis needs to be on the coming season. If you really have to speculate, do so with the knowledge the Orioles will either win with Machado and Britton (and you can throw Tillman into the mix) -- or reboot with the boatload of prospects they return in any potential trades.

It wouldn't be the first time that strategy has been employed, as the Cubs, Indians, Astros, Red Sox and even the Yankees have shown in the past -- and as teams like the Phillies and Braves are in the process of doing now.

Like it or not, as our good friend Charlie Eckman would say, it really is a very simple game.

It's time to put 2018 in the rear-view mirror.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com