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Ten Year Later, Orioles Find Themselves In Familiar Position

July 6, 2018
When it was suggested in this space a week ago that the Orioles would eventually have to think about possible trades for either Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, it wasn't exactly a shock that the idea was met with a chorus of boos both here and in some segments of social media. 

After all, the Orioles have been looking for starting pitchers for at least a decade, so why look to trade one of the two youngest, and best, on the staff? 

Maybe because history tells us so. The best reasoning can be found by answering the following questions:

What is the Orioles' record?

What has been the team's strength -- if indeed there can be such a thing?

Without filling in all the blanks, as this is written, the O's have the worst winning percentage in MLB, with only the Kansas City Royals a serious challenger.  That should suffice as answer to the first question.

And, as incredible as it might seem for a team with the worst record in MLB, the strongest and deepest part of the roster has been the starting rotation.

Granted, trading either Gausman or Bundy might give a whole new meaning to the term "dealing from strength," but it does present the best opportunity to land a blue-chip prospect who could be a cornerstone for the future. In other words, somebody who could approximate what Adam Jones has done the last 10 years.

Shopping Manny Machado and Zach Britton as short-term rentals has not been, and isn't likely to be, enough to attract such a prospect. Reportedly, the Chicago Cubs would be willing to send shortstop Addison Russell to the Orioles in exchange for Machado, which on the surface would appear to be a reasonable exchange of young players.  But the Orioles aren't looking for a shortstop with three years of team control before free agency.

They need somebody's best prospect, a top 25 player in the minor leagues, who can be a major part of a major rebuild -- again, somebody who can do what Jones has done, become a face of the franchise. 

In order for the Orioles to acquire Jones from the Seattle Mariners in 2008, they had to give up their best pitcher from a less than stellar staff, 28-year old Erik Bedard. In return, the O's got Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, a relief pitcher who later made the All-Star team, and Kam Mickolio, who became part of a deal for Mark Reynolds.

It should be noted that the Orioles do not have a pitcher with the track record Bedard had when the Mariners thought he was their needed missing piece. He had gone 28-16 over a two year span (15-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 2006; 13-5, 3.67 in 2007). He also set a single-season strikeout record (221 in 2007) for a team than includes more than a few quality pitchers among its alumni.

There are many who will tell you today that the Bedard trade was a no-brainer, just like there are those who erroneously say the Milt Pappas-Frank Robinson deal was one the Orioles didn't think twice about (in his book "Winning in Both Leagues" Frank Cashen revealed that manager Hank Bauer was against trading his ace right-hander).

"I was in the room when the [Bedard] discussion took place" said a former Orioles' executive who is still in the game and remains anonymous for obvious reasons, "and I can tell you it was not a unanimous decision to make that trade. There were some very much against it, and Andy MacPhail was the only reason it was made." 

(For the record, the source of that quote is not a person on the current staff in Philadelphia or one who was part of the "inner circle" who came to the O's with MacPhail).

MacPhail ultimately doubled down on his plan to rebuild the Orioles, deciding to trade his best pitcher and most marketable and productive player (Miguel Tejada) in what would be a major rebuild. The circumstances are different, but the similarities to the current situation are unmistakable. Machado would figure to command more than Tejada, but as was the case a decade ago, a starting pitcher is likely to bring a better return.

In today's game, a player's team control is of equal value, or more, as his talent. And for some mysterious reason, even though they are not expected, let alone asked to go more than six innings, starting pitchers seem to command the market. 

I can't explain it, because frankly I don't understand it, but analytics seem to have made starting pitching over-valued, which gets us back to the debate over which way the Orioles should go in the Gausman-Bundy saga.

So here we are, 10 years later, with Adam Jones perhaps headed out of town in pursuit of a ring and the Orioles trying to find somebody just like him to help them negotiate the bumps along the way of that same road. If the O's find that guy, Jones could give him some good advice.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com 

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox