We know two things for certain about next year's Baltimore Orioles -- even as we sit here, days removed from their elimination from postseason contention. One is that 2018 will be a pivotal year for the franchise; two is that, for it to be a well-used year, they'll need to find some starters.
Next season's Orioles will be wedged in that uncomfortable spot between last-ditch contending and forced rebuilding that was reserved in 2017 for the Kansas City Royals. A number of key players will be impending free agents, including cornerstones Manny Machado and Adam Jones. Relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach will qualify for the open market, too. In fact, the only Orioles who are under guaranteed deals through 2019 are Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Darren O'Day. With all due respect to each, that's not the kind of cores contenders are built from.
Nonetheless, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter seem unlikely to strip down the Orioles until they have to -- this same bunch brought in Tim Beckham and Jeremy Hellickson at the deadline, despite hefty odds against them making a legitimate run at the postseason. What's that mean? Presumably that the Orioles will spend the winter addressing their poor rotation.
Years of shaky development and backfired acquisitions have left the Orioles in position where they have just two pitchers worth hanging onto: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Beyond that, the O's will be hunting for three new starters. Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeremy Hellickson are all about to hit free agency -- they combined for a 7.10 ERA over 64 appearances. Meanwhile, the O's can buy out Wade Miley's option and save $11.5 million.
In other words, the Orioles should have some financial flexibility to invest in a mid-rotation starter or two -- and it almost doesn't matter who they pick, since it'll be hard to pitch worse than their incumbents did in 2017. That isn't the kind of silver lining you want, but come on, read a few lines back again -- a 7.10 ERA over 64 appearances by three veteran arms.
If it all goes wrong -- if the Orioles' rotation somehow doesn't upgrade -- then we're going to spend a lot of time during the summer talking about whether they'll trade Machado, Jones and others. One suspects, however, that the Orioles will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. Should that prove to be correct, our concerns for their future will be put on hold until next winter -- at that point, the road to October is going to become substantially more difficult.
For now, though, you can't blame the Orioles if they're focused on making the most of 2018 -- after all, they have every reason to be all-in on the next 12 months.