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Remember when teams really loved to brag about the importance of having financial flexibility so they could someday make moves when they truly needed to? It allowed them to care more about the flexibility to do hypothetical things than to actually do the things they were supposed to do with said flexibility. Craig Goldstein’s piece on the subject from 2019 remains vital, but it’s worth pointing out that “flexibility” isn’t always just about space on the payroll. Or, at least, that’s not the only thing that the word is used for.
Having a deep farm system can also be a kind of flexibility, and just like with payroll space, you’ll see general managers saying it’s important for them to have a strong farm system for when they need it. What do they need it for when they say this? To fill holes, of course, but when a defense like this one comes out of the mouth of Orioles’ general manager Mike Elias…
Mike Elias said the Orioles could “reach” if they see a deal they think could make a big difference for the 2023 team. But “I can’t set the minor league system on fire just because we’re in first place.”
…the point of it is that holding on to prospects means maintaining the ability to keep a low payroll. The Orioles do have holes to fill, right now, and they’ve called some of their top prospects up already over the past year-plus, which is a non-insignificant part of why they’re 1.5 games up in the American League East as of this writing. They have other holes that their current crop of prospects aren’t going to fill right now when something has to, so the right thing to do, in an attempt to seize this opportunity where the Yankees and Red Sox are vulnerable, the Rays aren’t as superhuman as their early start suggested, and the Blue Jays continue to exist in a state of not being as threatening as they should be, would be to trade some of the square prospects that don’t fit your round holes for a round peg or two.
No one is asking the Orioles to “set the minor league system on fire” at the trade deadline. They don’t have to hold an everything must go sale down on the farm. Throwing this up as a preemptive defense sounds like an excuse to say that the deals just were never there for them, so that’s why they stood pat or only did what little they did.
And that could very well be a self-own. The Orioles are just 1.5 games up in the East, and don’t have near the run differential that the Rays or Rangers do: they might have the best record in the AL at the moment, but this doesn’t mean they’re the league’s best team. This isn’t to say the O’s are bad, either, it’s just that it’s entirely possible their true talent level is closer to that of the AL East’s (above-.500) bottom teams than what you’d expect from the division leader. Now, anything can happen in October, but (1) you’ve got to get there first and (2) wouldn’t it make sense to improve the chances of “anything” happening when you do get there?
R.J. Anderson posted on Bluesky about an Andrew Friedman quote from 2019 that relates to this. Friedman, the president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, said that, “If you expect to win a deal from a value standpoint in July, you’re not going to make deals… We made plenty of offers that were definitely underwater from a value standpoint but felt good about making because of the team that we have.” This is the correct approach to have: Friedman nd his people in the Dodgers’ org have built an extraordinary farm system in Los Angeles that replenishes itself again and again, with some prospects being promoted to the big league squad, and others being used in trades in order to fill the holes the farm cannot without outside help. It’s hard to argue against this approach given it’s literally Friedman saying it, basically: the Dodgers have been the class of the league for a bit now, and it’s because they’re (generally) unafraid to “lose” a trade if they think it will help them win ballgames in the present. They can always get more prospects: there’s a draft every year to do so and everything.
The Orioles aren’t going to make a deal if they aren’t willing to “lose” it from a value standpoint. Yes, trading away a bunch of years of control could be a problem in a vacuum, but the Orioles aren’t in a vacuum. They’re trying to — or at least are supposed to be trying to — win the AL East and then go deep in the postseason. If they give up years of control and have to spend a little bit more than they currently are in order to put themselves in that position, then they should. They’ve developed so many quality prospects already, with more to come, so we know they’ve got the organizational structure to produce inexpensive young talent. And sure, their draft position will be worse in the future the more successful they are, but again: the Dodgers. Los Angeles hasn’t even finished under .500 since 2010, and that was just one game under: they haven’t had fantastic draft position in ages, and yet, the farm keeps producing. It can be done, and it should be done, and hopefully the Orioles can manage to improve in the next 24-plus hours rather than sitting on their thumbs, for “fear” of setting the farm ablaze.
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