The long-awaited midseason trade deadline finally passed on Monday and Dan Duquette could honestly say the Orioles are measurably better than they were before the non-waiver trading period began in earnest a couple of weeks ago.
He acquired a decent starting pitcher and a shortstop who is under club control through 2020. He also picked up a solid Double-A pitching prospect from the Yankees, making good – to a small extent – on his intention of improving the team for the present and the future.
What he did not do was break off a big piece of that present and deal it for a basket of prospects who might actually change the long-term outlook of the franchise. That is either good news or bad news, depending on how you feel about the chances of this year’s model actually sprinting back into playoff contention.
Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham figure to help, but doesn’t there have to come a time when the front office is willing to take a real leap into the future?
Duquette made it pretty clear late Monday that the answer to that question – in his mind – is no.
“I’d rather see the season end in October than August,’’ Duquette said.
No one should be surprised by this. Duquette has been using the future to finance the present since he arrived here shortly before the 2012 season. He brashly promised a winning season that year in spite of a string of 14 losers that argued strongly against him. The Orioles have not had a losing season since, though they are flirting with one at the moment.
Duquette’s strategy made perfect sense 5½ years ago and has kept the Orioles competitive throughout his tenure, but the glaring lack of organizational rotation depth this season begs for a more forward-looking approach.
The current window of opportunity is open just a crack, while the horizon appears to be closed for business.
The case can be made that Duquette is forced to focus on the near-term because he and manager Buck Showalter each are under contract only through next year and work for an octogenarian owner who can’t wait forever for his chance to reach the World Series.
Nobody likes to talk about that and Duquette deftly dodged a question on Monday about the impact of those considerations on his decision to keep closer Zach Britton and some other attractive players past the deadline.
“We expected to have a contending team all the time this year,’’ he said. “When we ran into a couple of bumps in the road, I think we still think we can have a good team this year. (Giants GM) Brian Sabean said it best. ‘You want to be adding on Aug. 1.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.
“We’re all trying to get to the playoffs. Some of the teams who have gotten to the playoffs in that last spot have been able to capitalize and go on and win a championship. It’s really a marathon, but if you can complete the marathon and get into the playoffs, you can still have a chance.”
The Orioles entered Monday night’s game against the red-hot Kansas City Royals 6 ½ games out of first place in the American League East and 5 ½ games out of the second AL wild card slot. That may not sound like all that much, but the O’s didn’t exactly remake their starting rotation with the Hellickson deal.
Ubaldo Jimenez was back on the mound on Monday night, the Orioles continuing to send him out there on a mechanically challenged wing and a prayer. Both he and Wade Miley are hinting again at better days, but there is no basis for real confidence that the rotation can right itself sufficiently to send the O’s clamoring up the standings.
Duquette is trading heavily on the hope that the somewhat improved Orioles will pitch and play better while the teams ahead of them will leave the door to one of the American League playoff berths open.
In fact, he used the word hope several times during an impromptu media session near the Orioles dugout two hours before Monday night’s game.
While that’s well all within the realm of mathematical possibility, this might be a good time to remember the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi:
Hope is not a strategy.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.