The Baltimore Orioles are the Albanian flag of major league baseball teams in that they have a two-headed eagle looking in completely opposite directions, and the start of September is not normally the time to be confused about one’s direction.
They called up top prospect Gunnar Henderson today, making him and his minor-league slash line of .297/.416/.591 available for whatever postseason hijinks into which they can include themselves. This falls in line with the earlier promotion of top top prospect Adley Rutschman, since which date the Orioles are 51-36 and no longer tanking that tank.
On the other hand, they also acquired veteran first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who has had a deeply uninspiring season in Miami and would normally be the kind of player you pick up if you’re uninterested in any season, post- or otherwise. They were also unrepentant sellers at the trade deadline, shipping out Trey Mancini, a middle-of-the-order fan-favorite, and all-star closer Jorge Lopez for a dry turkey sandwich. It would certainly be helpful for a team with its eyes on the playoffs to have those two players on the roster right now.
The O’s have averaged 3.7 runs per game since August 12, and that includes a 15-run winner against the mortuary bait of the Boston Red Sox; take that game out and they are scoring fewer than three runs per game, making them the American League’s version of the Washington Nationals (and that ought to piss off everyone on either side of that particular third rail).
On the other hand, they are holding serve over those 16 games and remain well within striking distance of not only a wild card spot but potentially the top wild card spot, to the amazement of all creatures living, dead, or Nat.
So what have we here, really? Starting Henderson’s big-league clock is not something the Orioles would do blithely; on the other hand, going for even the illusion of the postseason after five years of .357 baseball would, or at least could, re-energize a fan base that has achieved full shut-up as regards their team. Henderson’s promotion is, as optics go, a fine one.
Signing Aguilar, on the other hand, is kind of not, as he mostly gives them another non-bat at a time when hitting is the thing they most need. The remainder of their schedule is laden to the brim with games against Toronto, their closest divisional rival, so committing either to one thing or the other seems like the best way to cash in all bets, whether they are blindly optimistic or loaded with fade.
Then again, maybe worrying about the Aguilar signing is wasted fret. The Henderson promotion makes them a bit sprightlier (their only position player over 30 is catcher Robinson Chirinos, who is a delicate 38), and it suggests that whatever general manager Mike Elias and the O’s are doing now, they are doing so with an eye toward a more glorious future which may be creeping up on them sooner than they think.
So they look more in than out emotionally and schematically, and even though they have to figure ways to pass both Minnesota and one of either Seattle, Tampa Bay, or Toronto to make this procedural gamble worth the energy. Ignore the Aguilar deal for the moment, if you’re an Orioles fan. Your team is crabwalking toward contention, and Henderson is the way to bet. At least until the eagles start looking at each other than in east-west position.