Now that it has become clear the Orioles will be without third baseman Manny Machado for the remainder of the season, the club's front office is going to have to decide just how confident it is in the ability of the current roster to hold on to the top spot in the American League East and make a strong postseason run.
And that's not the only troublesome question Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will have to consider over the next week and beyond.
There is another trade deadline looming next weekend, which might or might not offer the Orioles an opportunity to acquire a good-hitting corner infielder. They must make a deal by Aug. 31 for the player they hope to acquire to be eligible for the postseason, and players must pass through waivers to change teams, so there is no guarantee a first-place club will be able to make a deal without another playoff contender blocking it.
Duquette almost certainly will spend the next few days looking for the right opportunity to beef up the lineup, but even if he finds it, the Orioles will face the same dilemma that makes the midseason trading period such an agonizing tug-of-war between the present and the future.
They already have traded away one of the club's top pitching prospects, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, to acquire left-handed setup man Andrew Miller. Duquette would have to give up another chunk of the organization's young talent to pick up any veteran who would be a solid bet to make the Orioles a more viable playoff team.
It's the devil's bargain the Oakland Athletics made at midseason, when they traded away two top prospects to acquire starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. A's president Billy Beane decided that this season was his club's best hope to reach the World Series, so he gambled, also tradingCuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes to rent Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
The Orioles are not in quite the same situation, but the case can be made that their strong move in the division over the past few weeks has changed the way they should be looking at this particular postseason opportunity.
Though there is no guarantee they will hold on to first place the rest of the way, they have built such a big lead that the odds are heavily in their favor, even without Machado in the lineup. The question then becomes whether the club still feels it's solid enough to roll the dice in October or, conversely, believes this is the time to pull out whatever stop is necessary for its World Series pursuit.
If that sounds like an obvious choice to fans who have waited since 1983 for the Orioles to get a shot at the big trophy, it really isn't. The Orioles are facing the potential departure of Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz sometime in the next 18 months, so they would be wise to hold on to what position depth they have in the upper levels of their minor league system. That, however, is also a pretty strong argument for them taking their best shot right now.
Showalter likes to talk about how much he likes his guys —- and the Orioles have shrugged off every other setback this year to ascend to the fourth-best record in baseball — so it's not like Machado's absence is going to turn them into a playoff long shot.
The Orioles have shown in a couple of different circumstances that they can win without Machado in the lineup, and have gotten where they are with him playing at full strength for only a fraction of the season. They still have the same pitching staff and a top-flight defensive team, though certainly not what it would be with a healthy Machado.
No doubt, Duquette will do whatever he can, within reason, to fill that void, but even a big-name rental player will not answer the other troubling question that has grown out of this injury. Do the two freak incidents that have taken Machado's legs out from under him call into question his long-term durability? He still has the talent to be one of the best players in the game and one of the best defensive players ever, but that can't happen a half-season at a time.
The Orioles are hoping to build a bright future around Machado, Jonathan Schoop and their stable of hard-throwing young pitchers, but a big part of that has been thrown into serious doubt.
That's one more reason why the Duquette and his front office may want to focus on the here and now.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.