As we approach August 1, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Baltimore Orioles: 47-31, 1st in the AL East
Well, damn, but isn’t this AL East race just a real peach without the Yankees and Red Sox sitting on top? There’s no wordy monologues on their legacy in the game; there’s no four-hour Sunday afternoon matinees narrated by an increasingly hoarse and disinterested Joe Buck. And there’s certainly nothing romantic about what the Orioles are doing to baseballs; this mighty offense is tied for 1st in MLB in team SLG (.802), 4th in team BA (.271), 3rd in doubles (145), and first, of course, in sweet, sweet dingers (120).
You can’t tell me Dan Duquette isn’t getting congratulatory slaps on the back while he’s looking at this happen, more surprised than anybody things are going this well. Recent history has not been kind to teams who have gone out of their way to stitch an aging core together for another go (*cough* Phillies), but the dust has settled and Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and Adam Jones are all still in orange. As is Manny Machado, but he wasn’t really going anywhere.
And they’ve even got “Thumpin’” Mark Trumbo, the slugger they didn’t even acquire in trademark Orioles fashion: waiting until their fans were holding fistfuls of their own hair before pulling the trigger on a deal that could help them compete. It was barely December when Baltimore sent Steve Clevenger to Seattle in exchange for Trumbo (and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser), sliding the current league leader in home runs (22) into a lineup next to Chris Davis.
What moves have they made so far?
Outside of wordlessly pushing Brian Matusz onto the Braves in a deal that was centered around a competitive balance pick, the O’s haven’t made any strong moves so far. In fact, the most important moves Baltimore has made in relation to their bullpen have been dropping home runs into it, and the biggest threat to their solid relief corps has been the furniture they’re sitting on.
Are they buyers or sellers?
That being said, pitching is this contender’s soft underbelly. If the Orioles are looking to make improvements, they’ll focus on the rotation and be buyers at the deadline.
Chris Tillman seems to have things under control, but he’s dragging a lot of high numbers behind him: The Orioles have three guys who have made at least six starts and have ERAs over 6.00; Kevin Gausman is allowing hits and runs at a slightly higher rate than Tillman; Yovani Gallardo, the pitcher the Orioles pursued and acquired to combat their initial 2016 pitching concerns, has only made seven starts, and I’m not sure you could say any of them have gone particularly well. Also, Ubaldo Jimenez.
Yikes. In a sport where some teams spend the winter constructing their rotations for the playoffs, you need more than one guy to rely on after the Wild Card round.
Who will they target?
Sadly, there’s a lot more corner outfielders out there this season than impact starters. Two potentially available starters- Drew Pomeranz of the Padres and Francisco Liriano of the Pirates- have already been linked to the O’s, who are said to be targeting lefties.
Julio Teheran is frequently named as a trade candidate, but he seems almost too high profile for the Orioles. If the Braves can’t find a taker to trade for Teheran, then Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi may get the Rays some eyebrow-raising offers. Somebody like Oakland’s Rich Hill seems more the Orioles’ style, but Baltimore is sensitive to overpaying. They likely wouldn’t have to overpay for Jeremy Hellickson of the Phillies, who was acquired as a veteran leader/trade chip but whose 4.23 ERA for the season and 5.40 in his last five starts make him... not someone you’d consider “help” if your goal was to improve your baseball team.
So, why not acquire Pomeranz? The Marlins are also in hot pursuit of the San Diego lefty (even after swinging one deal with San Diego for Fernando Rodney) but the Orioles rotation doesn’t have a southpaw in sight. This is Pomeranz’s big year, too, as he’s appeared healthy in 15 games, resulting in a 2.76 ERA, 10.4 SO/9 and a 2.62 SO/W rate. Even Baltimore couldn’t cringe at his $1.35 million deal he got in arbitration. The Padres could want to sell high on the soon to be 28-year-old’s success, but they’ve also got him by the collar through 2018, so no rush. The truth is, regardless of San Diego’s intentions, Pomeranz makes sense for a couple of teams: the aforementioned Marlins and the Rangers are two of them, but as previously stated, the Orioles may not have the assets to keep up in a bidding war and certainly don’t want to overpay for a pitcher with little history of success until recently.
There doesn’t need to be a lot of money spent, or a lot of assets traded (The O’s have the fourth-worst farm system anyway, according to Keith Law) to get the Orioles help they need... but they do need it. There will come a time when the big bats can’t homer their way out of trouble for starters surrendering five or six runs a game, and when that time comes, the Red Sox or Blue Jays might be there to take their spot.
With what’s at stake for the O’s, and the gambles they’ve already made, it’s time to take action; but of course, there are few actions to take. Anybody available for trade who could make an impact is likely too expensive for Baltimore's meager assets, and anyone who isn’t going to help... is obviously not worth acquiring in the first place. Other than moving some pieces around, the Orioles may have to watch the trade deadline happen without them and hope their team’s massive strengths can eliminate the glaring weaknesses.