With the MLB trade deadline rapidly approaching (July 31st, 4:00 PM), one of the biggest questions that most Orioles fans are wondering right now is if the Orioles should be buyers at the deadline. What I mean by this is basically should the O’s give up prospects and possibly affect their future in a negative way to get a good player now that could help the us make the playoffs. I’ve had heard all sorts of different opinions from the fans that say “let’s trade everything but Bundy and Machado in order to win this year!” to the ones that think “we’ve been lucky to get this far and have no chance this year, lets not trade away our future when we have no chance of being contenders this year!”. I can see both sides. On one side the O’s haven’t been playoff contenders in almost 15 years and as of right now they are 51-45 and only .5 games out of the final wild card spot. Part of me says that we have already gotten through over half of the year with this record and are almost in the playoffs, just think if we added another piece or two, why couldn’t we make a push for the playoffs? Then the other side of me thinks that the O’s have been very lucky to have this good of a record (-46 run differential), with our best pitcher just going down for a month, and our lineup being so hit or miss I can’t imagine that we will continue to be able to sustain this kind of success and continue to be in the playoff hunt for another 70 games even if we added a guy or two so whats the point in potentially hurting our future if we have little chance of making the playoffs anyways? It seems simplistic but basically the question of whether the O’s should trade for a player to help them this year depends on whether or not you believe we can make the playoffs this year.
First let’s figure out exactly what the Orioles need. In terms of the field, the 2 obvious positions where the O’s need an upgrade is in left field and at 3rd base. Both positions have been a mess as we have been platooning in left field between Betemit, Pearce, and Davis while at 3rd base we have had the utter embarrassment of either Betemit or Reynolds manning the position. One could also argue that 2nd base has been a problem for us as we almost always have either had Andino or Flaherty there and both have struggled at the plate (albeit Flaherty has had limited opportunities, though probably for good reason). This O’s have just acquired Quintalla who is supposedly a solid fielder and a decent OBP guy so that might be the move they thought would shore up the position to a degree. I wouldn’t hate a Flaherty/Quintalla/Andino platoon there and while I would like to upgrade 2nd base with a free agent acquisition this winter, I’m not sure it’s a big enough need to necessarily give up a prospect or two for. I would have our positional needs for the deadline at 1. 3rd basemen 2. LF 3. 2nd basemen. Ideally I would like to have Nolan Reimold comeback and play like he was earlier int he year at LF and move Davis over to 1st while having Andino coming back and playing a solid 2nd making 3rd base our only real need but Reimold has been out forever and Andino has been anything but consistent this year so I really don’t plan on either of them being solid contributors to this year’s team, they would basically be icing on the cake, especially Reimold. It’s definitely no surprise that we need a new 3rd basemen because like I said we pretty much platoon Reynolds and Betemit over there and neither are good contact hitters and so far this year neither are hitting with great power, Betemit has been more productive at the plate but he is certainly replaceable. In the field they have both been an embarrassment over there. The main reason why the O’s lead the league in errors is because of their deplorable 3rd base play, at this time pretty much anytime a ball is hit to 3rd, I expect some sort of botching. In short, the defensive play at 3rd has been nowhere near major league level and is in desperate need of an upgrade.
As for the pitching, it is a little bit more confusing because there isn’t anything set right now but that’s mainly because we have only had a couple of consistent pitchers this year. Right now with our ace Hammel out, our rotation reads as Chen-Gonzalez-Britton-Tillman-Hunter. The last 4 might not be in exact order but really they are interchangeable. In fact the last 4 are pretty much interchangeable between them and Arietta and Matusz who are down in Norfolk right now. It’s basically whoever is doing the best and the moment and get can the O’s a quality start or two. While it’s never good when you only have one set starter, the O’s plan seems to be that we have about 6 guys vying for 4 spots, so they are hoping that at least 2 or 3 of them pan out and become good and consistent pitchers for us for the rest of the year and beyond. With the talent levels of these guys, it’s not a bad plan but after being an Orioles fan for 23 years, 4 months, and 11 days; I have come to the realization that (good) things that are supposed happen don’t come to fruition as much as they should. However if the O’s think they are going to have a chance to make the playoffs this year, then they have to assume that a few of these guys will pan out this year and be productive for us. If that is the case than the O’s are definitely in need of an Ace to lead this staff. While Hammel has been very good, just looking at his career it is tough to believe that he could really sustain that level of success (which is pretty high) and I think he would be perfect as a #2. A rotation of Ace-Hammel-Chen-Tillman-Gonzalez/Britton/Whoever would be solid and obviously would be an upgrade over what we have now. The wildcard to this whole thing is Hammel’s injury. He just got hurt and had surgery and will be out until about mid-August. So really those who thought that we couldn’t compete for a playoff spot even if we traded for an ace when we had Hammel really won’t believe we have a chance now because we pretty much would just be replacing him for the next few weeks instead of bolstering the rotation. Even though the O’s have come off a recent stretch of playing so-so teams and have been on a little winning streak we generally have been trending down after our very good start and that trend was with Hammel in the rotation so if we couldn’t get it done with him, you would think we would continue with that trend by basically replacing him for the next few weeks. However when he does comeback, he would move to the 2nd spot which would automatically mean an upgrade. As far as the bullpen is concerned, we are more set than we have ever been there and as that is easily our biggest strength, we certainly do not need an upgrade there.
So like I said at the beginning the answer to the question really depends on what you believe the chances are of the Orioles contending if we were to make an upgrade or two and what we would have to give up in order to make the upgrades.The general consensus among O’s fans is that no matter what we don’t want to give up Bundy or Machado and I would agree with that because none of those guys are worth giving up in order to just have a chance to make the playoffs. The top guys that we would most likely be giving up is like a Jonathon Schoop, LJ Hoes, or Xavier Avery type of player who are valuable because they have the potential to be contributors to your organization at some point but aren’t projected stars like Bundy or Machado. Are there players out there to trade for? Sure you have guys like Chase Headley, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, etc… I don’t watch nearly enough baseball other than the Orioles to give a valid evaluation of these guys but from what I have heard these are the types of guys the O’s are interested in. Could the Orioles vastly improve our team without giving up either of our big 2 prospects? Probably, if they take on some salary (which is another problem with Angelos in itself) and Duquette wheels and deals well. But there is certainly no way to improve the team enough to become a playoff contender without giving up at least a decent prospect or two. Another question would be whether or not the guy(s) we trade for would be willing to sign long-term with us afterwards? If they are young enough this would obviously inflate their value as we get a long-term piece rather than a 2 month rental, yet this would just as obviously mean that it would probably cost us more to trade for them. These are all questions that Dan Duquette is taking into consideration when deciding whether or not to be a buyer at the deadline.
So to answer my original question of should the Orioles be buyers at the deadline? I really don’t have a good answer because I am pretty indifferent. My brain tells me that they aren’t as good as their record because of their fairly horrendous run differential, their record in 1 run games, their inconsistent starting pitching, and swing and miss lineup. Yet my heart tells me that I am a fan and want to see my O’s actually have a shot to make the playoffs for the first time in like 15 years and even if we don’t make a trade and keep all of our decent prospects what makes me believe that we have a better shot at making the playoffs in the next 15 years after this one? I don’t know really it is a tough decision and while I do foresee the starting pitching picking up (from the back of the rotation), I still don’t think we would be good enough with Hammel out to be a contender for the these last 2 months. Now if the right deal came along where we could possibly get ourselves a solid player for the next 2 months as well as have him sign a 5 year extension or something (specifically a 3rd basemen) than I would probably have to pull the trigger. I don’t necessarily think there is a right answer or that it is really black and white, I think there is a gray area. Like I said I don’t think we would be good enough with Hammel out to be a contender for the these last 2 months but if the right deal comes along I think the trigger has to be pulled.