I wrote last month about how the upcoming trade deadline is going to be particularly difficult for several teams, and I had the Orioles specifically in mind when I said that. So, here we are, at the break, with the Orioles sitting at 45-40 and holding a half game lead on the Rays for the new second wild card spot. There are trade rumors starting to form, and the team has already made a small splash by acquiring Jim Thome. Can the O’s pull off a big trade? And, more importantly, should they?
After fourteen straight losing teams, it’s very exciting to see the Orioles in contention once again. The team has even been linked to players like Zack Greinke and Wandy Rodriguez as of late in the rumor mill. But there are reasons to be cautious. For example, since May 25th, the team has gone 16-23. The line-up and rotation have both been struggling lately. And, most telling, the team has been outscored by 36 runs so far. None of those are good signs.
For those reasons, I would argue against the team making a big trade. The team still should not lose sight of the long term goal; not the second wild card spot in 2012, but the actual division in 2013 or ’14. A blockbuster for someone like Zack Greinke could set the Orioles back years in rebuilding for a very short, one-year gain. The Indians tried something similar, trading for Ubaldo Jimenez. One year later and they’re already feeling the effects, three games out of the AL Central and a game out of the second wild card with a struggling Ubaldo and little hope in way of help through either call-ups or trade, due to a farm system that ESPN’s Keith Law called “gutted” in his pre-season rankings (he also ranked their farm system 29th in the majors).
The Orioles now look to be in a similar place. They have a slowly improving farm system, but one that depends heavily on Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado. Trading either of those (or Jonathan Schoop, generally considered the team’s third-best prospect) would be a mistake at this point for a half year rental like Greinke that could come with an absorbent cost of talent. At best, the Orioles are adding an ace to a team that has still been outscored and has numerous holes in an effort to make a run at a one-game playoff to make it to the playoffs, all while giving up six years of control for a potential All-Star. And, in the event that ace leaves, the team won’t even gain extra draft picks like in the past due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (players traded mid-season will not be worth compensation picks to their new team even if they are offered arbitration, as was the case in the past).
If the team really wants someone like Greinke or Cole Hamels, they can wait for the offseason, when they’ll have just as good a chance to get them as anyone else, but for more than two months and without the potential cost of a top prospect.
So, should the team just do nothing? Not necessarily, although that can be a possibility. Nick Markakis should be back soon, which will help the offense. J.J. Hardy is rather unlucky with regards to his batting average on balls in play, something that should change in the second half. Both of those should help the offense. On the pitching side, Zach Britton should be back soon to help the rotation. Chris Tillman looked impressive enough in his last outing that he should be worth keeping in the rotation, if only to see how he does the rest of the way. Those should all help the team some.
Also, I liked the trade for Thome. It should help the offense a little, and came at a reasonable price (especially since the Phillies no longer had a place to play him). Other trades like that might be worth looking into; maybe something where the Orioles could offer some salary relief rather than prospects. For example, look into guys like Wandy Rodriguez or Brett Myers for rotation help, or Marco Scutaro or Adam Lind for the line-up. If you’re feeling really adventurous, maybe call up the Twins and see if they’re willing to sell low on Justin Morneau. None of those guys is a big name All-Star for this year (and, in Morneau and Rodriguez’s cases, there’s some money and next year to deal with on their contracts). But they won’t take a huge hit out of the team’s rebuilding plan. The Pirates took that method last year, and their patience seems to have paid off this year-rather than falling to a mediocre record the following year like the Indians, Pittsburgh has made the NL Central an interesting race.
There are ways to improve without landing a Cole Hamels or a Zack Greinke. They may not be as flashy, and they may not have as drastic an effect. But for the Orioles’ current situation, they’ll work much better.