Despite Weaknesses, Baltimore Orioles Should Stand Pat at Deadline
By Scott Cahoon
Jul 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) hits a two run double in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
The Orioles are by no means a perfect team. They lack the ability to manufacture runs, a true number one starter, have glaring holes in the lineup at second base and catcher, and could probably use another late inning bullpen arm.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Orioles have a chance to address these issues, but at what cost does each upgrade come?
The current market is a difficult one for the Orioles to navigate. All the true difference makers available seem to require that the Orioles give up one of their most coveted prospects, and all the other pieces being dangled aren’t likely to significantly improve the team.
The Orioles have been linked to pitchers A.J. Burnett and Jorge De La Rosa, but De La Rosa has an ERA above four, placing him on par with other Orioles starters, and Burnett would come with a contract that could pay him as much as $12.75 million next season.
Starter Ian Kennedy has reportedly been discussed between the Orioles and San Diego Padres, but the Padres didn’t immediately respond when the Orioles offered a package that included starter Miguel Gonzalez. The Friars have since said they need to be overwhelmed to part with Kennedy.
The Phillies may want to deal ace starting pitcher Cliff Lee, but Lee is owed the final portion of his $25 million salary for 2014 and another $25 million in 2015, pricing many clubs, probably including the Orioles, out of his market. The Phillies would also command a solid haul of prospects in exchange for Lee.
Division rivals the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays may be looking to deal their ace pitchers Jon Lester and David Price, but again, the price would be very high. For the Orioles to convince either the Rays or Red Sox to deal their best pitcher within the division, the Orioles may need to pony up more than would be expected of another team.
Another Phillies pitcher, closer Jonathan Papelbon, has also been rumored to be available, but like Lee, he would prove expensive and both in terms of salary and trade return. Philadelphia has told opposing GMs that they would absorb some of Papelbon’s $18 million remaining on his deal for this year and next, but Papelbon also has a vesting option for 2016 that would guarantee him another $13 million provided he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 combined in 2014 and ’15.
Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki is available, and the Orioles are the only team that has been linked to him other than the St. Louis Cardinals, who recently added free agent A.J. Pierzynski instead of pursuing a trade for Suzuki. Suzuki could be a big upgrade offensively for the Orioles if he maintains this year’s production, but that isn’t a certainty, or even a likelihood.
In his last four seasons, Suzuki has hit .242, .237, .235, and .232. This year, he is outperforming his career batting average by more than 50 points and currently holds a .309/.367/.392 slash line. Suzuki is the perfect example of a “sell-high” candidate, and the Orioles would be buying in on Suzuki when his value is at its highest.
Adding his high potential for regression to the fact that the starting rotation has begun to find its groove working with current catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley makes Suzuki a questionable option for the O’s.
Last year, the Orioles made moves in the second half of the season that both compromised the long-term strength of the team and didn’t significantly improve it for the remainder of that season. Adding rental players like Michael Morse (.108/.133/.108 in 12 games with the Orioles) and Scott Feldman (4.13 ERA in 15 games with the Orioles) required the Birds to part with players who had long-term potential only to watch each new addition perform average or worse.
Despite the chinks in the armor, Baltimore remains three games ahead of the Blue Jays and Yankees and has held the lead in the AL East since Independence Day. There is a strong probability the Orioles will continue to outblast their opponents and there are several factors that could contribute to the team improving in the late stage of the season without making a move.
The Orioles pitching staff could continue to roll, as they’ve posted a 2.97 ERA over the last two weeks. Ubaldo Jimenez could recapture his 2013 form after he returns from injury and provide the starter the Orioles are looking for. Catcher Caleb Joseph and second baseman Jonathan Schoop could improve offensively as the young players continue to adjust to big league pitching.
Any of these scenarios would give the Orioles the boost they are looking for as they push for the playoffs and wouldn’t require them to give up a piece of their future for a quick fix.
I’m not against the Orioles making a move in general, but none of the options available now are particularly appealing. I’d rather see the Orioles hope for realistic internal improvement than trade away prospects for a bad contract or low impact player.
As Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said at the beginning of the season, “I like our guys.”