With less than 24 hours to go before Major League Baseball's August 1 trade deadline, teams are beginning to make moves to either (a) bolster their rosters for a playoff run; or (b) sell of players to shed salary and/or land prospects for the future. Thus far, the first-place Baltimore Orioles have made one trade, and to their credit, it was a shrewd one: the July 19 deal sending Easton Lucas to the Athletics for hard-throwing right-hander Shintaro Fujinami.
But with the Orioles clinging to a 1.5 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East, it has become clear that the Orioles will need to acquire some reinforcements to hold onto their division lead. To be clear, winning the division over simply a wild card is not some empty, meaningless accolade for the Orioles.
Under baseball's somewhat-new playoff format, the top two division winners in the American League receive a "bye" into the Division Series, meaning they do not need to play a best of three series simply to advance. Whomever wins the AL East - be it the Rays, Orioles, or another team - will definitely qualify for a bye, as it is all but guaranteed that the AL Central winner will be required to play in the Wild Card round.
The Rays have already made their move, acquiring Cleveland right-hander Aaron Civale to supplement an already deep group of starters that includes ace Shane McClanahan and the always-tough Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin. Civale has enjoyed a solid year, posting a 2.34 ERA over 13 starts. While the Rays strengthened a strength by bolstering their rotation with Civale, the Orioles' rotation has been struggling. Indeed, Tyler Wells went from All-Star hopeful to being optioned to AA Bowie after another rocky start Saturday against the Yankees. Dean Kremer has been inconsistent at best, as shown by his inability to qualify for a win on Sunday night despite being staked to a 7-0 first inning lead.
While Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez have pitched well lately, neither has any playoff experience, and both may ultimately be subject to an innings limit. While Kyle Gibson has playoff experience and has pitched decently this season, he was just last season demoted from the Phillies' playoff rotation and worked as a reliever in the World Series. It also does not help that the Orioles' team ERA for starting pitchers ranks a pedestrian 8th out of 15 teams in the American League. That does not figure to improve with struggling lefty Cole Irvin as the in-house favorite to take Wells' spot in the rotation.
But the Orioles have yet to pull the trigger on a starter, despite having the number one farm system in baseball, and significant depth (especially with position player prospects) from which to trade. Two teams who the Orioles might see in the playoffs - the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays - have already upgraded their rotations, with Texas notably trading for battle-tested veteran Max Scherzer and veteran lefty Jordan Montgomery. The Angels have been busy, acquiring starting pitcher Lucas Giolito from Chicago, and two solid bats in CJ Cron and Randal Grichuk from the Rockies.
Standing pat at the trade deadline would be a mistake for the Orioles
As time continues to tick, options do still remain. The Mets have expressed a willingness to trade future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander, who admittedly carries a huge price tag at $43M for next season. The White Sox, who dealt Giolito, have at least appeared open to moving star right-hander Dylan Cease, while the Mariners appear willing to discuss some of their young starters (Logan Gilbert, Bryan Woo, or George Kirby) to spark their offense.
The Tigers are reportedly dangling starters Michael Lorenzen and Eduardo Rodriguez, though the former is not the most inspiring of options. The Cardinals traded Montgomery, but could still deal Jack Flaherty, who was a top starter in the National League a few seasons ago. Pittsburgh veteran Rich Hill, although not the most inspiring option, may be available as an innings eater.
Although the Orioles clearly need to upgrade their rotation to make a deep playoff run, the Orioles' bullpen could use another arm as well. It is unclear who will be available in the next 24 hours, as talented relievers Josh Hader, Brooks Raley, and David Bednar are sure to draw interest. While the Orioles have upgraded their bullpen with Fujinami, everyone outside of Felix Bautista has been shaky of late.
Yennier Cano has returned to earth after his spectacular start to the season. Bryan Baker, who was terrific down the stretch last year, has continued to struggle, just recently allowing a bases-clearing double to light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa of New York. Danny Coulombe, who pitched so well in the first half of the year, has struggled to a 5.40 ERA in ten July appearances. Needless to say, the Orioles could use at least one more reliever, let alone a starting pitcher.
For the reasons discussed above, it would be incredibly disappointing if Mike Elias and the Orioles choose to stand pat at the deadline. This is the team's first chance since 2016 to not only make the playoffs, but perhaps make some noise in the playoffs. This is especially true if the Orioles can avoid a best-of-3 Wild Card series and obtain home field advantage throughout the playoffs, something they would likely do if they win the AL East.
But the starting pitching is running on fumes. The bullpen has been inconsistent. And the Orioles have the depth in the minor leagues to supplement their pitching and give the fans a potential World Series contender to cheer for. While the Orioles have been a fantastic story this year, standing at 64-41 and in first place, they clearly need reinforcements if they want to hold onto their division lead and make noise in the playoffs.
What would I do? I would first check with San Diego to see if they are willing to deal, with my eye on Blake Snell and Josh Hader. If they are not, which is likely since they just swept the Rangers, I would call the Mets and see (a) how much they are willing to pay of Justin Verlander's salary; and (b) what they would want to trade him. I would also try to acquire Brooks Raley in a Verlander deal. If that does not work, I would call the Tigers and explore an Eduardo Rodriguez plus reliever Jason Foley trade. If that does not work, I would see what Seattle wants for Gilbert, Woo or Kirby, which would probably be a lot.
Mike Elias is likely exploring all of these avenues. But actions speak louder than words, and the Orioles need reinforcements. next 24 hours will be extremely telling.