While reading through the always informative mlbtraderumors.com yesterday, I came across an interesting tidbit of information. According to George A. King III of the New York Post, the Philadelphia Phillies had scouts in attendance at last weekend’s Baltimore Orioles-New York Yankees series. King goes on to state that many industry insiders see the Orioles as an ideal fit for Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels who is certain to be traded before the July 31 deadline.
The Orioles are seen as an ideal candidate to make a deal for Hamels due to their somewhat suspect starting rotation. Orioles’ starters have posted a 4.21 ERA, good for twentieth in the entire league. That number, of course, is pulled down by the struggling Chris Tillman and Bud Norris, who have combined for a 6.53 ERA this season. Tillman’s command has abandoned him, as he has walked a career-high 4.6 per nine, while Norris is allowing 11.8 hits per nine. Tillman may be turning a corner, however, and has won three starts in a row while limiting hitters to a .227 BAA. Norris, on the other hand, has continued to scuffle since coming off the disabled list.
A recent hot stretch that has seen the Orioles win 11 of 13 games against relatively weak competition has vaulted the team back into contention in the American League East. It was right around this time last year that the Orioles began their surge to the division title, and with no clear favorite in the division, the Orioles may be starting a similar run to the postseason.
With the Tampa Bay Rays return to prominence, fueled by excellent, young arms, and the slugging Toronto Blue Jays to contend with, the Orioles may not be able to pull off a run like last year’s without a trade for a starting pitcher. Furthermore, the Yankees have managed to hang around despite questions in their own rotation and an aging lineup. The Yankees, however, are likely to be hamstrung by the luxury tax in their pursuit to add to their roster at the trade deadline.
The Orioles’ payroll currently sits at approximately $110 million. Looking ahead to next season, the team has only $44 million committed to its 2016 payroll. Do not underestimate the level of flexibility this gives the front office to add a significant portion of Cole Hamels’ guaranteed $83 million over the next three years. The fact that the Orioles have very little money committed to 2016 and beyond could also give them the flexibility to take on one of the Phillies’ unwanted former All-Stars like Ryan Howard or Jonathan Papelbon. When the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox, they were also forced to take Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. If that’s the cost of doing business for the Orioles, then so be it.
Other people’s money aside, the only other sticking point in completing a deal for Hamels is the package of prospects that would leave the Orioles’ farm system. The Orioles are heavy on starting pitching talent right now, and could offer the Phillies a substantial cache of young arms. Dylan Bundy has been plagued by various minor ailments since returning from Tommy John surgery, but was drafted by Joe Jordan, now director of player development for the Phillies. That past history could help allay any fears the Phillies have about Bundy’s health. Besides Bundy, the Orioles could very easily offer Hunter Harvey, their 2013 first round pick. Harvey has not pitched yet this season after sustaining a stress fracture in his fibula during spring training, and is now dealing with a flexor mass strain in his throwing elbow. That could be a red flag, but Harvey is expected to be able to pitch later this year. These are the highest upside Orioles’ pitching prospects, but Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson have acquitted themselves well early on in their Major League careers, and could be attractive to the Phillies, although their upside is likely limited to back-of-the-rotation status. Kevin Gausman is another name to keep an eye on as the Orioles continue to establish a role for him on this year’s team.
The Phillies will also likely want a position player prospect to complete a deal. That’s where things get dicey for the Orioles. The Orioles are light on offensive prospects at the moment, having focused on building a stable of arms. Christian Walker and Chance Sisco could possibly be attractive to the Phillies. Walker is nearly Major League ready, and could fill a Ryan Howard-sized hole at first base in the near future. Sisco may also be viewed as expendable by the Orioles considering how well Caleb Joseph fared as the primary starter in Matt Wieters‘ absence. The Orioles could also make a deal similar to the Trea Turner trade, and offer the Phillies Ryan Mountcastle as a player to be named later.
Ultimately, I believe Cole Hamels ends up in the American League East, and all things considered, the Orioles have to like their chances. A deal between Baltimore and Philadelphia hinges on the Phillies’ level of comfort regarding the future health of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. This is a deal that Ruben Amaro must nail for his own future job security, and he may be skittish about the health of the Orioles’ two best prospects. Amaro will have plenty of offers on the table, and health may very well be a deciding factor in determining Hamels’ final destination.
The Orioles, however, should not allow that to stop them from pursuing a deal for Hamels. Their window to contend could be slammed shut very quickly, and the future performance of Bundy, Harvey, and any other prospects traded is extremely hard to predict. Dan Duquette and the Orioles’ front office have been very willing to add to the roster with midseason trades over the past three years. A deal for Hamels would be the ultimate trade as the Orioles look to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.