Baltimore Orioles’ general manager Dan Duquette reiterated Wednesday that his team will look to be buyers at the trade deadline, now just over a week away. Despite scuffling since an 18-5 stretch in June, the Orioles remain in the thick of the playoff race in a watered-down American League East. Baltimore currently sits six games behind the surging New York Yankees in the division, and only 3.5 games behind the slumping Minnesota Twins for the second American League wild card spot.
Don’t let the standings fool you. This is not a very good Baltimore Orioles team. After peaking at seven games over .500 on June 28, the Orioles have gone 5-13. Scoring runs has been a monumental task. Over the past 18 games, the Orioles have been held to two runs or fewer seven times. The left-field situation has become an absolute mess. On the year, Orioles’ left fielders have batted just .216 with only eight home runs. After showing flashes of regaining some semblance of offensive skill in June, Travis Snider has batted just .091 in July. The Mendoza line would seem like a monumental leap at this point for Snider. Chris Davis has recently been moved to right field on an everyday basis. Unfortunately, that means Chris Parmelee is being given far more at-bats than a team with an eye on the playoffs would prefer to give a player like Parmelee.
Despite what many believe, pitching overall has not been the real issue during the slump. The Orioles have a 3.47 ERA in the month of July, on the heels of a 3.53 staff ERA in June. The bullpen has done most of the work to keep the ERA at a respectable level, however, as the starters posted a 4.20 ERA in the first half of the season and often struggled to go deep into games. The top three — Wei-Yin Chen, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Chris Tillman — appear to be capable of keeping the team in most games. Tillman has really only struggled against the Toronto Blue Jays this season, and is coming off eight one-hit innings against the Detroit Tigers. Bud Norris has been officially banished to the bullpen, handing his spot to Kevin Gausman. Gausman will struggle with consistency, as he has not been handled with any sort of consistent plan this season. The Orioles have made that bed for themselves and now they must sleep in it. Miguel Gonzalez has finally begun failing to prove the statheads wrong, and is beginning to be hit as a soft-tossing, flyball-pitching right-hander should be.
Even though the Orioles have been spectacularly bad at times in the corner outfield positions and the starting rotation, they still find themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth. They are really only one hot streak away from taking hold of a playoff spot, and the teams ahead of them do not appear poised to run away by any stretch of the imagination. For these reasons, it does make sense for the Orioles to label themselves as buyers at the trade deadline, but they must be careful not to spend too heavily. The team is not a true World Series contender, but a playoff berth should help to convince pending free agents like Davis, Chen, and Matt Wieters to consider signing up for a few more years in Baltimore. The Orioles should also plan to pursue several free agent names this offseason, especially corner outfielders like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes.
The Orioles would benefit greatly by adding a starting pitcher and corner outfielder. At this point, anyone is a better option in left field than the three-headed “monster” of Snider, Nolan Reimold, and David Lough. I do believe the Orioles have just enough minor league depth to swing a deal for a bat like Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, or Carlos Gomez, but it will depend on how aggressively other contenders pursue those names. Ultimately, the Orioles will likely have to settle for a lower-tier outfielder like David Murphy. Jay Bruce has also been seen as a possible target for the Orioles dating back to the offseason. Any of those names brings significant upside to the Orioles’ lineup.
The market for starting pitching is far murkier. The Orioles have no shot at landing any of the big three — David Price, Cole Hamels, and Johnny Cueto — unless they are willing to throw Gausman into the mix. The Orioles would have little to no chance of resigning Price or Cueto in free agency, so their names should immediately be forgotten. Hamels is an interesting possibility, but with too many other teams with more to offer sniffing around, he will not be an Oriole. There are plenty of other names beyond those three the Orioles could choose from — Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, Mat Latos, Jon Niese, Yovani Gallardo, and so on and so forth. These pitchers should not command a huge prospect bundle, and if the Orioles so desire, they should not have a hard time acquiring any of these pitchers for a small price.
The unintended consequence of the second wild card is that it keeps teams like the 2015 Orioles in the playoff race despite their mediocrity, forcing them to be buyers at the trade deadline. That does not mean the Orioles should mortgage their future on a 2015 playoff run. The team is not good enough as a whole to justify doing so. One or two small additions, however, should keep this team in the hunt for October right up to the end of the season. The Orioles have excelled at making small additions in each of their past two playoff seasons, and should be able to do so again this year, but caution must be exercised to avoid overpaying to get a mediocre team into the playoffs.