Yesterday, Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres were discussing a deal that would send Justin Upton to Baltimore. It’s been quite clear for a while that the Orioles are in desperate need of an outfield bat, especially if they want to keep pace with a re-Tulo-ed Toronto Blue Jays lineup. The Orioles have gotten next to no offensive production from Travis Snider and Steve Pearce this season, and the struggles in the outfield have forced the team to shift Chris Davis to the outfield in an effort to get Ryan Flaherty‘s bat in the lineup at first base.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 27, 2015
Upton, a free agent after this season, would seem to play well in Camden Yards. He’s having the worst season since his rookie campaign, but that can partially be attributed to the overall struggles of the San Diego lineup and lack of protection. Upton has yet to play for an American League team, so there would be a level of unfamiliarity with opposing pitchers that he could capitalize upon, at least initially. At this point of the year, anyone with a pulse would be an upgrade over Snider, and adding a corner outfield bat like Upton would allow the Orioles to shift Davis back to first base and continue to ride the hot bat of Nolan Reimold in the other outfield spot. That would be a huge upgrade over the current situation, and if the Orioles are able to pull in Upton, it is a deal they should do in a heartbeat. It would also stand to reason that the Orioles would have a fighter’s chance at signing the Virginia Beach native in the offseason.
The second sentence of Stark’s tweet is the one that really caught my eye. The Orioles have been linked to Upton for over a week at this point. It’s the possible addition of Tyson Ross to the deal that should really spark the Orioles’ interest. Ross is only 28 and would come with two more years of club control. He is having what could be deemed the best season of his career in 2015.
In 21 starts, Ross has a 3.45 ERA and has struck out a career high 9.7 per game while allowing a league-leading 0.2 home runs per game. His 2.75 FIP points to even better performance. Walks are of a slight concern, as Ross has walked a league-leading 57 in his 122.2 innings this year.
Ross’s good season is not just a product of pitching in Petco Park. He actually has a significantly better ERA on the road — 2.69 in 12 road starts to 4.47 in nine home starts. Ross relies on the groundball, and would not be hurt by a move to the smaller ballpark of the Orioles. He has a 1.77 GB/FB ratio. That’s not a bad thing for a team like the Orioles that has been relying on fly ball pitchers to buck the home run odds for years. If anything, bad luck has inflated his ERA this season as he has allowed a .344 BABip.
The addition of Ross to the trade table will only drive up the price for the Orioles. To make this deal happen, they would likely need to part with either Kevin Gausman or Hunter Harvey. The Orioles have already been adamant that they do not want to trade Gausman, but if Harvey’s name is enough to get a deal done, then the Orioles should think long and hard about pulling the trigger. Harvey has great upside, but has dealt with injuries each year of his career and has yet to appear in a game this season. Besides Harvey, the Orioles do have expendable pitching prospects in Zach Davies, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright. All have thrown very well at Triple-A this year, and Wilson and Wright held their own at the Major League level, and could become expendable if Ross is acquired. Christian Walker and Trey Mancini are both good-looking first base prospects who have hit well at Triple-A and Double-A, respectively. There is only room for one of them with the Orioles, so one could easily be traded. Mychal Givens, a reliever, and Jomar Reyes, a third baseman, are two other names that could have significant value on the trade market. Another name to consider is Flaherty. Flaherty has shown flashes of being able to handle an everyday role, a role he will never get in Baltimore. The Padres may be willing to give him that chance.
Adding Upton to the lineup would be good enough. Getting Ross would be a true game-changer. The Orioles’ rotation has taken a beating in the court of public opinion this year, but it has not actually been that bad. The overall ERA of 4.19 looks ugly, but if you subtract Bud Norris‘s 6.79 ERA in 11 starts and Chris Tillman‘s 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Toronto Blue Jays, Orioles’ starters have a 3.56 ERA, which would rank tied for eighth in the league. Ross could displace Miguel Gonzalez, who has struggled with command and the home run ball in 2015. With a rotation of Wei-Yin Chen, Ross, Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Gausman, the Orioles would have a top-five rotation in the league. Ross would be under control for two more years at a relative discount to his open market value (and much cheaper than Chen).
It is going to take a lot for the Orioles to acquire both Upton and Ross, but it’s a move that makes the team better immediately, and into the future. There is no guarantee that Harvey will ever blossom into a Major Leaguer, and even if he does, it will likely be at least three seasons before he is ready for the Majors and he may not be much better than Ross. This trade would be a blockbuster deal, allowing the Orioles to upgrade their lineup in an area of huge need, but also fortify their rotation for the next two years. It’s still a long shot, but if the Orioles can make this deal happen, it could go down as the best move to date in Dan Duquette’s tenure in Baltimore.