The Baltimore Orioles need starting pitching. Desperately. It’s an undeniable fact for a first-place team whose rotation has a 5.14 ERA (better only than the last-place Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds). The Orioles are essentially working with two-fifths of a major-league rotation. Chris Tillman and Kevin Guasman have both resembled competent big leaguers for most of the year, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo are shells of their former selves. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson are either Quad-A arms or middle relievers.
As August 1 approaches, the Orioles are going to have to be active on the trade market to upgrade their rotation. Their primary competition in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, both have the ability to make a game-changing move at the deadline. The only problem for the Orioles is that they have a bottom-five farm system with very few elite prospects. Yes, there are some good players who might be big leaguers like Trey Mancini, Chance Sisco, or Jomar Reyes, but with a very thin market for starting pitchers this year, it is a seller’s market.
The Orioles have one player who could now have potential trade partners drooling — Dylan Bundy. The former mega-prospect is finally healthy (knocks wood) and dominating major-league hitters like he was supposed to do four years ago. Bundy has now posted a 1.05 ERA over his past 17.0 innings with 22 strikeouts. In yesterday’s 14-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bundy recorded all seven of his outs via the strikeout.
Pitching in relief this year because he is out of options, Bundy has shown all the traits that made him one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the league. He throws an easy 97 with a knee-buckling curveball and a changeup that darts at that last second. Injuries limited the right-hander to only 65.1 innings over the past three minor-league seasons, and he took some time to acclimate to the MLB mound this season. The results of the past month should have every fan who watches the Orioles drooling about the possibility of Bundy in the starting rotation next year. Bundy-watch is on every fifth day for the rest of the year, and at some point Jimenez will run out of chances.
Bundy’s re-emergence as a phenom over the past month is a gift and a curse for the Orioles. He is proving himself to be a very valuable asset to the Orioles, especially if Buck Showalter can go to him after yet another five-inning dud from that day’s starter. In the beginning of the year, Bundy seemed like he would be a de facto Rule 5 pick who would have to be hidden to avoid blowing up. He can definitely be used in high-leverage situations.
Bundy pitching well and looking like the future ace everyone thought he was in 2011 will also make it difficult for the Orioles to pull off an impactful trade to upgrade their starting rotation. Every discussion will begin with his name. That’s just the way it will be for the Orioles, as they have very little to offer in terms of impact talent. One Bundy is worth way more than three mid-tier prospects.
Bundy could help the Orioles land an impact arm this year, but there has to be a longer term view, something Dan Duquette likely understands. The Orioles have chased fringe upgrades over the past three years in Scott Feldman (we know how that one went), Bud Norris, Travis Snider, and Gerardo Parra. Prospects dealt in each of those trades are having significant impacts for other teams (or will very soon), while none of the players acquired by the Orioles are still with the team.
If the Orioles are serious about going all-in for 2016, Bundy would be available for trade, but there is perhaps only one pitcher worth trading him for, Atlanta’s Julio Teheran, who is very unlikely to be traded. The Braves may be willing to swap Teheran for Bundy and a few more prospects. Maybe that’s a deal the Orioles make, but probably not. No other pitcher on the trade block is worth giving up Bundy. Last year, the Blue Jays were able to blow up their farm system to get David Price and it pushed them into the playoffs. There is not an arm of similar caliber to be had this season, and even if the Orioles do add a quality starting pitcher, there are still two very weak spots in the rotation left unaddressed.
The Orioles have been tight-lipped about their trade plans, as expected. One would have to believe that Bundy’s pitching over the past month has rendered him untradable. He may have been viewed as available a few months ago (whether anyone in the organization would publicly admit such a thing is another story), but he should not be now. Flipping him to capitalize on a hot month now would be short-sighted and would only serve to weaken future rotations beyond this year. The Orioles have ridden their hot bats all season, with starting pitching doing just enough. For now, they must look to make a deal with less highly-regarded prospects. If teams are willing to take a Mancini, Sisco, Reyes package, pull the trigger. If Bundy becomes a sticking point in any trade, the Orioles must walk away from the table.