Let's look at where the Orioles can Nip and Tuck this team to make it stronger in 2010 and a playoff contender by 2011. It's trade deadline talk, baby!
The Orioles, typically not the strongest interleague participant over the years (90-121 from the first season in 1997 through last year) are 6-3 so far this year, winning 2 out of 3 from the Nationals, the Braves, and as of last night's 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th rally, the Mets. Tonight they begin a 3 game series in Philadelphia, and then on to Miami, followed with 3 at home against Washington to close out this interleague season.
But as much fun as this recent warm streak has been annd as much as I hope it continues into the forseeable future, we as fans need to again remind ourselves that this season is not about wins as much as it is about getting ourselves in a position to contend, possibly next year and definitely by 2011. Andy MacPhail is doing a masterful job getting the minor leagues together, getting good talent on all levels that can help the big league club both now and in the future, and making our preesence felt in Japan and in Latin America. 2008 1st round pick Brian Matusz was just promoted to AA Bowie and was spot on in a 6 inning performance that ran his streak of innings pitched without giving up an earned run up to 29 (he did give up an unearned run in the game, but still threw 89 pitches in 6 innings, left with a 3-1 lead, and ended up getting the decision). Converted 1st baseman Brandon Snyder was moved up to AAA Norfolk after batting .343 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI's in 58 games at Bowie. His defense is getting better, and was not too shabby to begin with (as a former catcher, he is used to being in the mix on every pitch, so the conversion is not as difficult to grasp as it could have been). Chris Tillman is 5-3 with a 2.33 ERA in Norfolk, with 63 SO compared to 16 BB in 54 innings. The team is in the running for a 16 year old shortstop from the Dominican named Miguel Angel Sano, who has been drawing comparisons to the Florida Marlins star Hanley Ramirez (the Twins and the Pirates are considered the front runners right now, but the fact that the team is making a hard push for the kid who is going to ask for a $5-6 million signing bonus as a free agent is yet another sign that MacPhail has the authority to do whatever he sees fit. As for me, I see this signing as the third cog in the Orioles' public makeover. Far from Syd Thrift's “we're dealing in Confederate money” complaints, this team had been making the right moves by drafting and signing Matt Wieters (who hit his 1st HR the other night, and is starting to come around at the plate overall. He won't hit .500 this year, but the sky really is the limit with this young man right now, and watchin him is a LOT of fun. If you can't get to a game, tune in to one and watch his approach both on offense AND on defense), going after a Scott Boras client (an agent that the team actively avoided for years), showing that the team wanted talent and was willing to pay the price. That got the attention of a lot of players. Then they went into Japan and signed Koji Uehara, getting a player that a lot of other teams wanted. This signing was not about Koji, though. It was about the next player, and the one after that. The ones that are not on the downside of their careers, but are on the upside, and that want to come play in America. Now the Orioles have their foot in the door of the same pipeline as the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Mariners. They are going to keep Koji in the rotation longer than they probably should (at least for all of this year, probably into next year, until one of the Young Guns is ready to take their place in the roster, then they will move him to the bullpen. But Koji wanted to start, and the team needs him to speak well of the Orioles when the next player is looking to move to MLB, so they will sacrifice some wins and some innings out of their bullpen in order to make that happen). The third piece of the puzzle is getting established in Latin America, where the team fell far behind in making their presence known. MacPhail has done a good job with that, establishing a baseball academy with state of the art facilities to groom young players. And now they go after a gem that until recently they would have had no cahnce to sign. But the change in culture and appearance is apparent. More and more people in the industry like what the team is doing and where they are going. If the team can sign this kid, even if he doesn't pan out into a major league player it is still a successful signing, because it leads to other signings (like Koji). MacPhail knows what he is doing here. I know I like it.
However, and with all that being said, it is time to start looking to what else the team can do to help itself right now. And that means trading veterans to contending teams by the trade deadline. The O's do have some chips that they can push into the middle of the table. The first two that come to mind are Aubrey Huff and Danys Baez. Both are free agents at the end of the year, and both provide something of value to a contending team (Huff can play multiple positions in the field and has power with a left handed bat, and Baez has proven himself to be fully recovered from the ligament reconstruction surgery he had in 2007 and has been a solid relief pitcher with closing experience – 96 saves from 2003-05 – which is something a team making a run for the World Series has historically overpaid for). I don't know about Baez, but I know that the team would like to re-sign Huff if the money and years are right. They could easily pull a Bordick (trade him at the deadline and then re-sign him in the off season). In the meantime, Ty Wiggington can play a decent 1st base, and he also has some pop in his bat when he gets some regular playing time.
I would also like to see some more Luke Scott playing 1st, although he is a sticky wicket in this discussion. If my calculations are correct he is still a year away from free agency (this is his 5th season in the majors, and the 6 year rule applies here), and he is a valuable commodity as a hitter. His glove work isn't going to remind anyone of New York Giants era Willy Mays, but it is serviceable. Honestly, I didn't think he would be with the team THIS long. I always figured MacPhail got him to trade him for more pieces, but it has worked out well for the team to have him, and it never hurts a team to have a guy with his kind of character and integrity in the clubhouse.
Gregg Zaun has a club option for next year, and I expect they will exercise it. He is a quality veteran backup, and I still think he has a few things to teach The Most Interesting Catcher In The World (little known fact, Matt Wieters' birth was prophesised by the Mayans). And to be honest, he has little to no trade value.
Melvin Mora is stuck with the team in the same way they are stuck with him. He has a no trade clause (which he could waive, but that is doubtful since he has stated many times that his preference is to remain here with his family, including his still young quintuplets), he is pushing 40 and his game has slowed noticeably, both in the field and at the plate. He still makes some good plays, but he is another one with no real value to a contending team, unless there is one that has a rash of injuries and REALLY needs something to tide them over. And even with that how much can the team really get for him?
Mark Hendrickson might garner some interest with his ability to both start and relieve (although he is best suited for middle to long relief since he is really only reliable for one time through the lineup before he starts getting hit around a bit). He might go, but I put the odds of him wearing another uniform on August 1st at about 35-40% tops.
An interesting idea that has probably been nixed by injury is Cesar Izturis, who the t
eam signed for 2 years this past offseason. He went down with appendicitis a couple of weeks ago, and Robert Andino has been playing very well in his absence. Andino is only 25 and is making a case for being used more frequently. Izturis is known for his defense, and is a decent contact hitter who bats from both sides. If he comes back soon and plays well, he might be a nice addition to a team looking to solidify it's middle of the field defense, and to a National League team he would be a nice pickup also for his ability to hit to contact for hit and run or advancing the runner in a pinch hitter situation. Stay tuned to see if he goes.
Another possibility is Jeremy Guthrie. There have been reports that the Orioles would listen to offers, but that they would have to be “blown away” by the offer to pull the trigger. The team knows they have not put him in a position to succeed right now. He is not a #1 on pretty much any other team (the possible exception is the Nationals, but the way they have been playing *I* could probably get a try out as a 4th or 5th starter with them right now), and within the next year or two he will not be a #1 here (if any of the Young Guns pan out). But he is a good, solid pitcher who is (I think) trying a little too hard this year and might be aiming the ball more than throwing it at times, and he is another high character guy that would be invaluable to the youngsters as they come up, and would slot into a 2nd or 3rd starter position and do quite well. He could go, and with the way the arms on the farm have been coming up and delivering quality it is not out of the realm of possibility. But I would lean towards it ain't gonna happen.
Final analysis, Baez and Huff are most likely to go, followed by Hendrickson and Scott, with Izturis, Guthrie, and Zaun long shots and Mora a Hail Mary as the clock expires. While I don't think anyone is absolutely untouchable, the odds of trading Markakis and Roberts evaporated with the long term contracts they signed in the off season, and trading away a Jones, Reimold, or Wieters would just be stupid as the team is trying to build from within with youth. Not to mention Jones or Wieters being traded would result in a HUGE fan backlash, and Reimold gone would garner a lot of negativity, too.
About the Author
Written by Ron Burr
Ron is a lifelong resident of Maryland and has been a passionate player and fan of sports for as long as he can remember. When he is not watching the games or explaining to his lovely wife why he is cursing at the television, he runs an improv/sketch comedy troupe, Drop Three. He can't hit a curveball or run a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, but he knows the games and loves talking about it with anyone. Differing opinions are welcome and encouraged!