Please welcome one of Camden Chat's new writers, punkrawka! -Stacey
Since the Orioles' miraculous 2012 season ended, they have essentially lost two starting players: Mark Reynolds (who won't be back after signing with Cleveland) and Joe Saunders (who may return). The additions Dan Duquette has made have been less than noteworthy, to put it kindly. I'm sure Duquette hopes to gain production from a healthy Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, but I'm hoping to retire at 30 -- that doesn't mean I'm holding my breath.
The free agent market is settling down, with the few remaining big names on the board likely to cost too much in terms of dollars, draft picks, or both - not to mention that most of them don't fill a big need. Aside from the aforementioned Saunders, if the Orioles are going to change their key players significantly before opening day, it will probably be through a trade. But who would they trade, and who would they acquire? I'll start by exploring the trade chips below, and I'll delve into trade targets in a follow-up post. Knowing my luck, a major trade will go down between the two posts, involving none of the players I list below.
Baiting the hook - potential trade chips
With the call-up of Manny Machado, lots of folks have started to see Hardy as expendable, particularly if he can bring back a 1B/DH type to round out our lineup, and/or a serviceable 3B to back fill the vacancy Machado would leave. The Orioles got Hardy for a song, coming off a down year, and locked him up after he held down the position well. Hardy provides slick defense, a little pop and a frustrating lack of on-base skills. He's signed for two more seasons, and the fact that he provides about 3 WAR for $7M per year makes him worth holding on to.
Likelihood of a trade: Medium
Wisdom of a trade: Low
Johnson is a homegrown talent who we all love. He defies the profile of a prototypical closer with his low strikeout rate - but he got the job done brilliantly last year. The reasons Johnson quickly comes up as a trade target are multiple: he's in line for a hefty raise in arbitration; relievers are often victims of fluctuating performance (though Johnson really hasn't been); and other GMs may overvalue Johnson based on his 51-save campaign last season. However, it's hard to see the Orioles getting a haul back for Johnson before Opening Day; Rafael Soriano is still out there as a free agent. Johnson strikes me as more of a midseason trade chip, as teams flirting with contention in July are always looking to overpay for bullpen help.
Likelihood of a trade: Medium (higher at midseason)
Wisdom of a trade: High (at midseason)
Troy Patton is a relief pitcher who happens to use his left hand to throw the ball. This automatically gives him a certain level of appeal to other teams, and again, from our perspective we should always consider the potential for major fluctuations in reliever performance. If Patton can be the centerpiece of a deal with a team that lacks a reliable LOOGY (say, a team just south on I-95), we'd be wise to jump on it.
Likelihood of a trade: Medium
Wisdom of a trade: High
I'm cheating here. I'm treating Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz as interchangeable. As trade chips, they essentially are. They're cheap, young starters with success in the minor leagues and a mixed bag at the major league level. The fact is, if the Orioles are targeting a productive bat in a trade, a rival GM is going to want one of these guys. Trading one of these pitchers is the kind of move that could make Duquette look like a genius or a fool, and the outcome in fact could be based on luck. He could pull off the next Bedard trade or the next Schilling trade. We could debate endlessly whether each of these pitchers will end up being a flameout, a high-caliber starter, or just continue to frustrate us with flashes of brilliance between implosions. The fact is, we just don't know. But the other fact is, trading one of these four as the centerpiece of a deal is probably the best way to bring back a bat that can replace Reynolds' production.
Likelihood of a trade: High
Wisdom of a trade: Only time will tell