There's no nice way to put it, the Orioles rotation just wasn't good enough in 2013. In order to compete, the team has to improve its starting five. The three avenues to improve are through internal promotions, free agency, and trades. Mark and Stacey have already covered the first two of those options, so I'll be covering the teams' trade options.
It's always tough to come up with realistic trades because you have to get inside the head of not just one, but two teams GM's. That's easier said than done. That said, I'll do my best to discuss options that are not only available but realistic for the team to obtain.
The first of those options is Rick Porcello. Porcello was rushed to the majors at the age of 20 after only one season in the minor leagues. Drafted out of high school, he didn't have a high school pitcher's typical progression through the minors one level at a time. Perhaps because he was rushed, Porcello didn't perform nearly as he was expected to over the first four years of his career. But in 2013, he showed dramatic improvement. His strikeout rate jumped from 12-13% his whole career up to 19.3%. Also, he posted the highest ground ball rate of his career: 55%.
He's always kept the walks under control, but has had problems preventing hits on balls in play (career .312 BABIP) likely because of the poor quality of Detroit's infield defense behind him. Because of his propensity to give up hits, Porcello posted a 4.32 ERA in 2013 despite excellent peripherals. If we remove the defense from the equation, we see that he posted a 3.53 FIP and a 3.19 xFIP. I think if you were to put Porcello in front of the Orioles excellent infield defense, you would see his ERA come down quickly. Porcello is under team control through 2015.
Suggested trade offer: Jim Johnson for Rick Porcello
The reason that Rick Porcello could possibly be available is the next man on our list, Drew Smyly. If the Tigers traded Porcello, they would likely slide Smyly into the rotation to fill that hole. But what if the Orioles went directly after Smyly? After all, he isn't working out of the rotation and he isn't closing. Smyly was something of a relief ace for the Tigers this season posting a 2.37 ERA over 76 innings out of the bullpen. He struck out over a batter an inning and limited his walks leading to a FIP of 2.31, which validated his ERA.
However, Smyly wasn't always a reliever. Smyly started in 27 out of his 28 appearances in the minors, and in 18 of his 23 appearances in 2012. 2013 was the first time that Smyly was a full time reliever. Not all relievers can make the switch to being starters, but Smyly would have an easier transition than most because he's been a starter almost his whole career. Even with the typical .75 - 1.0 runs added to his ERA with a move to the rotation, Smyly would still be a very productive starter for the club. He wouldn't come cheap because he's under team control though 2018 and isn't eligible for arbitration until after 2014.
Suggested trade offer: Jim Johnson and Zach Davies for Drew Smyly
The next two names on our list also come from the same organization. They actually have seven legitimate options for their rotation, a wealth of talent any club would be envious of. The St. Louis Cardinals are in many ways the model organization in baseball right now, and their starting pitching depth is tremendous. The first guy I'll discuss is Lance Lynn, who we just saw start Game 4 of the World Series. Lynn pitched mostly in relief during 2011 before moving to the rotation full time in 2012 (except for a late season stint in the bullpen). The last two seasons have seen Lynn throw a total of 377 innings, more than anyone on the Orioles staff.
During back to back seasons of eating innings, he also pitched extremely well. He struck out just about a batter an inning over those two seasons, while maintaining a solid walk rate of 3.33 per nine innings. With a career BABIP of .314, he is another candidate to improve in front of the Orioles infield defense. The last point in his favor is that he has done an excellent job of limiting home runs, which is a must in OPACY. Granted, Busch Stadium and the National League may have helped in this endeavor. Lynn is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2014 season.
Suggested trade offer: J.J. Hardy and Branden Kline for Lance Lynn
With an embarrassment of riches in the rotation for the Cardinals, Joe Kelly didn't even join the rotation this season until June 21st. Once he joined the starting five, he didn't relinquish his spot including all of the postseason. From June 21 until the end of the season, Kelly posted a phenomenal 2.02 ERA. Somehow, Kelly only posted a strikeout rate of about 15%, but he's got the stuff to post a much better rate. Armed with a devastating sinker that averages almost 96 mph and gets a ton of arm side run, he should be striking more guys out than he is. He also possesses a change up, slider and curve but his bread and butter is the two seamer.
Kelly's fielding independent statistics say that he should allow around four runs per game, as he's posted a 4.00 FIP each of the last two years. But this is one of those times where the fielding independent metrics don't know about the nasty stuff the pitcher has. They don't accurately represent who he is and what his potential may be. I believe that Kelly's stuff is good enough to force weak contact and to induce more swings and misses than he has so far. Kelly is under team control through 2018 and isn't even eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 season.
Suggested trade offer: J.J. Hardy for Joe Kelly
Note: I think any trade offer sent to the Cardinals needs to be built around J.J. Hardy. While I don't think this is the ideal time to trade him, with Manny Machado rehabbing his knee injury, shortstop is the Cardinals primary weakness. If the Orioles traded Hardy, Machado would shift over to shortstop.
The Cubs are not quite ready to compete for a playoff spot yet, but with a plethora of talent in their minor league system they may be able to in the not too distant future. With Jeff Samardzija eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, he may not be around when the next Cubs team is competitive. Because of that, Samardzija has been discussed recently as a trade candidate for the Cubs. Samardzija throws a 95 mph fastball and a nasty split finger, which generates tons of swings and misses. In 2013, batters missed 49.5% of the time they swung at his split fingered pitch. It's definitely his put away pitch against hitters of both hands, but I'd argue he should use it more than 16% he threw it this year.
Samardzija has posted over a strikeout per inning in each of the last two seasons. At this point, you can probably sense my strong preference for strikeout pitchers. But that's not the only thing Samardzija does well. He also limits walks fairly well, and his ground ball rate surged to 48% this season. The reason that his ERA didn't follow suit was because of a relatively high 13.3% HR/FB rate. The league average was only 10.5% and I'd wager his rate will tick down next season. Considering he only made $2.64 million in 2013, he shouldn't be that expensive over the next two years. He'd be a big upgrade on the current Orioles rotation.
Suggested trade offer: Eduardo Rodriguez and Zach Davies for Jeff Samardzija
More from Camden Chat:
- 2013 MLB Awards: Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and Adam Jones wins A.L. Silver Slugger for Orioles
- Camden Chat GIF Tournament, Part II: Happy fans vs. Attaboy!
- Baltimore Orioles 2013 in review: Kevin Gausman
- AL MVP 2013: Chris Davis named as finalist, along with Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout
- Orioles hire Jeff Manto as minor league hitting coordinator