I do not want to have this conversation. These past three years of over .500 baseball have been a such a fine respite from the fourteen years of dreck. Yet, as a baseball fan and more importantly an Orioles fan it is a conversation that peeks into your head every time Chris Davis stares at a called third strike. What if the Orioles aren't any good this year? What do they do? What do the Orioles look like as sellers at the trade deadline?
First and foremost, with 11 pending free agents, the Orioles are uniquely positioned to be sellers this trading deadline. In today's player acquisition market contract status means a lot. Teams seem to covet short term deals and cost controlled players. One could argue, and I would, that teams should care more about the quality of player, but right now teams seem reluctant to take on long term deals for any type of player--even a star player. So with 11 rentals available the Orioles have some bullets with which to work. Of course, that is what got them there. The tweet below from Orioles blogger Luke Jackson has rung pretty true so far this year.
Might this be what a team of so-so third and fourth year arb guys looks like? Getting so little out of a huge chunk of the payroll #orioles— Luke Jackson (@luke_jackson10) May 13, 2015
The Orioles have a bunch of guys who are making more money than they are worth to the team as they are about to reach free agency. The payroll actually went up in 2015 by around $11 million and the team lost three major players in Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller while not signing any major free agents to large deals. So having a roster full of pending free agents in the their last year of arbitration can get expensive quick and inefficient even quicker if those players do not preform. Yet, this gives them rental players to sell for some prospects. I doubt, even as as sellers at the deadline, that the Orioles go the fire sale route. The roster can be retooled and revamped to make another theoretical run at the Playoffs next season. Below is a table of the pending free agents.
|Player||Salary(In Millions of Dollars)|
|Alejandro De Aza||$5.0|
Outside of those pending free agents the Orioles could probably look to move Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, Travis Snider, or Miguel Gonzalez. All of those players are moving into some phase of arbitration and losing their cost control. The only one of those I could see as a trade candidate that the Orioles would move is Brian Matusz. Brad Brach may not be a bad guy to trade, but he is still cheap and intriguing. Snider likely would not bring back much of anything. Gonzalez would have a shot at bringing back a nice prospect haul I would think, but he is only moving into his second year of arbitration and gives the Orioles a good relatively cheap option for the 2016 rotation.
The headline pieces of those names above are Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Davis. With Matt Wieters out until June his trade value is likely zero. Chen and Davis may be able to get a solid prospect or two and maybe even a cost controlled major leaguer the team likes. However, with the current qualifying offer system in place the Orioles would not really have to move either one of them. They can wait for a package they love because both Chen and Davis would likely turn down any qualifying offers given to them in the off season meaning the Orioles would net two extra draft picks. So even if they lost them to free agency they still get compensated.
The other attractive pieces are the bullpen arms. Teams always want relievers around the deadline. However, none of Matusz, O'Day, or Hunter would likely bring back anything particularly special and with no realistic qualifying offer situation for any of them the Orioles would have to get the best they can get for each of them if they want any sort of compensation for losing them. Steve Pearce is also an interesting trade candidate if he starts to turn it on. He has shown a good amount of positional versatility and still has some pop. His value on July 31st is going to greatly depend on how he plays from here on out because of his short track record.
My guess would be, especially if the team is trying to contend in 2016, that the Orioles would target high minors high floor type of prospects. Guys that could step up in 2016 and play a role on the major league roster. Maybe take on one of those former first round picks Dan Duquette loves. I doubt they would go after the low minors high ceiling toolsy type of player. That does not seem to be the M.O. of this front office. They could try to get some of the available competitive balance draft picks or even some international bonus pool slot money, but much to my own chagrin the Orioles do not seem to be too enthused by those options.
All this means that for 2016 that the Orioles could have a much more flexible roster. The AAA and AA rosters right now are full of names that could slide into the bullpen or bench roles. The rotation is losing two starters, but Kevin Gausman has been continually waiting the in the wings for a sturdy rotation spot and Dylan Bundy is out of options come 2016 so he'll have to make the Opening Day roster. The bullpen would have a lot of open spots, but again the likes of Mike Wright, Oliver Drake, Tyler Wilson, Mychal Givens, Zach Davies, etc. could slot into the bullpen and give the Orioles tons of roster flexibility for 2016.
The starting position players would need some more help though. The Orioles have roster cornerstones in Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, and Adam Jones. Arguably, the team also has good options at second base and catcher in Jonathan Schoop/Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph. The high minors for the Orioles is not flooded with starting position players though. They could fill out a cheap versatile bench, but there is not a 150+ game player in AAA or AA.
However, the Orioles are shedding nearly $60 million this off season. Even with some arbitration raises and other minimum salary guys filling out the roster the team could conceivably have $40 to $50 million to play with in free agency and trade acquisitions. Sign a corner outfielder, another bat for either first base or designated hitter and the starting lineup looks even better. Add a reliever or two to that mix and maybe even a starter depending on a trade or two and the team looks like they have a decent contending shot in 2016.
These roster machinations are fun to think about, especially when the team is playing so poorly. It is still too early to call the Orioles sellers or buyers at the deadline, but the team is in a particularly beneficial position to sell. The time is rapidly approaching when those questions will have to be answered. The team has shown glimpses in 2015, but they have struggled more often than not. If the major league club is still spinning it's wheels after the draft (June 8th), then some serious contemplation needs to be given to selling. The answer is not yes yet, but if it is, the Orioles are in a good place to revamp and retool their roster to take another shot at contending in 2016.