The Orioles do not have a good farm system, pretty much everyone agrees. The most recent top 100 prospect ranking released, from Baseball America, had the O's shut out entirely. That doesn't mean they don't have players who interest other teams, as MASN's Roch Kubatko writes that teams have been asking for Jonathan Schoop or Kevin Gausman, both of whom figure to be important parts of the 2016 team.
Schoop in particular came up in discussions with the Padres where the O's had been interested in acquiring either Andrew Cashner or James Shields, according to Kubatko. Of course the O's aren't giving up Schoop for a year of Cashner. It's interesting that's who the Padres asked for. It doesn't do a whole lot to help the O's improve this year's team.
With teams out here asking for Gausman, there's little wonder the O's haven't made any trades. If these are the demands, they shouldn't be making trades. It seems like a decent possibility that the reason the O's weren't able to land one of the surplus Rockies outfielders is because the price they wanted to exact for the trade included Gausman. Colorado did trade one of those players after all, but it was the Rays who landed Corey Dickerson, and not for an overwhelming trade package, either.
There is young talent on the major league team and there's potential talent on the farm. It's not a completely bleak picture for the future. The O's problem is that there's no depth. If the O's had managed to have a similar player to Schoop coming up through the minors now, maybe that's someone they could look to trade. If Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy were looking more like sure things, the idea of the O's trading another starting pitcher might not seem so bad, to us or to them.
Wait a minute, WHO is untouchable?
What the system has instead is two giant question marks at the top, which leaves them unwilling to even entertain trading a player like Chris Lee, who is also coming up in talks, according to Kubatko. Lee is a 23-year-old lefty starter prospect whom the O's picked up from Houston last year. If you had no idea who he is before right now, that's OK. He performed pretty well for Frederick and then Bowie once joining the O's system. He is not a big name dude.
When even a guy like Lee is seemingly untouchable, what does that say about the O's system? One possible answer is that Lee has more potential than his minor league results to date would indicate. The first thing that jumps out about him is the opposite: Maybe he's gotten results better than he deserves as a guy with a nearly 10% walk rate. You look at something like that and the idea that even he's not on the table for a trade is absurd.
Another number jumps out too, which is this: Lee threw 114.1 innings between two O's affiliates after being acquired. He allowed only one home run in all of that time. That gives you the idea that he's a pitcher who's got a good sinker going on, and we all know how much the O's could use those in their arsenal with Oriole Park at Camden Yards being the home park. Maybe he's one set of Zach Britton string drills away from taking the leap to something better.
So maybe the O's really should keep that guy, right? Just knowing he's a guy with success with a sinker, he doesn't sound like someone who should be traded for one year of Cashner. Three existing O's starting pitchers will be free agents after 2017. They can't keep flushing away the potential next wave in trades, like they did last year in trading pitchers Stephen Tarpley, Steven Brault, and Zach Davies in two trades to try to fix the outfield situation.
Both of those trades failed. The O's still haven't solved the problem and now they're out three pitchers who might have helped at the big league level, or who might have been traded for a better player than Travis Snider or Gerardo Parra.
Not making any more trades is OK
But if they're not even willing to trade a player like Lee, no wonder the O's aren't making any trades of import. This avenue to improve the big league club is basically closed to them. They certainly shouldn't trade away big pieces of the MLB team. They can't afford to keep dealing out of the middle of their farm; there isn't really a top of the farm any more. No one is next left in line after these guys. And if they do give up two draft picks to sign Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, it's not going to get better right away.
If this all sounds a bit familiar to you, that's because it is. There was a similar story from the O's back around July's trade deadline. The O's kept getting asked about Schoop and Gausman, and even Manny Machado. Of course they shouldn't have traded those guys at that time, or ever. They were even labeling Mychal Givens as untouchable, which I scoffed about at the time - even a 25-year-old reliever's untouchable? That seems like a good decision now.
Lee getting labeled as untouchable, or at least untouchable for the caliber of player the O's have sought to acquire, could work out the same way. It's enough to where you can understand why the O's wouldn't move him for a player with little team control remaining.
After seeing how a number of Dan Duquette's trades have turned out, you might not think it's the worst thing in the world if he just stops making trades to try to plug big holes on the big league team. The desperation trades haven't worked out great for him. The O's are certainly desperate for a starting pitcher right now, desperate enough that giving Gallardo a three year, $40-45 million contract apparently seems like a good idea.
Of course it's not a good idea to sign Gallardo, but it might well be a better idea than making another one of these potentially awful trades or trying to rely on the existing crop of fifth starter competitors. If teams are wanting Schoop or Gausman as the price for the O's to get a pitcher or outfielder, bring on what's left of the free agent market and hope for the best.