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Orioles trade target: Jeremy Hellickson

Let’s face it, the O’s aren’t getting a front-line starter, but a guy like Hellickson could help the team without breaking the bank.

The second half of the season starts tomorrow, and somehow the O’s are still in first place. They’ve managed to do this despite having a starting rotation that has been catastrophically bad - Orioles starters have the 3rd worst ERA in baseball (5.15), the 2nd worst WHIP (1.48), and have thrown the fewest innings in the majors.

It’s hard to imagine the Birds continuing to stay atop the division if the rotation doesn’t get better, and there don’t seem to be any good young pitchers waiting in the wings to help make that happen. If the rotation is going to improve, it’ll probably have to improve via trade.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to go out and pick up a starter if the Orioles had the Dodgers’ or the Astros’ farm system, but unfortunately the Orioles have the Orioles’ farm system. That would be an issue in any season, but it’s especially problematic this year when good, available starters are few and far between.

Let’s get these out of the way: the O’s aren’t going to get Julio Teheran or Sonny Gray. The ship has sailed on Drew Pomeranz, and they were never going to get him anyway. Someone will pay a premium for Rich Hill - despite his track record and age, the guy has a 2.25 ERA. The two years and $27 million left on Ervin Santana’s contract might be a problem for the O’s, but won’t be an issue for a contender with deeper pockets. Matt Moore might be traded, but probably not to a division rival. The list goes on and on.

Moving past the names above, it doesn’t take long to get into a list of pitchers who frankly aren’t very good. Do we really want the Orioles to give up anything of value for Hector Santiago’s 4.58 ERA and 5.14 FIP, or a sub-replacement level Andrew Cashner? No, thanks.

One pitcher, though, seems like he could strike the perfect balance between being gettable and being actually worth acquiring. That pitcher is Jeremy Hellickson.

Coming into the 2016 season, Hellickson was struggling. After two excellent 2011-12 seasons in Tampa where he posted ERAs of 2.95 and 3.10, Hellickson took a nosedive. He finished with ERAs of 5.17, 4.52, and 4.62 in 2013-15 respectively, and was picked up by Philly this year on a one-year deal.

The 29-year-old righty was getting similar results in 2016 until the past few weeks. Hellickson has allowed one run apiece in each of his last three starts, and he’s lowered his season ERA to 3.92.

After the last couple years it’s easy to write this off as just a hot streak, but there’s reason to think his performance is legit. Hellickson is striking out more batters (and walking less) than ever before, and his HR/FB and BABIP are right around where they were last year so it’s not as if he’s been getting lucky.

In fact, if anything, there’s reason to believe that three-year run from 2013-2015 was unlucky. Amazingly, his two worst seasons in terms of FIP and xFIP out of the last five were actually those two great years in 2011 and 2012. Since then, his peripherals have actually improved, with an xFIP hovering around 4.10 even though his ERAs have been considerably higher.

If Hellickson is moved, he shouldn’t command a huge price in the trade market because he’s just a rental. Some teams might be concerned about his track record prior to this season. That’s a real “if”, though, because the Phillies have a few reasons they might want to keep him.

First of all, the way he’s pitching he may be a candidate for a qualifying offer. If the Phillies feel that a first-round pick is more valuable than whatever they’d be getting in a trade, it would make sense to hang onto him.

Philadelphia is also a team that has their eye on competing soon, as their prospects like J.P. Crawford graduate to the majors. Considering their payroll is about $60 million less than last season (how is that even possible?), they can afford to throw $17 million or so in Hellickson’s direction. It won’t cripple them if he takes it.

If the Phillies really are trying to move Hellickson, the Orioles should go after him. They’re not going to get a top-of-the-market starter, and most other starters aren’t worth acquiring. Jeremy Hellickson is one of the few guys who is not only obtainable but would also be a big improvement to the rotation.