The trade deadline is a mere three days away, and while there’s been plenty of smoke with regards to the O’s acquiring a starting pitcher, there’s been no fire. With the Phillies’ asking price for Jeremy Hellickson being a prospect from a team’s top five, that seems to rule out the O’s as a likely trading partner.
The Baltimore organization’s top five is not the same as another organization’s top five, which means that for the Orioles the asking price is probably more like a top one or two prospect. That means the O’s would probably be looking at dealing someone like Cody Sedlock or Chance Sisco, and it’s unlikely that either of them would be moved.
This is probably why reports shifted to the Orioles "trying hard" to get Andrew Cashner, but he's reportedly going to the Marlins. That leaves a list of fairly unimpressive pitchers along the lines of Jon Niese, Jorge De La Rosa, and Hector Santiago.
Let’s say the O's go out and get one of these guys. Who do you bump from the rotation? Dylan Bundy, who just took a perfect game into the sixth and pitched five shutout innings the game before that? That would seem ill-advised.
What about Yovani Gallardo, who just had his best start of the year and has dropped his season ERA by almost a full run over the past month? Gallardo is finally starting to pitch well, and even if you don’t buy into a turnaround, he still has to fit somewhere on the roster.
The O’s have basically been playing with 24 players for the past two-plus weeks with Ubaldo Jimenez not having pitched since July 8th before his spot start last night. They can’t stash Gallardo on top of that, and he doesn’t seem like the type of pitcher who would transition well to a relief role. At least Jimenez, with all his faults, can strike people out.
Neither Gallardo nor Bundy seem to make sense, and Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman aren’t going anywhere, so that leaves Vance Worley as the obvious candidate. On the surface this isn’t ridiculous - Worley is the type of #4-5 starter that will often find himself bumped from the rotation of a trade-deadline buyer.
Here’s the problem though - the guy replacing him has to be better. Are any of these pitchers really better than Vance Worley? Obviously Worley’s success out of the bullpen skews his 2016 numbers quite a bit, so here’s a look at his stats, in starts only, from the past few years.
These numbers aren't going to blow anyone away, but it's clear that Worley has the potential to be a back-of-the-rotation starter, especially on a staff as weak as the Orioles'. Not only that, Worley's 2.49 ERA as a reliever over 33 outings the past two years still counts, even if it should be taken with a grain of salt when projecting his performance as a starter.
Someone like Niese or Santiago might be an improvement to the Orioles' rotation, or they might not. That's the case for anyone in the Orioles' price range right now. Anyone who definitely makes the rotation better is going to cost more than the team can afford to give up. So, if no starter truly worth acquiring is in the team's price range, why acquire a starter at all?
If the asking price for one of these pitchers is really low, the O's might as well pull the trigger. Having another option available is always a plus in case somebody gets hurt or blows up, so if the cost is Garrett Cleavinger (no offense to him), so be it. Go get a guy and put Worley in the bullpen - even if the production from that rotation spot is similar, the bullpen gets a little better. For a very low price, that may be worth it.
Still, the likelihood is low that a starter cheap enough to be affordable by the O's is going to significantly improve the current starting rotation. If Mike Wright and his 5.97 ERA were still pitching every fifth day, the situation would be different. The way it stands right now, there is no obvious albatross sitting there to be replaced by someone better.
Some problems just don't have a simple solution. The Orioles have a bad rotation and a terrible farm system, so the Orioles' rotation is going to remain bad unless the pitchers currently in it start pitching better. There's no other way to fix the problem. We've seen what can happen when Dan Duquette trades prospects for a marginal "improvement" because he doesn't have the ammo for a deal that makes a real impact.
A trade for a starter pitcher at this point would probably be more of the same. A better use of the team's limited resources might be to obtain a lefty reliever or a right-handed outfielder, someone who may not add much right now but makes the Orioles a better team in the playoffs if the current rotation is able to get them there. If someone like Hector Santiago doesn't help that much to get the O's to the playoffs, and he might not even start for them in the playoffs, why get him at all?
Like it or not, the best move for the O's might be to stick with the rotation they've got.