The idea that the Orioles are going to have to trade for someone to try to improve the state of their starting rotation gets more support almost on a daily basis. It seems so unlikely that they could hold their slim division lead with that unit continuing to pitch the way it collectively has.
Two big linked questions are out there. Who can the Orioles actually get with their limited trade chips? And just as important, would any of those people represent a meaningful upgrade? There will be plenty of time to figure that out between now and the non-waiver trade deadline.
For now, it’s interesting to know just who the Orioles might be looking at as a possible upgrade. On Wednesday, they had their eyes on both starting pitchers in a game between the Athletics and Twins: Sonny Gray and Ervin Santana. That’s according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.
The Orioles are hardly the only team that might be interested in one of those players as a potential rotation option. Slusser reported that the Blue Jays, Royals, Marlins, and Cardinals also had scouts in attendance. Any one of those teams could offer more than the Orioles without meaningfully depleting their farm systems.
Gray, aside from having a name that fits perfectly into the cadence of the beginning of the Sesame Street theme song, has long been figured to be a trade chip this season because he’s relatively young, coming off of two full successful seasons, and on top of that, the Athletics team is going nowhere.
In each of the past two seasons, Gray topped 200 innings pitched and his combined ERA in those games was 2.91. There was a lot to like even for those who prefer more abstract measures of evaluating pitching, with Gray’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) being 3.46 in the past two seasons.
That’s not Cy Young-winning material but it’s still very good. Gray would have topped the Orioles rotation in either ERA or FIP in either of the last two seasons.
The problem with Gray is this season. After 16 games, Gray has a 5.16 ERA. There’s always the chance this will open the door to buy low on a guy who could go back to being successful very easily - and provide a team with three full years of starts beyond this one.
You’d have to be nervous about swinging a big trade for a guy with a 5+ ERA and a WHIP of 1.467 to date. The Orioles and fixing broken starting pitchers aren’t concepts that tend to go together. Although they took a look at him, the pedigree of the last couple of seasons is probably going to put Gray out of their price range as far as what they have to offer.
My basic rule for this trade deadline is that the Orioles won’t be able to get anyone you would actually want to have on the team. Santana is just bad enough that the Orioles might be able to get him. You probably don’t want to have him on the team.
If scouts were looking to be impressed by Santana’s start yesterday, they might have been swayed by his pitching a complete game shutout. On the other hand, who cares about one start against the Athletics? They are 15th in the AL in on-base percentage and 14th in slugging percentage. Their team is bad and their offense is a big reason why.
For the season as a whole, Santana has a 4.06 ERA in 16 starts. That’s in line with a 4.09 FIP. He’s averaging a bit more than 5.2 innings per games started. It’s also similar to the results Santana posted last season before getting suspended 80 games for testing positive for Stanozolol, a no-no in baseball’s drug testing regime.
That’s a bit of baggage to be carrying around. Of course, the Orioles had some success in bringing on Nelson Cruz, suspended as a result of the Biogenesis investigation, but that was a lot more of a bargain than Santana might be. He’s owed $13.5 million this season and each of the next two seasons and he’s already 33 years old.
Santana has also been heavily homer-prone in his career. Even a successful 2013 campaign in Kansas City still saw him give up 26 home runs, 18 of which he gave up in what’s generally seen as a pitcher-friendly home park. Bringing those tendencies regularly to Oriole Park at Camden Yards seems like a bad idea.
The numbers are not overwhelming. On the other hand, unlike some other pitchers we might name, Santana has held his velocity into his 30s - the 92.5mph he averages this year is in line with most of the numbers of his early career when he was in Anaheim. The risk of him getting here and turning into a pumpkin seems to be lower.
Of course, if it turns out he’s actually not that bad, some team with real prospects and a need in their rotation might swoop in and get him instead. So even if you can talk yourself into Santana being alright, don’t get your hopes up.