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Orioles Notebook: trading a postion player and minor league relievers

This week in the notebook, thoughts on the idea of trading a position player, and an apparent Orioles plan for developing the next good reliever.

Trading a position player...

There has lots of talk around the internet about trading a major league position player for some starting pitching reinforcements. The Orioles rotation has been bad, very bad, outside of Chris Tillman no one has an ERA under four in the starting rotation. If you take away Kevin Gausman and Tillman no one has an ERA under 5.67 except for Vance Worley who only made one start.

This is bad. The Orioles need only competence from their starting rotation and thus far it has been the three stooges manning the back of the rotation. Even in first place by 2.5 games and 14 games above .500 everyone can see, including the Orioles front office, that this level of poor performance will cost the team eventually.

With trades of recent vintage the Orioles minor league depth has been pilfered and the minor league depth on hand has been found wanting. One way to improve the pitching staff would be to improve the outfield defense which continues to be dreadful. However, some of the worst Orioles’ defenders are also some of their better hitters and baseball does not allow three designated hitters.

The other way to improve the rotation would be through a trade, however as I talked about before the Orioles minor league depth is sparse. Other teams are in the hunt for quality starting pitching as well and teams like the Red Sox and Rangers have much better minor league systems to deal from.

So, as the thinking goes, take a little from the everyday lineup and put it towards fixing the rotation. The offense is great so removing one player from it won’t cost the Orioles much and another quality pitcher will fix what ails the rotation. Again, as the thinking goes.

I think that is poor thinking. You should not “rob Peter to pay Paul.” There is a good amount of evidence that having good hitters throughout the lineup creates a stacking effect leading to higher run scoring than expected. You can read here and here about how adding good hitters to good lineups leads to more run scoring.

The basic rundown is that since hitters preform better with men on base the same player inserted into a weaker lineup would not produce the same amount of overall run scoring for the team. Therefore, having strength up and down the lineup is what gives the Orioles offense an advantage and what propels them to be one of the best offenses in the leagues.

So, trading Mark Trumbo or Jonathan Schoop for pitching help weakens the offense to a greater degree than one pitcher will help the weak rotation.

However, having said all of that there is one position player that makes some sense to trade and that is J.J. Hardy. He is under contract through next year for $14 million and has a $14 million option in 2018 with a $2 million buyout.

That is a pretty team friendly contract and gives whomever is trading for him more than a rental which opens up the market to teams that are looking for shortstop help and looking to compete next year. I cannot think of many teams off the top of my head that fit this category, but J.J. Hardy is a valuable player still and for the right team makes some sense.

For the Orioles it makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, the replacement shortstop is already on the roster. Manny Machado filled in for Hardy exceptionally well while Hardy was on the DL. Two, Ryan Flaherty could move to 3B.

Hardy has not been a good hitter in 1.5 years so if he is moved the Orioles everyday lineup has the same number of weak hitters as before (really just the one). Therefore, the offense is not hurt much at all either.

Hardy may not have the highest trade value and I’m not really advocating trading him away. However, if people are going to talk about trading away a position player, his name makes a lot more sense than some others.

Developing Relievers

Developing major league relievers can be hard. Getting into games not all that often and only facing a couple of hitters at a time can make it difficult for pitchers to learn how to get hitters out. That is why many relievers in the major leagues are failed minor league starters. However, combing through the minor league box scores I noticed something interesting the the Orioles have been doing with their minor league relievers.

  • Jon Keller, 20 Games, 29.2 IP
  • Ashur Tolliver, 25 Games, 34.2 IP
  • Tanner Scott, 25 Games, 43.1 IP
  • Garrett Cleavinger, 20 Games, 48.1 IP
  • Jay Flaa, 17 Games, 29.1 IP
  • Christian Turnipseed, 24 Games, 33.0 IP

None of these pitchers are starters or have started a game for an Orioles minor league team, but they all have more innings pitched than games appeared in and some by quite a large margin. Think of Brad Brach or Mychal Givens on the current roster who often go above and beyond one inning pitched giving Buck Showalter a lot more bullpen flexibility.

The Orioles seem to be attempting the same thing with their minor league relievers. Let them pitch to left and right handed batters, maybe work through a lineup. There are probably even more guys then I picked up on, but these were the ones I found through a cursory glance. Maybe the Orioles have a pitching development plan after all.