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The Orioles don’t have to be contenders in order to buy at the trade deadline

They have the farm system to add talent, provided that it is done with a view towards winning in 2023 and ‘24.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Orioles are outperforming preseason expectations. As it stands, they are on pace for 74 wins, and could do even better than that with promotions and a kinder schedule moving forward. Even still, it would be a stretch to refer to them as a “contenders.”

Much of that is a result of the team’s difficult circumstances. If the playoffs started today, the four teams in front of the Orioles in the AL East would all be in. Meanwhile the 34-40 O’s would be left to dream about life in another division. They would be in at least fourth place in every other division in baseball right now, and would be as high as third in the NL Central.

As such, the Orioles will be thought of as “sellers” with the August 2 trade deadline approaching. That talk is already taking place with writers sending Jorge López and Trey Mancini (among others) out of town to the highest bidder.

Maybe that does happen. After all, O’s boss Mike Elias is not going to abandon his rebuild plan just because this version of the Orioles is more palatable than the first three iterations he put on the field. And even though this is clearly a very entertaining team, it is also obvious that holes exist on this roster, particularly in the starting rotation, and it is not ready to make a deep playoff run. Going all in for 2022 isn’t part of the plan, and it isn’t going to happen. For the Orioles, it probably makes sense to capitalize on an outstanding season from López and an expiring contract like Mancini.

But trades do not have to be made with only the immediate future in mind, nor do they require “sellers” to punt with an eye towards the distant future. A middle ground exists, and it’s one that the Orioles could occupy.

The Orioles should be ready to roll on Opening Day next season. Adley Rutschman will have close to one full season of big league experience, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg may have already had their first cup of coffee in Baltimore, and Grayson Rodriguez is likely on track for a debut in the show. While an adjustment period for the young core is expected, the organization owes it to the fanbase to maximize this expected window of contention.

That could put any players with multiple years of team control remaining onto the Orioles radar.

Someone like Pablo López with the Marlins makes a lot of sense. The two front offices have had a ton of communication the last few years with the O’s sending a plethora of relievers to Miami under Elias. López is only 26, owns a career ERA of 3.75, and is under team control through 2024.

Or they could wade into the Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle waters, two pitchers with just one additional year of team control.

Montas would be a particularly tough get. He is largely regarded as the top starting pitching target on the market. The Athletics want to move him, and he is very good (3.21 ERA over 89.2 innings this season). The O’s could look to emulate the Blue Jays and their José Berríos deal a season ago. They traded two prospects to the Twins `for Berríos and then gave him a long-term deal.

Mahle is more of a middle rotation arm, but has some intriguing peripherals and the type of fastball spin rate that Elias’s crew has typically prioritized. If the price is right, that is another one that could make sense.

Speaking of “price,” that is a crucial factor here. The Orioles have a strong minor league system, and the talent is there that they might be able to nab just about any trade target they want. But they aren’t about to ship out Rodriguez for two years of a veteran pitcher.

In fact, you would imagine a significant portion of the Orioles farm system is off limits given where they are in the rebuild. Going based off of MLB Pipeline’s list, the highest ranked player that would make sense to move is Connor Norby.

The Orioles have areas of depth from which to trade. Henderson and Westburg debuting in Baltimore soon should give them some wiggle room to move the likes of Norby, Joey Ortiz, or Darell Hernaiz. Something similar is taking place in the outfield, where Stowers is on the big league door step, so maybe they could package up Hudson Haskin or potentially capitalize on what has been a huge season for John Rhodes.

These are just spit-balling ideas, and it’s important to note that it is fine for the Orioles to pull the biggest names off the table. But it also limits the level of player they can expect to add. That is the math that Elias would have to do.

Keep in mind, the Orioles are about to have a huge draft class. Their signing bonus pool is the largest in the league. That should bring a massive injection of talent. On top of that, they have pieces on the major league roster (López, Mancini, potentially Anthony Santander) that should also bring back some intriguing youngsters. So even if they do a bit of shopping themselves, they should still come out better than before.

The other option is that the Orioles catch fire in July, leapfrog both the Blue Jays and Rays in the division, and suddenly need to find themselves an ace for October. In that alternate reality let’s hope that shoulder healing technology gets a lot more efficient.