Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trade chips: Do the Orioles have any?

After their latest, and ongoing, awful losing skid, it's clear that the Orioles aren't going to win anything this season. Right now, the O's are 36-52 and have lost 12 of their last 13 games. So, with that in mind, the O's should once again start thinking about future seasons and which of their current players can be dealt for young players who can be helpful down the road.

Let's get one thing out of the way: There's no way the O's will trade any of their young starters like Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman. Britton is the best of that group right now, mostly because he pitched with the most success this season. He'll be back in Baltimore at some point in the next few weeks or months while the O's do their best to limit his workload and make sure he stays healthy for years to come. Arrieta is the only one of the four still in the rotation, but he's had his struggles as well. He'll continue to get the ball every fifth day, as he should, but it's also important that the O's keep him healthy. As for Matusz and Tillman, both have certainly struggled at times at the major league level, though Matusz's regression is much more alarming because of his injury earlier in the season and his drop in velocity. Tillman has also been dealing with a dip in velocity, but he never pitched with as much success as Matusz did in the second half of last season, either. Both guys are still young -- Matusz is 24 and Tillman is 23 -- and it's too early to give up on them. However, if both never recover their missing velocity and they don't learn to pitch effectively without it, the O's rotation will be an even larger concern going forward (something that's hard to imagine).

The O's also aren't going to trade Matt Wieters or Adam Jones. Trading one of these guys, or both, is something that could possibly happen in the next few seasons (the Wieters angle was recently examined by Camden Crazies), but the O's front office undoubtedly considers these two guys building blocks and will not part with them easily.

Also, these players on the roster have little or no trade value: Mitch Atkins, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Michael Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, Mark Hendrickson, Chris Jakubauskas, Alfredo Simon, Pedro Viola, Craig Tatum, Brian Roberts, Robert Andino, Blake Davis, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Luke Scott (injury), and Felix Pie. Some of them are useful players and have played well in stretches, but they just don't have much value right now because of their overall talent level or their current contract, or both.

I also seriously doubt the O's would want to part with Nolan Reimold, who has demonstrated the ability to both get on base and hit for some power, but then again Buck Showalter hasn't been particularly interested in putting Reimold in the lineup every day, so maybe he knows something about Reimold that fans don't.

Removing all of those guys from the potential trade chip list, a handful of O's players are left. That doesn't mean the O's want to deal them, just that they should at least think about doing so.

J.J. Hardy

The decision on what to do with Hardy may be the O's most important move this season. Hardy has been tremendous and has hit for much more power than the O's anticipated. Unfortunately, solid-hitting shortstops can be expensive, and if the O's want to keep Hardy from walking after this season (if they don't trade him), they'll need to hand him a multi-year contract and a sizable chunk of money. Because Hardy has dealt with a few injuries in his career, handing him a bunch of money over multiple years is extremely risky. At his best, Hardy is a fine shortstop and will probably outplay his next contract, but that won't mean a whole lot if he gets hurt again.

I'm also growing tired of hearing the following as one of the main reasons for keeping Hardy: The O's should definitely keep him around because he'll be a fantastic shortstop until Manny Machado is ready. Sure, that would be wonderful -- having a very good shortstop is a luxury that many teams don't have -- but that doesn't mean the O's should keep him around at any cost necessary. If Hardy wants to stick around for a reasonable deal, that's fine. But he'll also likely work to get the best contract that he can find, as he should. The O's shouldn't take an enormous risk to sign him, whenever it is that Machado is ready to take over the shortstop position in Baltimore.

Hopefully, the O's have learned from the Roberts contract decision from a few years ago. The O's could have dealt Roberts a few times when he was valuable, but they instead signed him to a four-year, $40 million deal that won't expire until after the 2013 season. Roberts is a useful player when healthy, but that's the problem: He can't stay healthy. Do the Orioles really want to go through that again with another middle infielder? I'm not saying that trading Hardy is the right move, but a still-rebuilding franchise shouldn't be handing out tons of money to injury-prone guys. Then again, the O's don't have a problem signing mediocre (and Type A) relievers to multi-year deals, so I wouldn't be surprised with any decision they make.

Jeremy Guthrie

I'm starting to believe that the O's aren't going to trade Guthrie. And that's not the worst thing in the world either. He's a competent pitcher, maybe a fourth or fifth starter on a good team, so he has a little bit of value -- just not a bunch. That means he may be worth a couple decent prospects, but probably not any top ones. Then again, things could change and a team could decide to make the O's a deal they can't refuse. And that's OK. But a pitcher like Guthrie arguably has more value to a team that is struggling to keep their younger pitchers in the starting rotation. Matusz and Tillman are both in Triple-A, and Britton was recently sent down and will have his innings limited for the rest of the season. Besides Guthrie and Arrieta, the O's rotation currently includes some combination of Atkins, Jakubauskas, Simon, and maybe Bergesen or Berken. That's not good, and sometimes (much more frequently lately) those starters have trouble reaching the fifth inning. Guthrie has had his own difficulties lately, but he pitches more innings than the team's other starters.

I believe that next year will be Guthrie's last arbitration-eligible year, meaning the O's could keep him around at a reasonable price. Guthrie is probably also getting to the point where he'd like to explore a multi-year deal, be it with the O's or another team, so that's a possibility as well if he gets traded and pitches well.

Mark Reynolds

Reynolds is under team control until 2012 and has a team option for 2013, so there is some value in that if a team decides that they want Reynolds around for a couple seasons. Then again, that all depends on how good Reynolds actually is at the plate. He started this season off horribly, not only failing to hit for much power, but not getting on base much either. But he's turned that around, and he has a chance to hit 40 home runs. He's also been walking a lot, and he's on pace to walk more than he has in any other season in his career.

So, assuming that the current Reynolds is the real Reynolds, there's just one problem: He's a lousy third baseman. He's having a terrible defensive season at third, and he just might be the worst fielder at that position in the majors right now. He'll likely have to be moved to first base or DH, and if the O's had a better option at third right now, that move likely would have happened already. But, you know, it's important for Guerrero and Lee to get their daily at-bats.

Because of that lack of a third baseman -- Josh Bell doesn't seem to be an option at this point -- and his recent resurgence at the plate, I'd be surprised if the O's decided to part with Reynolds. But, just like almost anyone on the roster, they should consider it if a team makes them a good offer, because while Reynolds is hitting much better at the plate, his bad defense takes away from his offensive value.

Koji Uehara/Jim Johnson

There's not a whole lot to say about Uehara and Johnson being included on this list. They are the two best relievers the O's have, and the O's should consider moving either one for the right price. My only concern would be that it may not be wise to trade both of them; after all, the rest of the bullpen is pretty bad. I'll also say that Uehara is a little better than Johnson, but Uehara also has a $4 million vesting option in 2012. Johnson, on the other hand, doesn't have a whole lot of service time, and he's still arbitration-eligible for the next couple years. That's worth mentioning.

Nick Markakis

Most fans still like Markakis. Heck, I like Markakis. But what I don't like is the production the O's are getting from their highest-paid player. The O's signed Markakis to a six-year, $66 million deal in 2009, and that deal is not looking so good right now. Markakis plays just about every game, which is impressive, but he hasn't impressed in some key areas at the plate, including his on-base and slugging percentages. He still hits plenty of line drives all over the field, but the O's are paying him to be a guy who gets on base much more and hits for more power.

More than anyone on this list, I'd be sad to see Markakis go. I still think there's a chance he regains some of his abilities at the plate and starts walking more and hitting more home runs, but if there's a chance to get some decent prospects in return and to also get rid of that contract, the O's should seriously consider taking it.

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That's basically it. I'll guess that the O's make one or two moves, but probably not anything more than that. Hopefully that includes getting some talented pieces in return.

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