JULY 27: Duquette reiterated today that he does not see any circumstances in which the Orioles would turn into sellers before the deadline, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports (Twitter links). “We may make some trades, but anything that we do we’re gonna try and improve our ballclub for this year,” said Duquette.
There had been some suggestion that Baltimore could switch into sell mode after slipping under .500, but the team’s top baseball decisionmaker certainly did not appear to leave any room for that possibility with the deadline just days away.
JULY 22: Orioles executive vice president/general manager Dan Duquette held court with the Baltimore media prior to today’s game and definitively said that the club will be buyers at the trade deadline regardless of how the team plays over the next week (via Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun, on Twitter). Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Duquette specifically said that the team needs better production from its outfield and pitching depth. Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com tweets that Duquette said the team is not looking to trade right-hander Kevin Gausman, but he’s the type of piece that other clubs will routinely ask about. (As Encina notes, Duquette’s comments don’t necessarily squash the rumor that he’s willing to listen to offers on Gausman.)
The Orioles are currently a .500 club at 46-46, which places them five games out of the division lead in the American League East. The Yankees are presently in the division lead, with the second-place Blue Jays just a half-game ahead of Baltimore.
Outfield production has indeed been a problem for Baltimore in 2015. A year after letting Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz walk as free agents, Orioles left fielders are batting a putrid .219/.289/.344. Baltimore right fielders have produced a more palatable .285/.321/.440 triple-slash, and Adam Jones, of course, has contributed his typical brand of strong offensive output in center field.
Duquette and the Orioles hoped that the combination of Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider and David Lough would sufficiently cover their corner outfield needs, but that hasn’t been the case. However, De Aza and Young were both designated for assignment, with the former headed to Boston via trade and the latter ultimately getting released. Pearce hasn’t come close to reproducing his 2014 breakout, Snider’s offense is down significantly from 2014, and Lough’s value was always going to come more from his ability to prevent runs than his ability to create them.
In the rotation, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez have all struggled, although Tillman’s shown signs of life over his past four outings, posting a sub-2.00 ERA with a 24-to-3 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. Ubaldo Jimenez. who is enjoying one of the best rebound campaigns in all of baseball this season, has been an unexpected bright spot as well. Nonetheless, Baltimore’s rotation has turned in a collective 4.22 ERA that ranks 22nd in the Majors. What’s worse is the fact that Baltimore starters haven’t pitched deep into the game, either; the team’s 523 innings out of the rotation is the fourth-lowest total in all of Major League Baseball, leading only the Rockies, Royals and Diamondbacks.
The Orioles face an uphill battle if they’re to add a significant piece to their big league club, as the Baltimore farm system is commonly regarded as one of the worst in the league. (Forfeiting two picks in the 2014 draft to sign Cruz and Jimenez, plus failing to sign their second-round pick in the most recent draft haven’t helped matters.) Duquette’s comments seem to suggest that the Orioles aren’t actively shopping Gausman, though as Encina noted above, he also declined to make a definitive statement that Gausman is off the table. Perhaps that’s reading too much into his comments, but I’d imagine that with scant depth in the farm, teams would be intrigued by an MLB-ready arm such as Gausman.
To this point, the Orioles have been connected to many of the impact bats on the market, including Justin Upton and Carlos Gomez. Jay Bruce’s name has surfaced as a target as well. Things on the pitching side of the equation are a bit murkier, though one name that’s been tied to the Orioles is Cincinnati’s Mike Leake.