It may be hard to believe if you watched them play last night, but the Orioles would still grab an extra wild card and play postseason baseball for the first time since 1997 (as of this morning, they're a half-game out). It's shocking for a team with a minus-55 run differential (second worst in Major League Baseball), but I guess that's what a 27-14 start will do.
Of late, I've seen more tweets declaring the Orioles dead than I have about what Justin Bieber had for lunch - which is saying something for Twitter. But the fact of the matter is that this team is still very much alive, nine games back of the first-place Yankees in baseball's toughest division and in the thick of things in the AL wild card standings. At 46-43, the Orioles will most certainly be buyers at baseball's trade deadline, and with Jason Hammel's knee surgery, they will definitely be looking to add an arm to improve the rotation.
I've accepted the fact the O's aren't going to sell of the farm system to bring in a Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster or even Zach Greinke. It would be foolish for them to give up too much young talent for rental players and Garza's price tag will be far too high given that he is controllable for an extra season.
So what does that leave available for the Orioles? Three potentially affordable names particularly still out to me; Jason Vargas, Francisco Liriano and Bartolo Colon.
Vargas certainly isn't an ace and, at 29, he never projects to be either. He's not going to overpower big league hitters with his upper-80s fastball, but his changeup complements it nicely and he strikes out twice as many batters as he walks with his 2.69 K/BB ratio.
My biggest concern with Vargas is his performance away from his pitcher-friendly home at Safeco Field. On the road this season, Vargas' ERA jumps to 5.09, compared to 2.84 ERA at home. He's also a fly ball pitcher and has allowed 17 homers on the road. That could be dangerous in the AL East. Still, it's certainly worth picking up the phone and asking Jack Zduriencik what it will cost.
At 39, Colon certainly isn't a guy that the Orioles would build around past this season. But that's OK - trade deadline moves are about finding productive players for the remaining two-plus months of the season. With the Athletics also in postseason contention, Billy Beane likely won't be selling come the end of the month, but GMs know he will never turn down prospects for older players on his roster.
Orioles fans watched Colon reinvent himself in the Yankees rotation last season, finishing the year with an even 4.00 ERA. In 2012, he's been even better, limiting batters to a .214 average in two starts this month. He's a proven innings eater who has pitched into the seventh inning in 11 of his 17 starts this season. As the Orioles bullpen continues to be overworked (21 bullpen pitchers used in the last four games) they could certainly use a guy that could pitch late into games. If I'm Dan Duquette, I would definitely take a good look at Colon. If nothing else, he'd look great in a cartoon bird hat.
But I'm most excited about Francisco Liriano, who pitches for a team that is looking to sell big at the deadline, the Minnesota Twins. Since returning to Minnesota's rotation, Liriano has held hitters to a .231 average. In his last nine starts, Liriano has outpitched the Phillies' Hamels. Liriano posted a 2.83 ERA, .170 opponent average and 2.68 K/BB ratio compared to Hamels' 3.96 ERA, .243 opponent average and 3.47 K/BB ratio during that span.
Remember kids, it's all about finding production for those last two months. I know Hamels is a much better pitcher than Liriano, but if the O's can get more production from the cheaper rental, then it's a win-win.
Don't be disappointed the Orioles aren't in the hunt for the big four this trade deadline. Remember that these acquisitions are merely rentals. Greinke, Hamels and Dempster could all find new homes again after the 2012 season. And that's when the Orioles should inquire. For now, these affordable targets are who you should be watching over the next few weeks.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.