Zach Wilt: Building on the core with Samardzija is the right move

For years, I wanted to see the Orioles stockpile their farm system and build a winner through their homegrown talent. I understood that they would never outbid the teams in major media markets for big-name free agents and truthfully, there was something more satisfying about the thought of beating those teams with guys that have come through the system.

In 2012, the O’s snapped their 14-year losing streak and made the postseason for the first time since 1997. You remember, it was a magical time that showed how far the organization had come since the struggles of the late 1990s and into the 2000s. After an 85-win season in 2013, it’s clear that the Birds are close to making that leap and being something truly special.

As I look at the future of this core and examine the current contracts on this roster, I think now is the time to take some chances. Moves like the Erik Bedard and Koji Uehara trades helped to add the talent on this current roster with low-risk, high-reward acquisitions. Now, it’s time for the Orioles to be on the other side of some of those deals and start rolling the dice on players that can propel them deep into October this year and next.

I don’t want to see Dan Duquette and the Orioles front office robbed blind, like the Mariners were when they shipped five prospects, including Adam Jones and Chris TIllman, to Baltimore for Bedard. But I do think that parting with a guy who could develop into an ace for a guy who already is an ace is a good idea at this point in the franchise’s development.

J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz are free agents after this season. Matt Wieters and Chris Davis hit the open market after 2015. In two years, this roster could look completely different. Building for the future is great, but the Orioles have a chance to do something special with this team right now.

On Tuesday, CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine reported that the Orioles were the “leading team of interest” in the Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes. Currently, the Cubs are at the point in their rebuild that the Orioles were several seasons ago. The 29-year-old Samardzija could help the Cubs win when their minor league talent is ready in future seasons or he could help them get the young arms (say perhaps a Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez and/or Hunter Harvey) that their system needs when their core reaches the big league level.

Last season, Samardzija pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his six-year big league career. He posted a 4.34 ERA (3.77 FIP) and has been one of the game’s best pitchers in 2014 with a 1.68 ERA (2.79 FIP) and stingy 1.067 WHIP. Is this season for real? All the statistical indicators that I watch closely give me confidence in Samardzija. Compared to last season, his hits per nine innings are down (7.1 this season), homers per nine are down (0.4), walks per nine are down (2.5), and strikeout-to-walk ratio is up (3.05).

When Matt Wieters got injured, the Orioles made a move to fill his spot by trading Troy Patton to San Diego for Nick Hundley. When All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz was still on the market late this offseason, Dan Duquette signed him to a one-year, $8 million deal. After watching the O’s starters pitch to a 4.57 ERA last season, 27th in the league, the Birds inked Ubaldo Jimenez, the game’s best pitcher in the second half of 2013 (1.82 ERA, 10.7 K/9) to a four-year deal. It’s clear that the front office believes in this core, now they have a chance to add to it by making a deal with Theo Epstein and the Cubs for Samardzija.

It wasn’t easy dealing with the losing seasons while hoping that the talent the Orioles acquired would translate into wins at the major league level. But now that it has, the O’s have to take advantage of their window to win. Now is the time for them to push their chips to the middle of the table and go all-in.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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