A quick check of your calendar will serve as a simple reminder that this is the season of the rumor in baseball.
Sure, there’s that little period in December called the Winter Meetings, but in terms of in-season action, this is when it starts to get good. Everything is leading up to about 11 days from now when the non-waiver trade deadline hits and we really see what teams are contenders and which ones are pretenders. For the Orioles, it’s pretty clear they are the former.
The Birds find themselves in front of the American League East, which has admittedly been a weak division to this point. That doesn’t change the fact that they will likely follow the same path they have the last few seasons and be aggressive prior to next week’s deadline.
The rumors started quickly this weekend when FOXSports.com reported that the O’s have had preliminary talks with the Phillies about veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett. This little piece of information comes as no surprise as Burnett was one of the top free-agent targets of the Birds this past offseason. It was a bit strange that Burnett’s camp seemed to show little mutual interest as he and his wife live in Maryland, though he didn’t move far. His switch from playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Phils couldn’t have been too life-altering.
The problem I have with the Orioles’ rumored interest in the 37-year-old is the same one I’ve heard from much of the fanbase since the report was released. Burnett is a shell of his old self, and though he has playoff experience, his recent numbers indicate that he wouldn’t be much of a help in getting the O’s to the postseason. Burnett is second in all of baseball in walks this season. The lone pitcher with more free passes is Baltimore’s own Ubaldo Jimenez. Burnett’s strikeout numbers are also down from his career average, and since a great April where he posted a 2.15 ERA, he’s seen less success each month.
Burnett surely isn’t the only name set to pop up over the next few days with a link to the O’s. Starting pitching also isn’t the only area you will likely see the team try to address. Dan Duquette has made it well-known that the team would like to add to the bullpen. Part of this is due to the lack of innings the starting pitchers have been able to accumulate so far this year. The Angels have already taken Huston Street off the market by acquiring him from the Padres, but names like Joakim Soria of the Rangers, Joaquin Benoit of the Padres and even the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon are sure to crop up in the near future.
The Orioles could also stand to see an upgrade at second base, where Jonathan Schoop has done enough with the glove, but still leaves a lot to be desired from an offensive perspective. Players like the Rays’ Ben Zobrist, Diamondbacks’ Aaron Hill and Martin Prado or maybe even the Phillies’ Chase Utley could be on the block.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Duquette gauges this trade deadline and what he’s willing to give up. The O’s don’t have the greatest depth in the farm system, and have shown a tendency to be unwilling to part with some of the top prospects. Duquette was cautiously aggressive over the past two seasons, and it mostly paid off, despite the team missing the playoffs last year.
But missing out on October this year would be viewed as a major failure, especially seeing how down the AL East is. The fact that the O’s carried a full four-game division lead at the All-Star break makes this point even more glaring. The Orioles aren’t a perfect team by any stretch. There are many flaws, some of which could be helped over the next week and a half. It’s the perfect time to sit back and watch the front office go to work. It’s time to see if the O’s are going to be aggressive in going for it now, or continue to play it close to the vest and build for a promising future.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.