Zach Wilt: Why the Orioles shouldn’t buy or sell at trade deadline

The All-Star break is over and Orioles baseball resumes tonight with the start of the second half of the season. Our Birds are back in action at Camden Yards this evening against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs for the first of a three-game series. It feels like it’s been awhile since we watched a baseball game where the outcome was meaningful and significant. Not that I’m complaining about the All-Star Game no longer determining home-field advantage in the World Series. I love that change, Mr. Manfred.

In case you forgot, the O’s entered the break four games below .500 with a 42-46 record. That has earned them fourth place in the American League East behind the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays respectively. If the season ended today, our Birds would finish the season 7 1/2 games back of first place in their division and four games shy of a wild card berth. It’s a good thing that they’ve still got 74 games remaining in the 2017 season.

Here in mid-July, front offices around the league are gearing up for the trade deadline and determining where their teams stand. Are they looking to add key pieces to their club to increase their playoff chances and strengthen their team during the October push? Or is it time to rebuild and think about the future by unloading players that can help the contenders in exchange for young and controllable prospects that will make their teams strong in the years to come?

When Major League Baseball added a second wild card team after the 2011 season, it made this decision even more difficult for general managers. The Orioles haven’t had a winning month since April and have gone 15-22 since June 1. Despite that, they’re still within reach of a playoff spot. And I don’t just mean a wild card spot, I mean a spot atop the East. Ask the 2011 Red Sox how safe their nine-game lead over the Rays was on Sept. 1. One bad month and the Sox ended up not only missing out on the Eastern division crown, but a playoff berth altogether.

It’s hard to fathom that the Orioles could be a playoff team at this very moment. Their starting pitching ranks among the worst in baseball in just about every major statistical category. They haven’t had the offensive power to support that pitching staff and without Zach Britton, the bullpen hasn’t been among the league’s best as it usually seems to be. These problems have led a lot of baseball experts to come to the conclusion that Dan Duquette and company should look to part ways with some of their valuable pieces and begin to rebuild through the farm system. I’m not sure that I’m ready to go that route, however.

The O’s playoff odds according to FanGraphs.com are a mere 5.4 percent. They have a five percent chance of snagging a wild card in the American League and a 0.4 percent chance of coming back and winning the East. It looks pretty bleak to the say the least, but they are by no means out of this race. I’m just not sure that there’s enough of a chance for the Orioles to part with prospects and young talent to add a key piece to their club and make a push for a playoff run in 2017.

So if they aren’t going to sell and shouldn’t be buyers, what should the Orioles do at the deadline? It might be a boring answer, but if I were able to make a suggestion I would say to stand pat. Keep the roster in tact as much as possible, listen to offers from around the league, but only make a move if a team forces your hand with a lot in return.

It’s possible that the Orioles could be stronger in the second half just by getting healthier. Britton has appeared in just 11 games this season and has five saves after pitching in 69 last year with 47 saves. They have also been missing Chris Davis’s bat in the middle of their lineup. The Orioles first baseman smashed 38 homers a season ago. Let’s not forget about J.J. Hardy, who has been on the disabled list with a fractured wrist.

Getting healthier and hoping for more consistency from guys like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy is a better bet than being aggressive at the deadline. Because of some of the underwhelming performances of the Orioles roster, the market could potentially be weaker than it would be during the winter. On the flip side, the Orioles didn’t show enough in the first half to commit to being buyers. That’s why I think it’s best for them to hold on to their pieces and see what happens with a healthier team in the second half.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. 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.

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