Finding relief in late innings could get much harder

I'm thinking of running to the grocery store today and buying a container of clam dip to go with my trade chips.

If I hear the phrase "trade chips" one more time, I'm folding and going home.

You see, it's annoying to me whether I'm using a snack or poker analogy. It's annoying each time I read, via Twitter or a blog, another roll call of scouts who attended a particular game. Most of it amounts to nothing, but it's that time of the year.

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The last day of July is almost upon us. The non-waiver trade deadline is nearly here. Phone the neighbors and wake up the kids.

We got all worked up around this time last summer and had to settle for Will Ohman being dealt to the Marlins for Rick VandenHurk. I'm still writing about it in my diary.

OK, enough sarcasm...

Koji Uehara is one of the biggest, yes, trade chips for president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail. I'm not sure whether he ranks ahead of Jeremy Guthrie, but they're No. 1 and 2.

Uehara is having a spectacular season. The numbers don't lie. He's posted a 1.80 ERA in 41 games, with only nine runs and 23 hits allowed in 45 innings. He's walked eight and struck out 59. And he's removed a lot of concerns about his durability by pitching on consecutive days and showing no signs of wearing down.

What's not to like - besides the six home runs allowed and a few lingering concerns about his durability?

Here's my concern: The Orioles don't have much to brag about this season, but their late-inning relief has been solid. However, Jim Johnson is being discussed within the organization as a candidate for the rotation, and he's expected to make a few starts in September. If the Orioles change his role and trade Uehara, they've added another item to their long winter shopping list.

They'll most likely be in the market for a first baseman, a designated hitter, maybe a second baseman, maybe a left fielder, most definitely a veteran starter or two.

Sounds familiar.

I'll take you back to this quote from manager Buck Showalter following yesterday's 9-3 loss to the Angels, when I asked about his decision to use Mark Worrell in the eighth inning of a one-run game:

"As opposed to what? That's about where we are down there. We're in a situation, I'm sure you're aware of, with J.J. and Koji. I think J.J.'s close to ... (I'm) trying to stay away from him as much as possible, if we can. And with the amount of appearances and innings that he has, that's about where we are.

"(Worrell) is a guy that a level behind him had some success against right-handers. Should have been a pretty good spot for him, but it didn't work out. We just don't have a lot of options with people who are getting people out on a consistent basis other than, really, Kevin (Gregg) and Koji and J.J."

Those options might be dwindling. And a shopping list might be growing.

If the Orioles are going to surrender Uehara, whose $4 million option for 2012 vests if he makes 14 more appearances, they better get something substantial in return. And Showalter better be prepared to keep asking, "As opposed to what?"

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