Still talking about Hardy and Wieters

I woke up this morning and discovered that shortstop J.J. Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters still play for the Orioles. Let’s see if anything changes by noon.

If yesterday’s reports on the duo confirmed anything beyond my hatred of the hot stove season, it’s how badly the Orioles want to upgrade their rotation.

They’re not actively shopping Hardy and Wieters, but they’re going to approach any team with a surplus of starters. That’s how the Shelby Miller rumor started yesterday morning. The Cardinals are one of those teams, and they need a shortstop.

It’s the perfect speculation marriage.

I had multiple people in the organization point out the impact of a quality frontline starting pitcher during the playoffs. It was like pitcher envy. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright. I could hear the puddles of drool forming on the other end of the phone.

I assume it was drool. Anyway, let’s move on.

The Orioles fielded the best defense in baseball, and the best in history if you lean on statistics such as fewest errors, most errorless games and highest fielding percentage. But they gave up 709 runs, ninth-most in the majors and seventh-most in the American League. Their 4.20 ERA ranked 23rd in the majors. The starters’ 4.57 ERA ranked 27th.

People in the organization are playing the blame game, and fingers are pointed at the rotation. It must get better - whether that means bringing in new arms or improving the ones already in the organization.

Again, this is why the Orioles are so jazzed about the hiring of pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti. They bring reputations as solid teachers. They’re fresh eyes. They might get more out of the incumbents, which will especially be important if the Orioles can’t bring in a significant upgrade from the free-agent or trade market.

The Orioles want Zach Britton to be the next Chris Tillman, not the next Jake Arrieta.

Will the Orioles be forced to sacrifice a little defense in order to improve the rotation? Let’s face it, their glove story didn’t include a chapter on the playoffs.

You know how much manager Buck Showalter detests the idea of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and this is how you could characterize giving up a player like Hardy in exchange for a quality starting pitcher.

Let’s move behind the plate. If the Orioles actually traded Wieters, one national writer suggested that they could simply sign a free agent as his replacement. Here’s the list, courtesy of (with age in parentheses):

Henry Blanco (42)
John Buck (33)
Hector Gimenez (31)
Ramon Hernandez (38)
Koyie Hill (35)
Brian McCann (30)
Jose Molina (38)
Dioner Navarro (30)
Wil Nieves (36)
Miguel Olivo (35)
A.J. Pierzynski (37)
Humberto Quintero (34)
Guillermo Quiroz (32)
Carlos Ruiz (35)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (29)
Kelly Shoppach (34)
Kurt Suzuki (30)
Taylor Teagarden (30)
Yorvit Torrealba (35)

I’m going to pretend I didn’t see Hernandez’s name. There’s no way that the Orioles will hold a reunion.

They like Brian McCann. A lot of teams like Brian McCann, including the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers. He’s going to cost a first-round pick and a lot of money as part of a projected five-year deal.

He’s got pop and he’s rated above-average defensively. He also owns a career .350 on-base percentage. But again, we’d have to envision the Orioles outbidding a host of big spenders.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been suggested as a potential replacement by a few national media types, but he doesn’t possess the same pop, he has a career .310 on-base percentage and the Orioles aren’t overly impressed with his work behind the plate. Other than that ...

Please don’t suggest that Caleb Joseph is a logical replacement for Wieters based on his 2013 stats at Double-A Bowie. I wanted him to move up to Triple-A Norfolk over the summer. I wanted him to get a September promotion. But the Orioles can’t pencil him into their 2014 opening day lineup.

That’s especially true of Michael Ohlman, whose stock is soaring but who hasn’t played above the Single-A level. He needs to play at Bowie. No higher.

I’m predicting that Hardy and Wieters will jog down the orange carpet on March 31. And more trade rumors will accompany them every step of the way.

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