The Orioles remain in buyers mode as they wait for the season to resume on Friday, when they begin a 10-game homestand. However, it’s subject to change depending on what happens over the next three weeks.
Here’s what won’t change: The Orioles continue to hold onto hope that the pitchers and position players currently on the 25-man roster and in the organization will provide the biggest lifts as they attempt to make the playoffs again.
“I keep waiting for our team to perform at the level that they’re capable of,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have performed a lot better than what they showed in the first half, particularly the starting pitchers other than (Dylan) Bundy, I’m hopeful that the best work of the other four starters is going to be the rest of the way. And looking forward to getting (Chris) Davis back.”
Davis is expected to work out with the Orioles on Thursday and come off the disabled list the following day now that his right oblique seems to be fully healed. Closer Zach Britton already has rejoined the team and made three appearances since the Orioles activated him, retiring the Twins in order Sunday afternoon with two ground balls and a strikeout.
“Obviously, Zach Britton is a huge asset to the ballclub,” Duquette said. “I’m real encouraged by what I’ve seen from Manny Machado the last couple of weeks. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t return to the form that made him one of the top players in the league.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who performed a lot better over the course of their careers than they did the first half of this season, so I think there’s still hope for the Orioles club for this season.”
And that brings us back to buyers versus sellers. The Orioles are four games below .500 but also four games back for the wild card. They’re not ready to sell off their veterans and start over, not in the second week of July.
“In order for us to add to this team, we’ve got to get the guys on this team to perform at the level that they’ve established for themselves in the past in the big leagues,” Duquette said. “If that were the case, if that were to happen and we saw some good progress toward that, I’m sure we’d add to the ballclub.
“We could also add to the ballclub with players coming up from the minor league system in the second half, too. There’s some pretty good baseball going on in the minors. (Chance) Sisco played in his second Futures Game and got a triple. That’s a couple extra-base hits he’s gotten over the last few years. He’s still playing in Triple-A. He’s going to impact our club in the future. Tanner Scott had a pretty good game in the Futures Game. We were encouraged by that. So that’s some hope on the horizon, too.”
I’m not clear on whether Sisco and Scott could make their major league debuts later this summer. No one is coming out and saying it. No one is shooting down the idea. And I’ve run it past multiple people in the organization.
In a perfect world, Sisco and Scott would continue to gain experience at Norfolk and Double-A Bowie, respectively. There’s no spot for Sisco, the top prospect in the system, unless the Orioles trade Welington Castillo or carry three catchers as part of their expanded September roster.
“They’re developing their skills and they’ve shown they have significant skills,” Duquette said. “What are they, 21, 22 years old? They’re improving themselves so that they can get a shot to help the big league club. They’ve certainly shown the ability.
“There’s a lot of interest in them from other clubs, I can tell you that.”
The Orioles seem more inclined to hold onto them. Sisco is the viewed as the catcher of the future, and it’s sooner rather than later. Scott is a left-hander whose fastball touches 100 mph and he’s mixing in an improved slider. He’s making three-inning starts with Bowie and could remain a rotation guy or be groomed as an Andrew Miller-type for the bullpen.
“Certainly, they can help us,” Duquette said. “They’re doing what they have to do to develop their skills, so that’s good.”
Starting pitching remains the primary area where the Orioles are most likely to seek an upgrade in the second half.
“Obviously, we can improve our starting pitching by either having the guys we have pitch better or bringing in somebody from the outside,” Duquette said. “Step one is to have the guys we have pitch to their capabilities.”
Shortstop J.J. Hardy could return by the second week of August, but his position also needs to be addressed at some point. The Orioles aren’t likely to pick up his $14 million option for 2018 and it’s not going to kick in automatically due to a lack of plate appearances.
“We’re going to have a longer-term issue at shortstop, it looks like,” Duquette said. “That’s something we have to look at for the future.”
The bullpen appears to be set other than deciding whether Miguel Castro is capable of handling a multi-dimensional role. He could be subbed out at any time with so many optionable pieces, including Mike Wright and Stefan Crichton, who are in throwing programs down in Sarasota.
“Bleier’s doing a good job,” Duquette said. “Bleier’s a young kid experience-wise, but he’s made a good contribution to the team.”
Bleier falls into the plus category while evaluating the pre-break Orioles. So does rookie first baseman Trey Mancini, who’s batting .312/.354/.538 with 15 doubles, a triple, 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in 280 plate appearances. He’s going to move back to the outfield with Davis coming off the disabled list.
“Mancini’s had a real good first half,” Duquette said. “I think he’s hit more home runs than any Orioles rookie and he hasn’t even had a full complement of at-bats to do that.”
Mark Trumbo has matched his .316 on-base percentage from 2016 and his average has dipped only from .256 to .254. However, he has 14 home runs after doubling that total in the first half last season on his way to leading the majors with 47. He had 68 RBIs in the first half last year, but only 44 this season.
Trumbo has collected a hit in nine of the last 10 games leading into the break, with two doubles and four home runs.
“Trumbo can do better, too. We’ve seen Trumbo do better,” Duquette said.
The Orioles are waiting for Machado to take off. Fifth in Most Valuable Player voting in the American League last season, he’s batting .230/.296/.445 with 17 doubles, 18 home runs and 47 RBIs in 83 games. His WAR is down from 6.5 last season to 1.8, according to FanGraphs.
In nine games this month, Machado is 13-for-39 (.333) with two doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs. He batted .224 in April, .191 in May and .242 in June.
Machado has been hitting in some tough luck. Does anyone make more loud outs, with scorching baseballs aimed directly at fielders?
“The metrics on Machado are pretty good,” Duquette said. “He’s continuing to hit the ball hard. He just doesn’t have that much to show for it compared to what he’s done in the past. He’s hitting the ball hard, obviously, which is part of doing your job as a hitter, right?”
Duquette has been told that Machado is carrying a low BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. He’s right. It’s .239 per FanGraphs, ranking him 159th in the majors.
“He has a low batting average on balls in play,” Duquette said,” so hopefully he’ll have much better luck in the second half.”