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Should the Orioles buy, sell, or stay at the MLB trade deadline?

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The Baltimore Orioles had a need before the season started. They still have that need. Is it too late to fix it?

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Imagine a room filled with smart baseball people. Maybe not the smartest, but people who know the game. People who know how teams are constructed, where their strengths are, where there might be weaknesses. This is the front office of the Baltimore Orioles.

Now imagine some of these people — at the same time — concluding that the Orioles’ rotation was fine. They went and ticked off a bunch of boxes, and everything looked swell.

“Ubaldo?”

“Yeah, he’s fine.”

“Wade Miley?”

“Probably fine.

“Wow, we could be stacked!”

It turns out, gentle reader, the Orioles were not fine. It turns out their starting pitching was not robust, that not only were Jimenez and Miley the disasters they were last year, but even the pitchers who were likely to be good struggled. Chris Tillman went from one of baseball’s best secrets to one of its worst pitchers. Kevin Gausman regressed. Even Dylan Bundy, who showed such promise last year, couldn’t turn the corner.

Also, there was an open manhole around the corner. The whole rotation fell in. Foooomp.

But, somehow, some way, they’re within spitting distance of the second wild card. And they aren’t ruling anything out.

If only they could have known the starting pitching was going to be a problem ...

Anyway, it’s time to look if the Orioles should buy, sell, or do nothing at the MLB trade deadline. They’ve been a strange team for years. It’s nice to be able to count on something.

The team

The Baltimore Orioles, who hit 253 home runs last year and allowed 183. That was a good ratio. This year’s team has hit 141 and allowed 150. That is less ideal, and it helps explain the team ERA of 5.10.

Their record

48-52, as of Wednesday morning.

Their expected record based on runs scored and runs allowed

44-56, which is fairly horrible.

Their expected record according to BaseRuns

40-60, which is even worse!

(A definition of BaseRuns can be found here.)

Games behind first place

6 games back, as of Wednesday morning.

Games out of second wild card

4.5 back, chasing seven different teams.

Pending free agents

Ubaldo Jimenez
Chris Tillman
Ryan Flaherty
Craig Gentry
Seth Smith

They’ll have a couple rotation holes to fill, but it’s not as if they have to worry about the window slamming on their fingers.

Farm system rank before the season (Baseball America)

They were 27th, their second straight year toward the bottom.

What it would take to contend next season

Starting pitching! Just like this season. The lineup is still powerful, even if they aren’t getting the same production from key sources like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo. They can still out-dinger most teams in this world.

They need to pitch. Same as it ever was.

Conclusion

This is not a team to tear down. Not yet. Davis and Trumbo are owed too much money to trade for value, and there’s no reason to trade players like Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado just yet.

However, the one thing the Orioles seem to be excellent at is finding relievers. So I’m all for selling pieces of their bullpen if it brings back pitchers who could thrive in their 2017 and 2018 rotation. A three-way deal might make more sense instead of trying to match up with a contender that has starting pitchers to trade for relievers, although the Cardinals might fit that description.

If they want to keep their bullpen, though, they should buy, but only if they can get controllable starting pitching. That’s the goal — pitchers who will be around for a couple years. Remember the Rangers traded for Cole Hamels when they looked like they were rebuilding, and while it ended up working that very season, it was more of a move for future years. It looks smart in retrospect, and if the Orioles can ape that sort of move, they should part with whatever prospects they need to.

If they can’t, however, they should sit tight, and spend this offseason doing what they’ve been unwilling to do in recent years. They’ll need to spend on starting pitchers, whether it’s using money or prospect capital. Might as well start now if they have the chance.