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Baltimore Orioles Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint

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Baltimore Orioles Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint
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July has not been kind to the Baltimore Orioles. Having won merely two of their first eight July games, the All-Star break can't come soon enough for the O's.

But as the trade deadline nears, this slow start to the month shouldn't hinder the Orioles' deadline approach. They're still right in the thick of things in the ultra-competitive AL East and remain two games out of a wild-card spot with their 49-42 record.

 

What the Orioles Will Do

If the Orioles are going to be active during the trade deadline, they're going to be buyers, not sellers. ESPN's "market central" agrees with that assessment.

While pitching has been the O's main concern throughout the season, it's their offense that has taken a turn for the worse. The Birds are 28th in the league with their .216 July batting average and are only 5-for-58 (.138 average) with runners in scoring position over their last nine games.

However, the Orioles, by and large, have been an offensive powerhouse this season. Led by Chris Davis' league-leading 33, the O's lead the MLB with 122 homers and remain top-five in runs (435, fourth), doubles (185, second), batting average (.267, fifth) and OPS (.760, third).

So, even though they are struggling at the moment and have a few weaknesses at second base and DH, the Orioles haven't shown much interest in acquiring additional offense and are unlikely to vastly improve at the trade deadline from an offensive standpoint.

The Orioles do, however, remain interested in upgrading their pitching staff.

They already acquired Scott Feldman from the Cubs, who they hope will be another reliable arm for their rotation. But that may not be the last pitcher they trade for before the deadline.

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Both Danny Knobler of CBS Sports and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports have reported that the Orioles have scouted and may be interested in relievers John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez and Mike Gonzalez, as well as starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo—all Milwaukee Brewers.

With Wei-Yin Chen returning from the disabled list, the Orioles' rotation seems to be set for now. So acquiring another starting pitcher like Gallardo, while not necessarily out of the picture, is less likely to be a priority.

However, with Kevin Gausman being optioned to Triple-A following their loss on Tuesday, the Orioles now have an opening in their once stellar bullpen.

The heavily relied upon bullpen, while not being terrible, hasn't been as trustworthy as it was in 2012. While they remain tied for the major league lead with 33 saves—30 of which have been converted by closer Jim Johnson—they only rank 17th with their 3.70 ERA and have given up 32 home runs, which is tied for sixth-most in the MLB.

In comparison, last season, the O's bullpen finished with a 3.00 ERA and surrendered 48 homers.

The 'pen is full of lefties with Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and T.J. McFarland, so acquiring a former Oriole who was basically run out of town in Mike Gonzalez is probably not going to happen.

However, adding an extra reliever with some closing experience, which both Axford and K-Rod have plenty of, could be a viable move that the O's decide to act on.

 

What the Orioles Should Do

Though helping the bullpen out by adding an extra arm would be a helpful move and is likely the only thing that Orioles' general manager Dan Duquette makes a priority, one of the Orioles' biggest issues continues to be the lack of production from their designated hitter.

On the season, Orioles' DHs are hitting .195, and that's with everyday first baseman Chris Davis going 6-for-11 as a DH this year. And while the 13 homers and 37 RBI from the DH aren't necessarily awful, they don't salvage the lack of production for the position in which the sole purpose is to hit.

Wilson Betemit and Steve Pearce, both of whom are predominantly DHs, are currently on the disabled list, and each could possibly return prior to the end of July. However, neither would be considered high-quality DHs to say the least.

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Betemit does have a solid .281 career average off righties, but he only carries a .228 average off lefties and has limited power, as he's only hit 75 homers in 799 career games.

Pearce is similar to Betemit, but he hits lefties (.265) better than righties (.215). He also has much less major league experience than Betemit, only appearing in 705 major league at-bats.

However, there isn't much available on the trade market for the O's to upgrade at DH. They could overpay for someone like Alfonso Soriano, but the Orioles historically haven't traded for the big names during the trade deadline.

The O's could trade for a smaller name or add a player like the recently released, and former Oriole, Ty Wigginton. Though that really isn't much of an improvement over Betemit or Pearce.

Another position in need of an improvement for the O's is second base. While they have three solid fielding second basemen in Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla, none have brought much to the team offensively.

However, according to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, the Orioles are happy with what they have at second and aren't looking to upgrade. That, and the market for second basemen is rather slim.

 

Summing It All Up

At the end of the day, the Orioles probably won't be the most active team during the trade deadline. They aren't a big-market team, and since his arrival in 2011, GM Dan Duquette has gone for the smaller deals that add depth and may have upside over the flashy, big-name deals.

The O's also don't seem very willing to hurt their future by trading off their prospects to acquire players who may not be beneficial to them in the long run.

According to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, the Orioles were interested in Cubs starter Matt Garza, but the Cubs wanted two of the Orioles' top prospects in infielder Jonathan Schoop and starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez.

While it isn't a bad thing that the O's want to keep their prospects, it means that they are unlikely to make a huge acquisition.

They may acquire some minor league depth offensively, but the Orioles probably won't be part of any of the major deals that go down at the deadline. However, if they do make any noteworthy trades, it's likely to be for a pitcher—namely, a reliever.

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