It's never too early for some trade speculation.
Last week, I posted a piece summarizing the types of deals the Baltimore Orioles could be looking for come the July trade deadline. While the O's appear to have the potential to be a strong team, especially when they're finally back at full strength health-wise, the team does have some obvious flaws.
And for teams still in contention come July, the trade deadline revolves around the opportunity to add a player or two and directly address those weaknesses that have come into view during roughly half a season's worth of play.
Assuming that the Orioles are in contention when the annual deadline rolls around, the team will be looking to add value. To acquire value, one must relinquish value.
In other words, the O's are going to need some good players to deal in order to add other good players.
The trick here, for any team, is to trade from a strength. For example, if a good team has plenty of above-average outfielders, they're going to want to find another team that needs outfield help while also possessing what the first team needs, such as a catcher.
Of course, it's hardly ever that black-and-white. Most teams need to improve in many areas, making the trade deadline an interesting time to be a baseball fan. Almost anything can happen, and it can happen with just one phone call.
For the Orioles, the team doesn't really have an MLB player or top prospect that they'd be willing to deal in a blockbuster trade. Should they be active traders this July, they'll likely look for smaller, complementary trades such as the three they made last summer.
The O's looked to bolster their rotation in 2013, and did so by dealing struggling prospect Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger. Next, the team added reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers for prospect Nicky Delmonico. And just minutes before the trade deadline officially passed, the team acquired starter Bud Norris from the Houston Astros while surrendering outfielder L.J. Hoes, left-handed prospect Josh Hader and a 2014 Competitive Balance pick.
None of those trades greatly diminished the O's farm system, and the team was able to keep the major-league club intact. Since the O's already have most major centerpieces in place on their team, they'll likely look to make similar deals this summer should the opportunity be available.
The O's won't be dealing the likes of prospects Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey or Henry Urrutia, especially when one considers that the team has no picks in the first or second rounds of the 2014 draft as a result of signing starter Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz. They'll need to keep their top prospects to maintain some depth in their farm system.
However, there are some players that the O's could afford to deal, both at the major- and minor-league levels.
The most obvious strength the O's possess is in their bullpen. The group as a whole has some depth to it, but the O's have a plethora of left-handed relievers and could afford to deal one.
Brian Matusz has found success in the bullpen—particularly in stranding inherited runners—since the start of the 2013 season. And Zach Britton appears to have regained his heavy sinker, making him a dominating force out of the 'pen in 2014.
The great thing about both of these pitchers is that they are former starters and can either pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen or come into the game for just a batter or two. That flexibility adds even more value in the eyes of any interested team, and they could try to convert them back into starting pitchers or simply keep them in the role they've had success in.
Past those two, the O's also have Troy Patton, who will soon be returning from a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Patton has a career ERA of 3.08 in 134 appearances covering 155 innings, showing the ability to get both lefties and righties out. He's a solid option out of the bullpen.
And stashed at Triple-A Norfolk is T.J. Mcfarland, a younger pitcher who had a decent season as the long man for the O's in 2013. Just 24 years old, McFarland has the potential to be the type of pitcher that Matusz and Britton have become.
The first three names mentioned are likely the ones teams would call about, and I bring up McFarland simply to show that the O's have options should they decide to trade away one of those three pitchers.
The O's have other relievers throughout their system who could potentially provide some trade leverage as well, such as Evan Meek, Brad Brach and Kelvin de la Cruz.
As far as positional players are concerned, the O's have depth in their middle infield and in the outfield, though I see these guys are less-likely trade pieces. Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi are excellent utility infielders who can also play the corner outfield spots if needed. They also have the potential to be every-day contributors to a big-league club. Jemile Weeks is a former first-round pick who had a successful rookie season in 2011.
While the outfield is a strength for the O's, they can't really afford to part with any of the guys they run out there on a daily basis, though left fielder/DH Delmon Young could be a thrown-in piece in a trade.
The O's have a few interesting catching prospects who could be packaged in a deal, such as Caleb Joseph, Michael Ohlman and Chance Sisco, while Johnny Monell adds depth to the organization while he catches at Triple-A.
And Triple-A starter Mike Wright could offer an intriguing name to any trade talks, as he's less of a prospect than Gausman, Bundy or Harvey, yet still has shown strong success in the minors, winning the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2013.
Remember, this is all speculation. The O's could use any of these guys in trade talks this summer, or they could come out of nowhere and pull off an unexpected blockbuster.
These are players that, to me, the O's can possibly deem as expendable yet are still valuable guys that most other teams would love to have. They present the most obvious choices as trade bait.
However, there's a reason I'm not an MLB GM. I'm not nearly as creative as O's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette.
Don't be surprised if he surprises you this summer.