The Biggest Issue the Baltimore Orioles Must Address at the Trade Deadline

Mark Cover@MCooveContributor IIJune 16, 2014

Baltimore Orioles Executive Vice Presidnt of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette is seen before a spring exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Sarasota, Fla., Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

With the trade deadline looming less than two months away, teams across the league are stirring the pot on rumors and potential trades that could transform them from a fringe-playoff team to a bona fide contender.

The Baltimore Orioles (35-33) head into this week currently tied for second in the AL East with the New York Yankees and are 4.5 games back from the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.

Every team in the division, with the exception of last-place Tampa Bay, will be seeking to trade for an ace that could put their team over the top, but there are only so many trade partners in contrast to the large majority of the clubs out there that still believe they have a shot at a playoff berth.

The Orioles will be buyers at the trade deadline, of course. With 2015 being contract years for both Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, executive vice-president of baseball operations Dan Duquette may be looking to make a huge splash in July.

Although their starting pitchers have been uncharacteristically reliable over the past week or so, the Orioles just don't have their guy who they can depend on to get the job done in a series-defining spot in the playoffs.

The 1-2 punch of Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez is pitching for a combined ERA of 4.84. That is an extremely unacceptable number given Tillman's 2013 campaign and the money the O's have shelled out in the Jimenez contract that awarded him $50 million over four years prior to the start of this season.

Add in the fact that the Minnesota Twins' dead-last ranking in the AL in ERA for starters is 4.86 and you can see why fans are calling for just about anyone who can produce quality starts at a minimum.

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 15:  Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles looks on from the dugout during the seventh inning of the Orioles 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 15, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The O's offense hasn't been all that it was cracked up to be either. They currently sit at 15th in runs scored in the majors with 283, three shy of the major league average of 286.

The main weaknesses in the lineup to point at are the disappointing performances at the plate of third baseman Manny Machado and left fielder David Lough.

Machado is in the first true lengthy slump of his career right now, getting on base at just a .290 rate, which is below league average. But he has the tools and bat skills to turn his fortunes around soon. A physical and mental break during his possible five-game suspension could be just the thing he needs most.

Baltimore's brain trust mustn't look too hard at the Orioles' offensive ineffectiveness at this point and must keep the faith and trust in their star players to turn things around. Adam Jones has been on a tear lately and is teetering around the .300 mark in average as of late, and its just a matter of time until Chris Davis gets locked in.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Kevin Gausman is pitching like a future ace and will be a key factor in Baltimore's playoff push. Pitching for a combined ERA of 1.38 across two starts against the powerhouse offenses of Oakland and Toronto, Gausman could be this year's version of Michael Wacha.

Still, the Orioles could be one arm away from truly transforming themselves into one of the AL's elites. It may take a package of highly touted prospects in order to lure away a well-established ace from any one of the league's cellar dwellers. The return should be, and certainly needs to be, well worth it.