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What Should the Orioles Do?

Overview

With their 10-4 loss to the Marlins last night the Orioles are now 19-51, last place in the majors by six full games. That puts them on pace for a 44-118 season, which would put them in company with the 2003 Tigers and 1962 Mets. It would also be a 20-game downturn from last season, when they went 64-98. There are a few bright spots and plenty of potential, but these Orioles are a bad team that has underperformed. There’s not much anyone can do to fix that.

Buy Or Sell

The O’s face a conundrum as the deadline approaches. They do have a number of players who other teams will find attractive. The Orioles stand to improve future teams by cashing in on those players, so in an ideal world they’d be aggressive sellers. But the Orioles have to deal with reality, and in reality those trade chips rank among their top performers. To sell them off could be what pushes the Orioles past that 120-loss mark. No team wants to face that possibility.

Orioles president and CEO Andy MacPhail might not have a choice. He knows what lies ahead for his team. There is no mercy for the weak in the AL East, and the division will only get tougher as Toronto reloads. For Baltimore to keep its best trading chips would be to miss an opportunity to help build a stronger future. That is not something they can afford right now. If it means a new low in the loss column, well, that’s the price that teams sometimes have to pay for future wins.

After a strong start Kevin Millwood has pitched poorly lately, which certainly hurts his trade stock. As Dave wrote yesterday, however, he could present a bargain for a contending team looking for an additional arm. This is good for the contender, but bad for the Orioles. According to Eddie Bajek’s reverse engineering of the Elias rankings Millwood still rates as a Type B free agent, and unless he completely collapses probably won’t lose that designation. The Orioles can likely do better — they did, after all, nab Josh Bell for George Sherrill last year — but they shouldn’t expect a huge return for Millwood.

Ty Wigginton has made the most of his playing time. He started the season as a reserve, but became a starter when Brian Roberts hit the DL with back problems. He would have gotten at-bats anyway, considering Garrett Atkins‘s horrible bat, but he has taken advantage regardless. His .367 wOBA still ranks high on the AL charts, though it is dropping. Since May 19th he’s hitting .223/.339/.282. He’s clearly better than that, but he’s not as good as his early season hot streak either. Because he is versatile he should find a few suitors, but because he is a free agent at the end of the year teams likely won’t give up much for the rental.

The player that could probably fetch the greatest return is outfielder Luke Scott. This is his sixth season in the majors, but he has accumulated only three full years of service time, meaning he has two more dates with the arbitration panel before becoming a free agent. His production this year, a .365 wOBA, is in line with his career .360 mark. His best defensive innings have come at the outfield corners, where he has a positive career UZR. The production and service time combination means the Orioles could get more for Scott than they could for Millwood and Wigginton. In a year when offense is down, there are certainly a few contenders who could use an outfielder with an .838 OPS.

The rest of the roster features nothing attractive. The Orioles want to hang onto their younger players, and the rest are veterans who probably wouldn’t help a contender. Even Miguel Tejada looks pretty terrible right now. The only other name that approaches attractiveness is Jeremy Guthrie, and it’s unlikely the O’s trade him. Like Scott, he has two more years of arbitration which, combined with his mere $3 million salary in 2010, could yield some decent offers from other clubs. But to lose Guthrie would be to lose veteran presence in the rotation next year. It’s not something that we can really quantify, but I’m sure the Orioles would like to avoid relying on a rotation of pitchers 25 and younger.

On The Farm

This is where things get interesting for the Orioles. They have already tapped a couple of pitchers from their top 10, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta, and could again dip into that pool later this season. LHP Zach Britton, their No. 3 prospect entering the season, has pitched very well at AA and might take a trip to Baltimore before season’s end. Switch-hitting Josh Bellhasn’t hit that well at AAA, but considering the poor production the O’s are getting from third base he could also crack the roster this season. First base prospect Brandon Snyder has heated up of late and could find himself with the big league squad in September. Again, it’s not like they’re getting anything from their current first basemen.

Beyond those guys the O’s have a number of high-ceiling guys at the lower levels. Some of them might be able to help next year, but as the team has learned this year it’s not something they can count on. It looks like the O’s could use more in the way of middle infield prospects. They have plenty of pitching on the farm.

Budget

The O’s opened the season with a $73.8 million payroll, their highest since 2007. That shouldn’t matter much, though. Budget is probably the last item on the team’s collective mind. It’s all about rebuilding now. Even if that means losing 120 games.