With the simultaneous (if temporary) collapses of the Yankee and Red Sox dynasties, the Baltimore Orioles hit the All-Star break with a very real chance of emerging atop the smoking wreckage of the AL East. If they miss the playoffs it will be at least in part for one reason the Washington Nationals did so last year: too many bad plate appearances from second base. Jonathan Schoop, the O’s primary second baseman, is slashing a putrid .219/.257/.322, good for the 16th best WAR among AL second basemen. While dumpster-diving Dan Duquette has found serviceable patches for catcher (Nick Hundley) and left field (the incredibly powerful alien inhabiting Steve Pearce), a solution at second base continues to elude him. Schoop’s head is barely above replacement level water thanks to his stellar defense, but his bat is missing more balls than Julio Cesar.
For now the organization publicly and vigorously defends Schoop, who may yet turn out to be a high-quality two-way player. Ryan Flaherty seems to have taken up residence in Buck Showalter’s split-level dog house, having started just 12 games in June and July. His unimpressive .647 OPS still beats Schoop’s by 50 points. The farm offers little immediate hope; the only O’s middle infield prospect beside Schoop in the team’s Baseball America top 30, Adrian Marin, appears overmatched for now in high-A.
Should the Duke decide look outside the current roster, here’s a review of cellar-dwelling second basemen who may be on the block (contract status from Baseball Reference).
Chase Utley (.297/.354/.452 3.2 WAR) Signed thru 2015, 2 yrs/$25M (14-15) & 16-18 vesting option
Enjoying a Chipper Jonesian late-career resurgence, Utley remains the phace of the phading Phils. He also has a brutal contract and a full no-trade, so he might be cost-prohibitive even if Ruben Amaro was willing to trade him. (Utley has said he won’t waive is no-trade, but most players say that – Baltimore would be about the only place he could be traded and still spend homestands mostly at home.) If Amaro did trade Utley he would need to sleep in kevlar pajamas, so this move seems unlikely.
Darwin Barney (.224/.261./316 0.2 WAR) 1st-Year Arb Eligible, 1 yr/$2.3M (14)
Here’s something about Darwin Barney you might not have known: he doesn’t just do crosswords, he creates them. Here’s something about Darwin Barney you almost certainly know: he just can’t hit. At all. With essentially the same skill set as Schoop is showing this year, he’s not an option for the O’s. Another Cubs middle infielder, Arismendy Alcantara, would probably make Duke salivate, but AA would cost the Orioles at least two of their top three pitching prospects. With Kevin Gausman now firmly entrenched in the rotation (thanks to Ubaldo Jimenez’ heaven-sent trip to the List) he is almost certainly off the block. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey together may be too high a price to pay for a still-raw position player, and one of them alone probably won’t be enough for Theo to pull the trigger.
Aaron Hill (.238/.273/.351 -0.9 WAR) Signed thru 2016, 5 yrs/$46M (12-16)
Aaron Hill’s principal remaining function in baseball is to serve as a warning to others. Disappearing bat speed, immobility in the field, and an albatross contract mean there’s really nothing to see here. Perhaps the O’s think they can fix Hill’s bat, but his 4:1 K/BB ratio suggests otherwise.
DJ LeMahieu (.279/.337/.346 1.1 WAR) Pre-Arb Eligible, 1 yr/$501k (14)
No one has unlocked the secret to winning at Coors yet, but loading up on heavy-groundball starters and assembling a stellar infield defense might be one of the few approaches that Dan O’Dowd hasn’t tried yet. LeMahieu would be a key component of any such strategy. LeMahieu is only 25 and still plays for the MLB equivalent of free; it would almost certainly take a significant package for the O’s to pry him away from the Rox. One problem the Orioles face is that their top-heavy system makes it hard to go after a guy like LeMahieu. He’s not worth any of the top 3 pitchers, and the O’s have little else that would entice a team to part with a solid but unspectacular player. (Christian Walker is raking in AA; maybe he could be part of the answer.) The Rox also have Josh Rutledge, who plays all the infield positions badly but can hit a little. He could form an offense/defense platoon with Schoop, and might be available at a reasonable cost.
Ben Zobrist (.268/.353/.406 2.7 WAR) 5 yrs/$23M (10-14) & 15 team option
In theory, Zobrist is the perfect answer for the Orioles — a short-term rental who could spur their pennant run while Schoop sorts things out at AAA. In practice, of course, he’s in the Orioles’ division. While the Rays have said they are even willing to trade David Price within the division, they have also said they will exact an intra-division premium. The same is presumably true for Zobrist. If he’s traded to a team with orange on their uniforms, it will probably be the Giants.
Brian Dozier (.237/.340/.414 2.7 WAR) Pre-Arb Eligible, 1 yr/$540k (14)
Dozier went from afterthought to asset by jumping his walk rate up this year (12.6% as compared to his career rate of 8.6%). Eddie Rosario’s plan to be the Twins’ starting 2B in 2015 went up in smoke earlier this year, and he has struggled in AA this year after returning from his suspension. (According to one of the better baseball headlines this year, Terry Ryan has offered “high praise” for Rosario since his return.) So Dozier is both more valuable and less expendable now than he seemed in spring training. The Twins minor league system is one of the best in the majors, so it’s hard to see a match here except in the unlikely event the O’s would be willing to part with one of the Big Three for Dozier.
It seems unlikely that any second baseman on the Texas Rangers would be a good trade fit. Rougned Odor, though struggling now, is presumably untouchable. Luis Sardinas has a bright future, but right now it’s unlikely he would be much of an upgrade over Flaherty, who the O’s can start without giving up any talent.
This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it suggests that Duquette’s options outside the organization may be little more appealing than the internal ones. In his tenure as Orioles GM, Duquette has shown a surprising ability to pull rabbits out of his baseball cap. How he solves the O’s second base conundrum will be one of the small but fascinating dramas to follow as this year’s trade deadline draws near.
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