EDIT -- One important note about 2012 in particular that I omitted from the summary below -- the first round of the playoffs after the play-in game will be 2-3 format, so the wild-card team will host the first two games of the series. That means if Baltimore were to make the playoffs and win the play-in game, they would be guaranteed two home games and the accompanying revenue. Doesn't greatly change the calculus, but an important distinction for 2012 nonetheless.
Throughout the 2012 season Jon and I have been dubious of Baltimore's chances to compete for a playoff spot this year. On July 31st, the last pre-waiver day for trades, we remain dubious. But, because trades are generally fun fodder for the blogosphere and message boards, and because it is an interesting exercise in any event, I decided to play Devil's advocate this morning and come up with my "all in" approach to the trade deadline.
In truth, I can see a real argument for the below moves, as I think there is something to the idea that Baltimore has played well above its head over these first 100 or so games and they should make use of the "free wins" they've grabbed thus far. However, the moves I advocate below really only work as a package, and even then require further financial investment come the free agent signing period in November.
Finally, the two trade partners I have targeted, San Diego and Miami, have the leverage to demand fairly significant overpayment for their talent, and Baltimore prospects such as Nicky Delmonico (1b, Class A Delmarva), Xavier Avery (of, Triple-A Norfolk), and Eduardo Rodriguez (rhp, Class A Delmarva) do not have the trade value that many Orioles fans wish/think they have. That is nothing to say of the fall in value we have seen from projectable righty Parker Bridwell (rhp, Class A Delmarva), whose stock as taken a significant enough tumble so as not to even be included in the two discussed moves.
So, what does "going for it" look like?
Trade 1Baltimore Orioles receive
Chase Headley (3b, San Diego Padres)
2013 Draft Competitive Balance (1st pick following 2nd Rd)
San Diego Padres receive
Jake Arrieta (rhp, Triple-A Norfolk)
Jonathan Schoop (2b, Double-A Bowie)
Eduardo Rodriguez (rhp, Class A Delmarva)
Mike Wright (rhp, Double-A Bowie)
Baltimore Orioles receive
Josh Johnson (rhp, Miami Marlins)
Emilio Bonifacio (2b/of, Miami Marlins)
Miami Marlins receive
Manny Machado (ss, Double-A Bowie)
Nicky Delmonico (1b, Class A Delmarva)
Xavier Avery (of, Triple-A Norfolk)
Brian Matusz (lhp, Triple-A Norfolk)
2013 Draft Competitive Balance (4th pick following Supp-1st Rd)
Why it is necessary (and okay) to overpay
Josh Johnson is signed through 2013 and Chase Headley is signed through 2014. Emilio Bonifacio is under team control through 2014. The bottom line is that neither Miami nor San Diego have to move these pieces now, as opposed to in the off-season or not at all.
As briefly mentioned above, making an aggressive move like this is an attempt to leverage the "free wins" Baltimore has grabbed this year -- loosely, the degree to which they have outperformed their talent and peripherals. It is important to aggressively pursue the playoffs in 2012 particularly if you believe that as of July 31, 2012 Baltimore is in a better position to make the playoffs than they might be at any point next year based on true talent level, and taking into account off-season moves.
Finally, overpayment can be tolerable if you are dealing from redundancy or from pieces that are not essential for future success. More on this below.
What it means for 2012
Rotation - Johnson, Chen, Tillman, Britton, Gonzalez
It isn't the best rotation in the American League, but it does give Baltimore the big arm up top and bumps each of the other arms down the chain where their talent level fits more comfortably. You lose minor league arms in Rodriguez, Wright, Arrieta and Matusz, but none of those are required contributors for 2012.
Order Bonifacio (2b), Markakis (rf), Headley (3b), Jones (cf) Davis (dh), Betemit/Reynolds (1b platoon), Hardy (ss) Wieters (c), Ford (lf)
Bonifacio gives you an on-base weapon and speed at the top of the order, while also providing much needed production at second base. Additionally, he gives you versatility as a capable outfielder and middle-infielder.
Headley is a legit number three hitter on a first tier team and interjects a good overall bat between Markakis and Jones. Again, it isn't the best in the American League, but it does represent the potential for a big improvement with a minimal number of moves. If you haven't yet read Jon's piece on the potential upgrade provided by inserting a legit third baseman into the order and having Reynolds/Betemit split duties at first base, you should check it out here -- great work.
What it means for 2013-14
Rotation - Johnson, Chen, Hammel, Britton, Tillman
This is a solid rotation that could be further improved through trade or free agency. My preference would be to invest heavily on the offensive side, relying on Johnson to lead the staff in 2013 and Dylan Bundy (rhp, Class A-Adv. Frederick) to contribute in some form in 2013 with Kevin Gausman (rhp, unassigned) following in early 2014. Bobby Bundy (rhp, Double-A Bowie) could be ready to provide some value at some point next year once he has addressed the bone spurs that appear to have slowed his development some this year.
Order - Bonifacio (2b), Markakis (rf), Headley (3b), Jones (cf), Davis (dh), Betemit (1b), Hardy (ss), Wieters (c), Hoes (lf)
Again, this is a solid collection that could potentially be upgraded to top notch with a significant financial investment. Since we are operating under the assumption that the Orioles have maintained fan interest throughout 2012 and seen an influx in season ticket money, you go big here.
Mike Napoli (c/1b) could rotate between first base and designated hitter, while giving Showalter an option behind the plate that allows him to actually rest Wieters as he should be rested (another discussion to be had...). The Wieters/Napoli/Betemit/Davis combo would provide plenty of pop between catcher/first base/designated hitter.
The obvious "homerun" is to take the plunge and throw a truckload of money at Josh Hamilton (cf), shifting him over to left field. Baltimore is currently committed to under $60 million for next year. Adding salaries for Johnson, Headley, Napoli and Hamilton could be a $50 million investment, meaning Baltimore has to be willing to spike their payroll in order to keep momentum moving forward. This is a huge hurdle, but I think necessary if you are putting together a "go for it now" plan. The result is this lineup:
Betemit (2b), Markakis (rf), Headley (3b), Hamilton (lf), Jones (cf), Napoli (1b), Davis/Betemit (dh), Wieters (c), Hardy (ss)
This is a huge risk, both in potential future value traded and increased financial investment in payroll. All of that, and it is far from a guarantee that Baltimore will realize a playoff appearance in 2012 or 2013.
What this type of "all in" approach does is attempt to make use of a 2012 performance that has thus far been well beyond the Orioles' talent level without sacrificing the ability for the team to put together a competitive squad in 2013 and the further near term. It should hold fan interest through end of season and attempts to build season ticket influx with a strong finish, the addition of known names such as Josh Johnson and Chase Headley, and signing of a couple more known names in Napoli and Hamilton.
I began this piece with a note that this was me playing Devil's advocate. I continue to believe that this type of approach requires too much luck, as well as an aggressive off-season to sustain success, and further development of some stalled prospects in order to help the farm system bounce back.
The prudent course of action is probably a small move to try and hold the team together in 2012 as best as possible, while hoping for continued development from Machado and Schoop, as well as the brothers Bundy. Gausman should be a nice addition, as well, and there is of course a chance that someone like Delmonico or Rodriguez ultimately develops into a legit above-average contributor.
2012 has been exciting in a lot of ways, as the Orioles have won more than they have lost and they continue to play meaningful games as we head into August. At the same time, the minor league system has not had a good summer, while several AL East systems have taken steps forward. The stark reality may be that, while this is not the right time for the Orioles to cash in prospects and push their chips into the center of the table, it may be the closest they come to a shot at a playoff spot before 2014, at which point, if everything breaks right, they will have Machado, Schoop, Gausman and the Bundys contributing.
Of course, Orioles fans are well aware of the dangers of counting on the cavalry...