An Early Trade The Orioles Should Explore:
May 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Going into the season it looked as though the Baltimore Orioles would be sellers this year, but after 39 games (or 1/4th the season), the Orioles are tied with the Dodgers with the most wins. Now there is still a long way to go, and it is unclear how long the Orioles can keep this up in the ultra competitive AL East, but what's clear is that the Orioles are very likely to be buyers this summer rather than sellers.
Now conventional wisdom for a surprisingly contending team would be to wait for the deadline before making any moves to ensure that they are still in the race. The problem with that philosophy is that by waiting that long it's possible that you are missing out on wins that could be crucial come September. If you traded for a player on May 31st as opposed to July 31st you'd have that player for an additional 50+ games (52 for the Orioles). From the Orioles perspective that is a difference of having a player for 110 games or 58 games. Now of course there is added risk as perhaps even having the player for the remaining 4 months of the season, won't be enough to maintain the Orioles in the playoff chase, but it could be a risk worth taking. It only makes sense for Baltimore if the player they are acquiring is under team control and can help the Orioles beyond this year, meaning for now rental players are out.
Given the Orioles weakened farm system and them likely avoiding rental players they won't likely be able to acquire a true impact talent, but that doesn't mean they can't get better. While pitching is the Orioles greater need right now, the price of pitching (especially non-rental players) is probably prohibitive for the Orioles. Baltimore may be able to find a moderate pitching upgrade or two for cheap at the deadline, but it will be far harder to try to buy pitching now, with so few teams really 'selling' right now. Instead the Orioles should attempt to find an upgrade at perhaps their weakest position, third base.
Not only are Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit leaving much to be desired offensively, but their combined defense (or lack there of) has cost the Orioles dearly. If the Orioles improved just slightly-moderately in both of these areas it would be a nice boost to their team. And given where the bar is set now, it won't be hard to overcome. Adding a third baseman could also help the production at DH, by moving Betemit and Reynolds there. Betemit despite being a switch hitter, has always had more success hitting right handed pitchers, and Reynolds hits lefties better than righties. Platooning them would be a good way to increase the Orioles offensive production. And having their bats in the line-up at a position where they can't hurt you defensively, will make the Orioles pitching staff very happy.
Now the question becomes who might be available for the Orioles to acquire. Most of the top third basemen are locked up long term, and aren't going any where. Many of the 2nd tier third basemen are also likely not to be on the market, but there is one name out there that makes some sense, and that is the Padres Chase Headley.
Why Headley Should Be Available:
Few teams are really looking to sell at this point in the season, but the Padres should be one of them. San Diego has the second worst record in baseball, and currently are 11.5 games out of first place, in what is by no means a tough division. San Diego has a bright future with one of the best minor league systems (and some good young talent at the major league level as well). Unfortunately most of their prospects are still a couple years away, so they are firmly in rebuilding mode.
Headley is a guy who will likely be moved in an effort to free up a little money and to make room for one of the Padres top young prospects, James Darnell. By trading Headley now the Padres can save about $2.4 million if they were to trade Headley now as opposed to $1.7 million if they were to wait till July 31st. Though the biggest benefit would be to give Darnell the regular at bats that he needs.
Why Headley Makes Sense for the Orioles:
Chase Headley makes perfect sense for the Orioles despite not being a traditional power hitting third baseman. He's in his 2nd of 4 arbitration years, so Baltimore, meaning the Orioles would have him for the next three post season runs. Also his arbitration figures shouldn't be too much, given that he isn't some top notch offensive force. His lack of glowing offensive numbers and the fact that most contenders are set at the hot corner, should keep his trade value reasonable as well.
The first thing that stands out for Headley is his defensive value. While Reynolds and Betemit are among the league's worst defenders at third base, Headley's among the league's best. Two year's ago Headley was in the mix for a Gold Glove award, and currently he's putting together another GG caliber year. Adding his range and defensive ability next to J.J. Hardy is going to turn that left side of the infield into an elite unit.
Headley also offers an offensive upgrade. While some traditionalists will point to Mark Reynolds 30-40 HR power as something that Headley will struggle to match 50% of, he's a better offensive weapon than Reynolds. Headley's slash line of .254/.388/.438 is better than both Reynolds' .191/.324/.337 and Betemit's .232/.294/.465. And while we've seen both Betemit and Reynolds put up better numbers in recent years, their potential improvement over Headley doesn't warrant their gloves at third (remember the O's can take advantage of their bats getting hot at the DH spot). Headley, who is a switch hitter, hits both righties and lefties fairly well, and offers decent speed on the base paths.
What's most impressive about Headley is the potential he could have once he gets out of Petco Park. For his career Headley has hit .231/.326/.339 at home, while hitting .301/.365/.446 on the road. Over the last two year's his OPS road numbers are even more impressive, with an .864 (which would have ranked 3rd among third basemen if it was a full season number) last year and a current mark of .933. That is a major difference in offensive production, and could see Headley's numbers skyrocket once he leaves Petco. His numbers would probably even see a greater boost by moving to Camden Yards which is one of the better offensive parks.
What Will It Cost?:
This is the major question for the Orioles as they can't afford to overpay for Headley. Now the Orioles will have to give up something of value to land Headley, and I think the most workable deal would be something in the neighborhood of:
OF Xavier Avery: With Nolan Reimold and Endy Chavez on the D.L. right now the Orioles might not be so willing to move Avery, but long term it makes sense. Assuming Reimold gets healthy, the O's outfield is pretty well set going forward, leaving little room for Avery. From the Padres perspective, Avery could be a leadoff hitter and left fielder for them. Now on most teams that would be a bad fit to have Avery in LF, but given how spacious Petco is, Avery could make sense there.
SP Tim Berry: Berry was a former prep standout from the San Diego area who fell in the draft due to injury. He looks to be back now and has nice upside, though he is a couple years away. He's just 21 and left handed, which is one of the few weak areas for the Padres. He's a solid 2nd piece to the deal, and is the type of guy who could payoff well into the future.
1B Tyler Townsend: The Orioles have some depth here so they could afford to trade a solid power prospect in Townsend. With the Padres trading away Anthony Rizzo this offseason, they really lack any minor league 1B prospects. He'd be a nice 3rd piece for them to pick-up in this deal.