The O's closed out the first half of the season in second place in the American League East, but with losses in 13 of their last 19 games, they're going to have to get markedly better if they expect to stay in the playoff hunt in baseball's toughest division. With just their second winning first-half record since 1998, the Orioles are in some uncharted territory as potential buyers, looking for ways to upgrade the pitching staff and perhaps add an impact bat without sacrificing the future in top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado.
Pulling the trigger for a big-name acquisition could help the club's chances in 2012, but at what price? New Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will be tasked with improving the current club -- its defense leads the Majors in errors and is another area that could use an upgrade -- while still trying to lay the groundwork for a successful organization. The club has been in a decidedly different state at the Trade Deadline over the last four years, having dealt away relievers George Sherrill, Will Ohman and Koji Uehara in addition to first baseman Derrek Lee in the hope of bringing back pieces for the future.
"We are in contention, so we are going to do whatever we can to make the playoffs," Duquette, who inherited an organization with 14 consecutive losing seasons, said after addressing the fans at this year's State of the Orioles address in late June.
Duquette has already made a smaller move with the recent trade for veteran slugger Jim Thome -- which should help a lagging lineup that also recently reinstated outfielder Nick Markakis -- and he has said that he has ownership's backing to get the necessary pieces to compete this season. Duquette has also made it clear numerous times that the emphasis for the Orioles is on winning now without sacrificing the future.
"There's some intrigue there," manager Buck Showalter said of the external options that could be made available in advance of the Trade Deadline. "We haven't had these types of conversations very often here.
"[Owner Peter Angelos] has been extremely supportive of anything we want to do, and we don't take that confidence he has lightly. We are trying to be smart, too. And don't do anything to damage the ability to have long-term success."
What could the Orioles do? The team's bullpen has an AL-best 2.75 ERA, and there is depth at Triple-A Norfolk, making that a possible picking pool from which Duquette can deal. There are several prospects beyond Bundy and Machado -- though none commands what the young duo would on the trade market -- and there has been talk about possibly including one of the organization's younger starters if the deal is right. The Orioles badly need to upgrade their starting pitching staff, with uncertainty beyond Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen and three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation -- Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter -- currently with Norfolk.
The O's pitching is better than it was last year, when the bullpen was forced to pick up the most innings in baseball, and there remains some hope that Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez -- who both had solid season debuts -- could help stabilize the rotation. The club could receive an additional boost from 24-year-old lefty Zach Britton, who has yet to pitch for the Orioles this year but will likely be the team's fifth starter on Tuesday. Asked to single out a facet that needs improvement, Showalter chose the defense, with the logic that cutting down on errors will automatically help the pitching and lend more confidence to the staff.
Showalter and Duquette would both prefer, of course, to have internal solutions, and there is expected to be roster movement over the next few days as the team sifts through its plans without an off-day until Aug. 2. The addition of Markakis and expected activations of outfielder Endy Chavez and backup catcher Taylor Teagarden should also help defensively, while Showalter hopes the four days of rest provided by the All-Star break will help jump-start struggling bats like J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds. Showalter has his club focused on winning each game and each series, and the Orioles are prepared to keep fighting, even if they don't make any notable additions.
"We are always all in, from our perspective [on the field]," Showalter said. "Whatever happens, we are going to play and hold them to a high standard. Whatever happens with that other stuff, they talk to me about it at times, but they also know I've got my hands full with stuff here. I don't spend my time constantly coveting other people's players. I like ours. I want to make ours better."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less