Could Orioles' Recent Signings Lead To Trades?

Posted on February 25, 2014 by Jim Henneman

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A one-word description for Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is stoic.

His face tells you no more than his words, which sometimes lapse into tap dance mode. 

He'd probably be a pretty good poker player if that was his thing, because, as he has demonstrated, he's willing to wait to make a move. Patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait -- he seems to have paid attention to all those words of wisdom parents tell their children.

But it might be a mistake to think that all the moves the Orioles made during the last couple of weeks were part of a hastily concocted quickie plan put together to appease a restless fan base. Those who actually think starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz are wearing orange and black because of the fans' unrest give themselves way too much credit.

Ubaldo Jimenez


Duquette won't admit it, because -- let's be realistic -- it's not part of his DNA, but there is enough evidence to suggest the all-in mode the Orioles now appear to be following actually started during the summer of 2013. Duquette made bold moves to acquire two pitchers, Scott Feldman and Bud Norris, in an effort to keep his team in contention last year. 

Those moves didn't work in that regard, and the jury remains out on how they will eventually be viewed. Feldman was allowed to take the free-agent walk when the Astros upped the ante to an unimaginable $30 million for three years. But the Orioles still have Norris under control for two years, either as a valued member of their pitching staff or as possible trade bait.

When Duquette gave up outfielder L.J. Hoes, infielder Nick Delmonico and pitcher Josh Hader, in addition to a competitive balance draft pick, which is No. 35 in this year's amateur draft, he was able to deal from minor league depth, something the Orioles hadn't previously been able to do. Those trades were bigger gambles than most realized at the time, and put in motion the strategy in effect now.

Duquette appears to be an avowed advocate of strength through the minor leagues and place significance on draft choices. So, when he gave up what amounts to a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in addition to two quality prospects for Norris, Duquette's game plan for 2014 was beginning to come into focus. 

He designated a starting pitcher for the top of the rotation as the club's biggest need -- and after taking a pass on Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, two veterans who didn't have compensation attached to their free agency, Duquette made it clear he would surrender his first-round pick for a starting pitcher, and once he did that, giving up the 55th pick for Nelson Cruz almost became a no-brainer.

Here's a prediction: before the 2014 season plays out -- in some cases, maybe even before spring training is over -- Duquette will replace those lost draft choices with some trades that will bring prospects into the system he raided a year ago. The pitching staff is now overloaded to the point that it is no longer necessary to consider Kevin Gausman for a spot in the rotation. That's not to say he won't force his way onto the team, but at this point, the Orioles have the luxury of knowing he can spend as much time as needed in the minor leagues.

The same is true for Dylan Bundy, who almost certainly won't be called up to Baltimore before September, giving him the proper training time and removing the notion that he had to be rushed to the big leagues, as he was in 2012. With options left, pitchers T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson will find it next to impossible to crack this year's staff, meaning the club's Triple-A and Double-A teams in Norfolk and Bowie should be well fortified with starting pitchers.

But those staffs will not include Zach Britton or Josh Stinson, both of whom are out of options and considered ready to pitch in the big leagues. Before the signing of Jimenez, Britton was considered the best bet to step up and claim the fifth spot in the rotation. Now, he's just one in a crowd that originally was supposed to include Brian Matusz and Alfredo Aceves, a non-roster invitee who reportedly signed with the O's because he was told he'd get a chance to start.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle in all of the discussions is Suk-min Yoon, a Korean right-hander who signed a three-year contract worth about $6 million and might have trouble making the team. Counting Yoon, and not counting McFarland; Johnson; and Matusz, who probably will have to settle for a bullpen role again, the Orioles have eight candidates for the five-man starting rotation, a situation that will almost demand a trade before spring training concludes. And down the road, there will likely be more as the O's prepare to work Gausman and Bundy into the mix.

Manager Buck Showalter will be counting on safety in numbers.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

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