By Matt Vensel
3:30 PM EDT, July 5, 2011
Oh, the mediocre have fallen. The Orioles, who a month ago were staying somewhat relevant and hanging around in the AL East, now have the second-worst record in the American League and are a dozen games behind the Red Sox in the wild-card standings. So now besides next week’s All-Star Game, where Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will get his moment in the spotlight, the next important date on the calendar is July 31.
That’s Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, and the Orioles’ latest midseason swoon has removed any doubt about whether they will be sellers four weeks from now. That’s probably a good thing for management because if the Orioles were still in contention, fans would be clamoring for the team to be buyers at the deadline, which would have been foolish during a half-completed roster reconstruction.
Here comes the bad news for the soon-to-be-selling Orioles: They don’t have many trade chips in their stack, and the ones that have real value are the ones they will likely be clinging to with a clenched fist. Here is a look at six realistic Orioles trade candidates -- so not including near-untouchables like Wieters and Zach Britton -- who would garner the most in a trade (whether the team is willing to send them packing is another story):
1. J.J. Hardy: The Orioles are trying to negotiate a contract extension with Hardy, a free agent at season’s end, but if they don’t make significant progress by late July, the Orioles might be forced to trade him while they can still get value for him -- and with the way he has been playing, Hardy is their most valuable trade chip.
2. Mark Reynolds: Reynolds has been one of the hottest players in baseball over the past five weeks. He leads the major leagues with 13 home runs since June 1, including five already in July. If the Orioles were willing to trade their third baseman, they would have suitors who would love to put up with his subpar defense at the hot corner. But he is under contract through 2012 with an option for the 2013 season, so count on the Orioles keeping him.
3. Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie is enduring another faith-testing, soul-searching season in Baltimore. He is tied for the major-league lead with 10 losses despite a respectable 3.93 ERA, and there are some who feel he might benefit from a change of scenery. Guthrie would be a very good third or fourth starter for contenders outside of Philadelphia, but it’s going to take a lot for the Orioles to give up this respected veteran.
4. Koji Uehara: I’m singling out Koji, one of my favorite Orioles, here because the 36-year-old reliever will have no role in the rebuilding effort, but fellow relievers Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg could be dangled as trade bait, too. Uehara is a pending free agent, and most contending teams could use a pitcher like him in the bullpen. Unfortunately, setup guys don’t have much value, especially ones with durability issues.
5. Luke Scott: Back in April, I thought there was a good chance the Orioles would trade Luke Scott before the trade deadline because his streaky bat could change a playoff race and because the Orioles had Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold stuck behind him on the depth chart, but now Scott is headed to the disabled list with that torn labrum in his shoulder. It doesn’t look like many teams will be calling about Luke this year.
6. Derrek Guerrero: I’m going to lump Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, two buzz-worthy free agent signings this winter, in together because they have both seen their production fall off of a cliff in their old age. Lee has a little value because he is still a good fielder, but not Guerrero, who unfortunately might be the slowest singles hitter in baseball. These two won’t be as desirable as we had all hoped when we drew up our worst-case scenarios for the Orioles before the season. Keep your expectations low here.
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