For the better part of this month, the Orioles have stayed under the national radar in their pursuit of roster improvement for the second half. They made pre-emptive strikes, adding starting pitcher Scott Feldman and reliever Francisco Rodriguez while many teams were still deciding whether to buy or sell.
Now, though, the nonwaiver trade deadline is on the horizon — 4 p.m. Wednesday — and the Orioles have returned to their familiar spot: directly in the middle of swirling rumors. For only the third time in 15 years, however, the Orioles are more interested in adding than shedding.
Most rumors are attached to whispers and smokescreens, with very few coming to fruition.
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Some involving the Orioles are particularly off-base: Despite yearning for an ace, the Orioles aren't pursuing the Philadelphia Philles' Cliff Lee or the Chicago White Sox's Jake Peavy — the cost in salary and players is exorbitant, especially considering Peavy's injury history.
Regardless, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette is still looking to improve his team's weaknesses. Although he's not talking specifics, those areas of need — in order of preference — appear to be a veteran hitter, preferably right handed, who can get on base and serve as designated hitter; another versatile reliever; and, potentially, a starting pitcher.
To that end, Duquette says he believes he has both the money and quality prospects necessary to get a deal done — if the right one comes along.
"We do have the wherewithal to make additional trades. Our farm system is maturing, and we are getting a little more depth to it, and teams like a lot of our prospects," Duquette said. "Our objective is to get back to the playoffs, and I believe we have the resources to help us get back to the playoffs. And ownership is very supportive of achieving that goal."
There are "two sides of the ledger," Duquette said, when it comes to a potential Orioles deal: the amount of money the coveted player has remaining on his contract and the quality of prospects the club must deal to acquire that player.
No prospects are untouchable, but the club would have to be overwhelmed to deal its top-tier talent, which includes pitchers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez and infielder Jonathan Schoop. This winter, the Orioles considered trading Bundy, who is now recovering from elbow surgery, to the Kansas City Royals for top young outfielder Wil Myers before Myers was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade for James Shields.
So if the Orioles move one of their four best prospects, it would have to be for a player who they believe would make an immediate and lasting impact. That stance hasn't changed, and the quality of players available in this year's trade market doesn't seem to match what the Orioles would want to give up for any of that quartet.
"We are guarding the cupboard very carefully as it relates to our very best prospects," Duquette said. "But again, we have a chance to make the playoffs and you have to look at every possibility very carefully to help improve your team today, which we are doing."
Duquette stressed that the organization's depth has improved to the point at which other names are being brought up in trade discussions. Last week, the club dealt Nick Delmonico, whom Baseball America listed as its No. 4 prospect before the season, to the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
One industry source said minor league pitchers Mike Wright and Tim Berry and first baseman Christian Walker, among others, have piqued teams' interests.
Two other prospects — outfielders L.J. Hoes and Henry Urrutia — were promoted this month to help improve a DH spot that ranks last in the American League in on-base percentage (.259) and second-to-last in average (.200). Duquette said that duo could possibly handle DH duties if he doesn't make a deal.
"We could look for offensive help in an area, or maybe a couple guys we have brought up can spark the ballclub," Duquette said.
There are plenty of veteran bats potentially available via trade, but each is flawed — or complicated, anyway. The Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau is no longer the force he was offensively, and he is owed nearly $5 million for the rest of the season. The Philadelphia Phillies' Michael Young is due more than $4.5 million, is coveted by several teams for his professionalism and versatility and can block any trade. The Seattle Mariners have three intriguing bats, but Raul Ibanez is 41, Kendrys Morales might not be available and Michael Morse is coming off an injury.
The starting pitching market is exceptionally limited. There are very few options the Orioles view as being better then what they have. And two who the Orioles have coveted — the Houston Astros' Bud Norris, who pitches at Camden Yards tonight, and the White Sox's All-Star Chris Sale — would require a hefty return in quality prospects. Norris could be on the move, but it would be rather shocking if the White Sox dealt Sale, and the Orioles would have to relinquish two of their four top prospects to get into that conversation.
That lack of starting pitching options could push the Orioles to make a more subtle move, such as adding to their bullpen depth. One available reliever who intrigues them is Seattle lefty Oliver Perez, who can put out lefties and righties.
If the Orioles don't make a move by Wednesday, they could still add to their team in August, but any player dealt next month would have to clear trade waivers first. That's how they obtained left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders last season.
"We are looking around to see what pieces we can add to help the club for this year," Duquette said. "We want to get back to the playoffs. Of course, this is the last chance to do it before you need the permission of other clubs to trade."
(Click through the gallery above for a list of eight potential trade targets — and a little analysis on each — as Wednesday's deadline approaches.)