Orioles should stay the course, hold on to their top prospects

Club could put together a package for a top-notch pitcher, but it shouldn't mortgage the future

Dylan Bundy

It might not be worth trading a top pitching prospect, like Dylan Bundy, for a more-established starter. (Karl Merton Ferrron, The Baltimore Sun / June 21, 2014)

Sometimes, the confluence of seemingly unrelated events can squeeze clarity out of coincidence.

Take the news Wednesday that the Orioles' top pick from the 2013 draft, Low-A Delmarva right-hander Hunter Harvey, has been shelved for the remainder of the minor league season with an arm injury, which arrived at about the same time speculation surfaced on Twitter that the Orioles were close to a deal for Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester.

Maybe there was some fire under that smoke, and maybe there wasn't. We won't know for sure until Lester turns up in the Orioles clubhouse or he's sent somewhere else before Thursday's 4 p.m. deadline for trading players without passing them through waivers.

What we do know is that front-line starting pitchers don't come cheap, even ones who have let it be known they'll probably go right back to Boston when they become eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

Which brings us back to the unfortunate injury to Harvey, a terrific prospect whose name has come up in some of the trade talk that is rising to a crescendo this week. The severity of his elbow strain has not yet been ascertained, but it could be a significant blow to a player development system that is finally producing the kind of talent that other teams come looking for when it's time to move their expensive veterans.

The Orioles could certainly put together the kind of package that would bring them back a top-flight starting pitcher, and there is a case to be made for pulling out all the stops to maximize their chances of reaching the playoffs and playing well into the postseason. They haven't been to the World Series since 1983 and still are trying to shed the bitter aftertaste of all those years wandering in a competitive wasteland before Buck Showalter led them to the American League Division Series in 2012.

Harvey's injury — and the loss of Dylan Bundy for a year after he had Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery — could be used to argue in favor of trading prospects, since they are fragile and unpredictable. It's certainly possible that neither one will become impact pitchers in the major leagues, so Dan Duquette and his baseball operations staff could decide that it's worth the gamble to move a couple good, young prospects for a pitcher who might end up winning the game that gets the Orioles into the Fall Classic.

And it probably would be if the current competitive environment allowed the Orioles to feel confident that they will be in that position come mid-October.

It doesn't. The Orioles have been playing well lately, and they have shown they can compete with the winningest teams in the league, both at home and away. But in a sport that now has four playoff tiers, the only thing guaranteed by that kind of developmental sacrifice is that you're going to have two fewer chances to grow your own pitching ace and keep him under club control for at least six seasons.

This could turn out to be a pivotal moment in Orioles history, one way or the other.

The example with Lester is a bit extreme. Not only does he become a free agent at the end of this season, he has already made it clear that he isn't likely to stick around longer than the two months he gets to avoid playing out the string with the Red Sox. But the same logic would apply to any veteran pitcher nearing the end of his contract.

The Orioles went through a developmental drought during the late 1990s and early 2000s during which they failed to produce a cornerstone starting pitcher. Their fortunes didn't change until Andy MacPhail committed to a singular emphasis on developing young pitchers.

Duquette has followed through with that up to now, and he keeps saying the right things about the importance of maintaining a consistent stream of organizational talent.

He should stay the course. The Orioles are growing some special players, and they might already be good enough make that deep playoff run.

They appear to have strong team chemistry, and the pitching staff has been on a terrific roll at a time when the competition has been a steady parade of playoff-caliber teams.

If there's a deal out there that brings in a solid left-handed reliever or a decent left-handed hitter without losing a major pitching prospect, go for it.

But this team doesn't need to mortgage the future.

It ain't broke …

You know the rest.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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