The Undercard: O's make solid moves, but road back to playoffs is an uphill climb
By Brandon Weigel
Aug 05, 2015 | 3:00 AM
After the Orioles got swept by the division rival Yankees in late July, there was not a lot of optimism about the team's chances of making the playoffs. Plenty of fans even pushed for Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette to sell off some players for prospects at the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
Duquette was steadfast in his insistence that he would try to add players to take a run at New York and the Toronto Blue Jays. Winning a series against the Rays and sweeping the Braves brought the club back from the brink of irrelevance and made Duquette's insistence seem more reasonable.
Before last Friday's deadline, the O's traded pitching prospect Zach Davies to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Gerardo Parra and sent reliever Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake.
Both deals address needs and should give the team a much-needed boost. But what's worrisome is they pale in comparison to the moves made by the Toronto Blue Jays, the other team hoping to overtake the Yankees and win an A.L. East title. For the Orioles, the road back to the postseason remains an uphill climb.
First, the good news. Parra brings badly needed stability to the outfield. While with Milwaukee, the lefty batter was having a career year, hitting .328 with a .517 slugging percentage. Even if he regresses to his career numbers—a .279 batting average and .407 slugging percentage—he still offers something the Orioles haven't had all year: consistent hitting and the ability to get on base.
Already the club has dispatched outfielders Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, and Chris Parmelee. As a team, the Orioles had gotten an abysmal .208 average from their group of left fielders. A true top-of-the-order bat should help the offense break through the periods of stagnation that beset the team. And Parra brings two Gold Gloves to the table.
Lake adds more depth to the outfield. Though he's never put it together in the majors, the 25-year-old has shown plenty of promise in the minor leagues. He hit .315 with a .404 on-base percentage for the AAA Iowa Cubs this season. But getting anything of substance for the struggling Hunter is, really, addition by subtraction. The righty's numbers seem decent enough, but a deeper look shows batters hit .349 off Hunter anytime he came in with a one-run lead and .313 when the game was tied.
Also in the department of addition by subtraction: The Birds designated for assignment pitcher Bud Norris. A key part of last year's 96-win team, Norris struggled in spring training and never seemed right the whole year. Dumping Norris allowed the Orioles to finally slot the supremely talented Kevin Gausman into a rotation spot and call up promising young reliever Mychal Givens.
Consistent hitting from Parra, more contributions from Gausman, and solid relief from Givens could give the Orioles the shot in the arm they need to string together some wins.
Now the bad news. The Blue Jays had what former general manager and current ESPN commentator Jim Bowden called "the best trade deadline in major league history." Using their deeply talented farm system, the Jays acquired an ace pitcher, David Price, and one of the best all-around shortstops in the game, Troy Tulowitzki. They also strengthened their bullpen, with the addition of relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe, and added a good leadoff hitter in Ben Revere, who the Orioles had been linked to.
Toronto already had the highest-scoring offense in all of baseball, and it added an impact player who averages 29 homers and 102 RBIs to the middle of the lineup. And the influx of pitching should help a pitching staff that ranks 20th in ERA.
As of this writing, the Blue Jays and Orioles are both six games behind the Yankees and one game out of the wild card. With their splashy moves, the Blue Jays are likely the favorite to topple New York—the two teams have 13 games against each other remaining.