Without a new, permanent baseball operations head, interim man Brian Graham will be representing the Orioles’ interests in matters minor and major at this week's general manager meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., as the baseball world sets itself up for next month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
But as he's roaming the hallways and meeting with peers from around the game, Graham might be able to help the organization and possibly his successor in setting the table for some long-term work the Orioles need to do: trading some more of their veterans by this time next year.
In the two free-agent pitchers they signed last spring, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, the Orioles could have a pair of pitchers who teams view as alternatives to a top-heavy but largely mediocre free-agent starter crop.
Cashner, who has $8 million remaining on the two-year deal he signed in February, is coming off an uneven first season in Orioles colors, going 7-13 with a 5.49 ERA, though it only climbed above five as he allowed eight runs in two innings on Sept. 12 before missing the rest of the season with a knee injury. His 0.5 fWAR is lower than 22 of the pending starting pitcher free agents, but on a reasonable contract and in the right situation, Cashner could deliver value far beyond what he's worth to the Orioles.
All a team needs to do to see the value Cashner could have for a contender is look at the success that former Orioles pitchers Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson had this year in Milwaukee and Washington, respectively, when they were deployed more effectively and limited to twice through the batting order instead of being sent back out into bad situations late in games.
With so many pitchers on the free-agent market of similar value, it might be difficult for the Orioles to persuade a team to part with assets other than money to choose him over someone else. But if the Orioles aren't going anywhere, they shouldn't take players they signed under much different circumstances with them there.
Cobb will present a bit more of an unusual situation, considering the trajectory of his first Orioles season and how badly it started after he signed late. If Cobb is anything close to the pitcher he was in the second half, he'd be largely wasted on a rebuilding team. If he can provide around 2 WAR per season for what's left of the $43 million he's owed (plus some deferred money), a healthy and effective Cobb could be an asset as well.
It won't be easy to trade either. The Orioles aren't coming from a position of strength with their competitive situation, and teams will likely prefer their investment into the middle of the starting pitching tier to be only in money, not player assets. But if the Orioles' interest in shedding payroll carries over from July into this offseason, it might be a worthy play for Graham to set the groundwork for some possible moves as the offseason starts in earnest.