Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette made a clear declaration of intentions for the last week-plus of July, stating that improving the club's rotation is his primary goal before the Aug. 1 deadline for nonwaiver trades.
"We're going to try to add to our rotation," Duquette said. "We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we're going to try to add to it by the trade route. … This is a really thin market. There's a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It's about as thin as I've ever seen the market, but we're going to see what we can do."
The Orioles returned home from a physically taxing road trip with a rotation that carried an ERA north of five (5.06) and hasn't been reliable behind frontline starter Chris Tillman and the emerging Kevin Gausman. Dylan Bundy and Vance Worley have been inserted into the rotation to see if they're the internal answers the Orioles will need should the trade route lead nowhere.
How Duquette could come up empty, if he does, would come down to a few factors. As he mentioned, one factor is the relative scarcity of pitching available. The names bandied about — from Oakland Athletics left-hander Rich Hill and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to San Diego Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner or Minnesota Twins right-hander Ervin Santana — carry varying degrees of injury risk, spotty track records or both.
Those teams, however, are just about the only ones far enough out of contention that also have rotation assets they'd consider moving. And as in any trade market, those teams without playoff aspirations this year will want pieces that can help them in the future for the pitchers who could bolster the Orioles' own hopes.
The Orioles have frequently traded prospects, especially young pitchers, to bolster their major league team in years past. Most recently, prospects who have moved on in high-profile trades include pitchers Zach Davies, Eduardo Rodriguez and Josh Hader.
In addition to putting the Orioles in such a bind when it comes to starting pitching depth, those trades have contributed to a thin farm system for the Orioles to deal from. That system took a further hit with the announcement that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey would have Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his elbow and keep him off a mound for at least a year.
The consensus among scouts who follow the Orioles organization is that the market might price them out of being able to acquire a player who will represent an improvement on their current rotation.
The top pieces in the farm system include Double-A Bowie catcher Chance Sisco, Triple-A Norfolk first baseman Trey Mancini, High-A Frederick third baseman Jomar Reyes and Low-A Delmarva shortstop Ryan Mountcastle. That entire group features players whose bats are more advanced than their gloves, and those defensive limitations impact their values to other teams.
The pitching stock in the high minors has been dinged a bit by performance dips and injuries to left-hander Chris Lee (lat strain) and right-hander Parker Bridwell (broken rib). However, the best arm in the high minors might now be left-handed reliever Tanner Scott, who only just joined the Double-A roster.
Norfolk's roster features several players who could have some value, like right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, plus outfielder Christian Walker, though extended time at Triple-A and mediocre major league performance have led many evaluators to cease dreaming on them.
Add outfielder Mike Yastrzemski to that list, plus a host of promising young pitchers at Delmarva and Short-A Aberdeen like 19-year-olds Ofelky Peralta and Alex Wells, and you have intriguing pieces that teams would be glad to have but can't carry a major deal on their own.
Around the game, evaluators and executives seem floored by the asking price for some of the precious few starting pitchers who can help teams down the stretch.
The market has also been set rather high by Boston Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski, who has made a slew of deals highlighted by the acquisition of left-hander Drew Pomeranz for one of the game's top pitching prospects, Anderson Espinoza.
As such, teams will likely feel emboldened to ask for a big name like Sisco or Scott, plus a secondary sweetener or two from the lower minors, for anyone the Orioles might inquire about. Their willingness to trade such a ransom to upgrade this year's rotation will dictate what their return would be.
Duquette said the prices set so far in the market haven't impacted their pursuits yet.
"I'm not sure how that's going to play out," Duquette said. "There's just not enough good pitchers to go around."