The midseason deadline for making trades without waivers is looming and everyone wants to know the same thing.
Will the Orioles be buyers or sellers as they look ahead to the final months of this season and the tremendous uncertainty that lies just over the horizon?
Maybe it won't be that simple. Maybe the Orioles will have to be both to strike some kind of practical balance between the present and future.
No one has to be reminded that this team is going to look dramatically different when spring training opens next February. Nearly a third of the current 25-man roster will be eligible for free agency in November and it appears pretty likely that almost everybody with a chance to go is going to be gone.
That's why you have to be conflicted if you're an Orioles fan. This final "window of opportunity" that we've been talking about for the past couple of years is upon us, and Dan Duquette must decide whether the opportunity to reach the World Series this year is worth the long-term pain the club might have to endure if it passes on the opportunity to get real value for its most-likely-to-depart free agent stars.
There is an argument to be made for putting the pedal to the metal by trying to acquire the starting pitcher and corner outfielder that will assure the O's their best chance of defending their 2014 American League East title. For that to happen, however, the club needs to have something of value to offer and the minor league cupboard isn't exactly bulging with frontline tradeable talent.
It could come down to whether Duquette can get creative and find a way to deal one of his best pending free agents to another contender to get back a major league player and a decent minor league prospect in return.
In other words, he would need to pull off a three-team deal that would require the Orioles to send a top-flight player to another contender for a solid major league prospect and that team would have to send another solid prospect to a cost-conscious club that wants to dump a major league veteran (and his salary) on the Orioles.
Yes, it's an improbable scenario, but there has been some discussion in the Warehouse about moving Chris Davis at the deadline to a team that needs a power bat. The Orioles need that power bat, too, but Davis is worth a lot more right now than the thirtysomething supplementary draft choice the Orioles will get for making him a qualifying offer in the winter.
Let's stay real here. Davis isn't coming back. The Orioles are going to be in a semi-rebuilding mode next year regardless and he said this past spring that the likelihood of him remaining in Baltimore would depend on the team's commitment to keeping the nucleus of the club together. So the decision has to be whether he's more valuable to the franchise in an Orioles uniform for two more months (and maybe the postseason) or wearing somebody else's jersey.
Tough call. The guy is a home-run machine. He's also a strikeout machine who doesn't hit for a high average, but it's hard to argue with the run-production numbers. The only way dealing him makes sense is if the Orioles get back a quality corner outfielder with on-base upside who can hit in the clutch as well as something that offsets the lost supplementary draft choice.
Maybe that's possible and maybe it isn't, but the Orioles really are not in a position to simply dump Davis or any of the other top free agents for prospects at a time when they are still very much alive in the AL East race. And, though the next 10 days represent a critical juncture in the season for them, it's highly unlikely that they'll be out of competitive range on July 31.
The franchise has returned to prominence under Buck Showalter and Duquette (with a big contribution from former executive vice president Andy MacPhail) and still is in position to reach the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Duquette has been known to think way outside the batter's box, but he doesn't figure to give up on that opportunity. He also can't relish the prospect of waiting around for a bunch of draft choices to pop three or four years from now, which leaves him needing to show why he's the defending Sporting News Executive of the Year.
Can't wait to see how this shakes out.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.