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Schmuck: Dismantling core of bullpen with rotation in disarray would leave Orioles in pitch-dark

There's no question the Orioles are in a position to bring back substantial talent if it's true they are open to trading three of their top relievers by the July 31 deadline for making deals without waivers, but it would be a big mistake.

The Fox Sports report — citing unnamed sources — that Orioles baseball operations chief Dan Duquette had received the go-ahead to shop Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O'Day (among others) is certainly an intriguing development, since it hints at a decision to start tearing down the club and rebuilding for the future.

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It might even appear to make sense with the O's fighting what appears to be a losing battle to stay in contention for a playoff berth this year. A logical case can be made for moving any one of those players, but if they are seriously ready to dismantle the nucleus of the bullpen, they need to reconsider.

Breaking up the better half of the pitching staff when the starting rotation is in crisis is a prescription for long-term disaster unless the Orioles get back at least two decent quality starting pitchers, which is only going to happen in a fantasy league.

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Duquette couldn't add one decent rotation arm last winter, so what makes anyone think the Orioles are going to be able to solidify the rotation and build a new bullpen over the next seven months … or the next 17 for that matter?

Have you seen the ERAs at Norfolk?

No doubt, they would be able to get some solid relief prospects and maybe a promising minor league starter. They also figure to need a major league-ready shortstop and more position depth next season, but Duquette would have to work some serious midseason magic to give up three of the game's top relievers without dooming Baltimore to at least a couple of years in the purgatory of an uncertain rebuilding effort.

Duquette reacted to the Fox Sports report Tuesday with a text to local reporters indicating that he is still working to improve the club for the present and the future, which would sound very nice if the club's current circumstances didn't make it sound so unlikely.

Replacing one or two of the Orioles' failing starters at midseason with more effective pitchers would certainly help stabilize the rotation. Doing so by destabilizing the most dependable aspect of the team — which is what it would take to accomplish that — is a very risky proposition.

Maybe the plan is to shop all three key relievers to see what's out there, but deal only one of them.

It seems likely that Britton will be dealt to one of the top World Series contenders, based on the amount of trade chatter his name has already appeared in. He will make $11.4 million this year after missing most of the first half of the season and still has another year of salary arbitration eligibility that figures to jack up the price for his final season under club control.

Yankees provide Orioles with good precedent for what to expect in trades for top relievers

The last time the Orioles were in a similar position, they traded away closer Jim Johnson after a 50-save season in 2013 to avoid the likelihood that he would receive more than $10 million in arbitration.

The big difference: Johnson's effectiveness had come into question after he blew nine saves that year. Britton hasn't blown a save since September 2015, and he appears to be bouncing back very well from the forearm injury that sidelined him so long.

To a lesser degree, Brach's arbitration status also could be a factor since the Orioles will be looking at a huge raise for Manny Machado and a big jump for Jonathan Schoop, but Brach might be well worth $5 million or more if he has to take over the full-time closer role.

Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey pitched in the GCL Wednesday, marking his first competitive game since Tommy John surgery.

O’Day is an interesting case. He’s due $9 million each of the next two years, so it would seem unlikely a team would be willing to give up good talent and assume the remainder of that contract. He’s still a very effective setup reliever, so a salary dump deal would be an indication that Duquette is no longer fantasizing about a late-season turnaround.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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