The Orioles should upgrade the starting rotation before the trade deadline, and these two players are within reach.
The Baltimore Orioles are in the thick of the playoff race, and now that it is after Memorial Day, the standings carry meaningful weight. The Birds are 37-22 following a weekend series with the San Francisco Giants and are second in the AL East while sporting the third-best record in MLB.
While the offense is firing on all cylinders, the pitching staff has been struggling lately. Even the bullpen, which includes some breakout arms, has imploded a few times in the past week. The Orioles are clearly a contender, but they also have much room to improve on the mound. The rumor mill will be picking up more as June moves along. As the season progresses, it will become clearer which teams are buying, which are selling, and which are doing something in between. For now, here are two fascinating starting pitchers the Orioles could potentially acquire before the trade deadline.
Dealing with the Brewers
It may seem highly unlikely that the team currently leading the NL Central trades an ace, but we have been down this road before. Like the Orioles, the Milwaukee Brewers build their roster around a smaller budget and tend not to give out large free-agent contracts. Just last year, they traded star CP Josh Hader at the deadline despite being in the thick of the playoff race. At the time of the deal, the Brew Crew were 12 games over .500 and decided to trade away one of the most consistently great closers in baseball.
Last July, Hader had one year and two months left of team control, so his value would only go down if the Brewers waited until the offseason or this year’s deadline to deal him. Relying on a strong bullpen, GM Matt Arnold sold high and got back both Major Leaguers and prospects in return. The team faded down the stretch after that, but Arnold might follow the same strategy this year.
SP Corbin Burnes is now in the same position Hader was last year. Burnes will be a free agent after next season, which leaves Milwaukee three windows to potentially trade him. After coming away from the arbitration process hurt and disheartened, Burnes is extremely unlikely to resign with the Brewers. As an established starter with a Cy Young award on his resume, Burnes carries a hefty trade value. The Brewers do not have to trade him in the next two months, but they will in the next fourteen months.
The other wrinkle in this will-they-won’t-they conundrum is that Burnes is only pitching pretty well, not great. After posting a 2.43 ERA in 2021 and a 2.94 last year, that figure has pushed up to 3.75 this season. His FIP is far more concerning, rising from 1.63 to 3.14, and now to 4.59. His xERA and Statcast sliders tell a similar story: Burnes is still a talented pitcher but headed sharply in the wrong direction.
That trend likely would not scare away the Orioles, especially if they are only getting him for a year and two months. It also means his trade value is not quite as high as his reputation. The Birds would need to trade one of their Top 100 prospects, but only one. Since the Brewers are contending as well, they will want a Major Leaguer with team control to immediately step into the lineup. The exact exchange would depend on which upper-level hitters Milwaukee prefers. Here is my offer:
Orioles receive Corbin Burnes
Brewers receive: 3B Ramon Urias, 2B Connor Norby, 2B Cesar Prieto
The Tigers are Sharpening Their Claws
The Detroit Tigers seemed like obvious sellers a month ago, but it might not be so clear cut now. Despite being five games under .500, the Tigers are only 3.5 games back in the embarrassingly weak AL Central. Detroit is a lifeless 2-14 vs. the mighty AL East, but that means they are a solid 24-17 against the rest of MLB. With only 16 games left against the AL East teams and a winnable division, the Tigers might make a run at a playoff spot.
Detroit can and will wait out the next month and a half to see if they are still in the race then. But they are assuredly making the necessary preparations for a sell-off at the deadline. The Tigers also have a new PBO in Scott Harris, and he has only swung a couple deals for observers to glean information. During the offseason, when the Tigers were expected to be out of contention, he traded RPs Gregory Soto and Joe Jimenez separately for mid-level prospects and spare parts. It seems like Harris is aiming to fill out a thin lineup and farm system, and the Orioles can certainly help there.
SP Eduardo Rodriguez is the most fascinating trade candidate this season. E-Rod signed a five-year, $77 million contract entering 2022, which means he still has three years left on it after 2023. But he has an opt-out after this season at the perfect time for him. The contract quickly seemed like an underwater one when Rodriguez only pitched 91 average-ish innings last year, but he has come roaring back. Rodriguez is in the midst of the best season of his career, with a sparking 2.13 ERA, with career lows in home run rate, walk rate, and average exit velocity, leading to an encouraging 3.17 FIP. If he keeps pitching like this, Rodriguez will automatically opt out, making him a rental.
But Rodriguez injured his finger last week, and it seems like the soonest he could return is mid-July. If the injury is more serious or Rodriguez struggles when he comes back, he will most likely opt in to his remaining $49 million. Any acquiring team must be willing to risk picking up a large contract, and potentially a burdensome one if Rodriguez cannot rediscover his form. There is a slim but distinct possibility that E-Rod opts in gets back on track in the future, but that would not affect trade talks.
The Orioles need more starters to get through the season and to take the ball in the playoffs. Rodriguez might not help with the former, but he has ample postseason experience from his time with the Boston Red Sox. If no money is involved, I would make this trade:
Orioles receive: Eduardo Rodriguez
Tigers receive: UTIL Terrin Vavra, OF Hudson Haskin