The Baltimore Orioles number one priority this off-season will be to improve the starting rotation, as reported by Rock Kubatko of MASNsports.com and anyone who watched the team play this season. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of accomplishing that goal in a meaningful way is Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette. He has made it known that long-term contracts and big dollars will not be invested for any free agent and he also isn’t willing to trade top prospects to do so.
(You can discuss this article on the BSL Board here.)
However, an argument could be made that he dramatically weakened any potential package he could have put together this winter when he traded prospects such as Nick Delmonico, L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader, and Xavier Avery in a failed attempt to earn a playoff berth this past season.
So how can the Orioles accomplish shoring up the starting rotation in a meaningful way if they are not willing to commit dollars and years to top tier free agents and are not willing to trade top prospects, not that they have the package to do so now anyway?
The next best thing, and something the Orioles are more than capable of pulling off, would be to trade a quality veteran at a key position to a team with an immediate need there.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post opines that the St. Louis Cardinals are in a position to trade away their excess pitching, as they have one of the largest surpluses of young arms in baseball, in an effort to shore up a weakness at shortstop.
Specifically, Joel says that (hypothetically) the Cardinals could trade starting pitcher Lance Lynn and third baseman David Freese in a deal for Hardy.
Let’s dig into this hypothetical trade of Lance Lynn and David Freese for J.J. Hardy.
If the Orioles acquired Lynn in a deal for Hardy he would automatically become the number two pitcher in the rotation based on his performance over the last two seasons as a starter and he could pitch 200 innings for the team.
This season he posted a 3.97/3.28 ERA/FIP with a 23.1% strikeout rate and an 8.9% walk rate while pitching in the National League. Lynn works primarily off his fastball, which averages between 92 and 93 mph, and also has a slider, curveball, and changeup. As I mentioned, he likes to work off his fastball and incorporates his slider and curveball the most after the fastball in an attempt to keep hitters off-balance.
The real question with any pitcher going from the National League to the American League, especially coming to the American League East, is how his stuff would play up in the new environment. Over Lynn’s career he has pitched in nine intra-league games, starting six of them, working 44 and 1/3 innings and compiling a 5.08 ERA.
Those numbers aren’t very impressive but should we consider 44 and 1/3 innings of work, facing AL competition, enough to make the determination he wouldn’t be able to hack it as an AL starting pitcher?
Now, the other half of this trade is the supposed inclusion of third baseman David Freese – which is really the key here because the Orioles would need someone to play third considering Manny Machado is, highly likely, to be the player replacing Hardy at shortstop.
Freese was a World Series hero for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and broke out offensively in 2012 when he hit .293/.372/.467 with 20 home runs. His numbers took a bit of a dive across the board in 2013 though; batting .262/.340/.381 with nine home runs and the advanced metrics absolutely hated his defense at third base even though he has a reputation for being fairly solid there.
One additional thing to note when it comes to Freese is that he is arbitration eligible for the second time this winter, and it likely to get a raise from the $3.15MM he earned this season.
The real question is would the Orioles be willing to move J.J. Hardy for the two players Sherman mentioned? Then, of course, there is the matter of whether the Cardinals value Hardy enough to package a 26-year old starting pitcher who is under team control through 2018 AND an above average third baseman due a raise in the off-season.