Orioles deadline primer: Birds will buy, but won't break bank for blockbuster

Could Jeremy Helickson or Andrew Cashner shore up B-more's rotation? Icon Sportswire, USA TODAY Sports

Unlike last year, when a late July winning streak fooled the previously sub-.500 Baltimore Orioles into thinking that they should be vendees instead of vendors, this year’s Birds are surefire shoppers.

Should they buy or sell? Whether they’re legit enough to win the World Series is up for debate, but given their current standing in the flawed American League East -- almost 100 games in, they’re still in first place -- there’s no question the O’s have the goods to make it back to the postseason for the third time in the past three even years. Can they advance further than they did in '12 and '14 and make it all the way to Fall Classic for the first time in more than three decades?

Well, that depends on the starting pitching. Don’t be fooled by the rotation’s recent run of run prevention: Even though Orioles starters boast baseball’s sixth-lowest ERA since the All-Star break (3.03), the cold hard truth is that the rotation is still shakier than a coffee drinker’s hands during happy hour at Starbucks. Their ace, Chris Tillman is nowhere near as dominant as his 14-2 record suggests. Their No. 2, Kevin Gausman, is in his first full season as a big league starter and has won just two games. And depending on whom you talk to, their No. 3 is either a declining vet (Yovani Gallardo) whose WHIP during the past year is closer to 2.00 than 1.00, or a rookie (Dylan Bundy) who just made his first career start last week and has never thrown more than 87 pitches in a major league game. Oh, and they don’t really even have a No. 5.

Who's on their shopping list? Oddly enough, as desperate as the Birds are for starting pitching, the hottest rumor surrounding the team has it surrendering a starter. Well, kind of. Thanks to an abysmal first half of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez is as much a member of the O’s rotation as Great Britain is a member of the EU. Nevertheless, there’s been talk of Jimenez going to the Padres in exchange for the outfielder formerly known as B.J. Upton. Presumably, Baltimore would also have to surrender a prospect. Or two. Or cash. Or all of the above. Problem is, if that deal happens (thanks to recent boo-boos to Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard and Adam Jones, the Orioles could certainly use some outfield insurance), and if it involves the Birds booting a prospect from an already thin farm system, that would leave GM Dan Duquette with even fewer resources to acquire an arm.

As a result, Baltimore’s GM will have his sights set on the bargain bin, just like he did this past offseason (see: Gallardo). Sorry O’s fans: No Rich Hill for you. Instead, a value buy seems a whole lot more likely. Someone such as Andrew Cashner or Jeremy Hellickson -- although the way Hellickson has pitched lately (eight earned runs in his past five starts), even he might be out of B-more’s price range now. While neither of those guys screams “sexy,” given the way Buck Showalter’s rotation has risen to the occasion lately, adding one of them just might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Who should they trade, who should they keep? Wait a sec, you actually have to give up something to get something? Then the Orioles could be in trouble. If Duquette were willing to part with one of the team’s young, high-ceiling big-leaguers (Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Gausman, Bundy), it could A) fetch a front-line hurler; B) restock the farm system; and C) solve the global warming crisis, all in one fell swoop.

OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the point.

That said, the Orioles seem dead-set against moving any of their cornerstone kids. And you can’t blame them, not in a year where they have the potential to win it all. As a result, they’ll have to make do with what’s in the minors, which isn’t much. Pitcher Hunter Harvey, the club’s first-round pick in 2013, was one of the team’s best trade chips, but he’s now hurt (again) and is slated for Tommy John surgery. Catcher Chance Sisco has some sizzle, but with Matt Wieters' contract set to expire after this season, dealing Sisco comes with risk-o. First baseman Trey Mancini has been mashing, but he’s already 24 years old -- not exactly the kind of prospect for whom blockbuster deals are made. All of which is to say, as much as fans don’t want see another ho-hum deal like the one that netted Scott Feldman in 2013, that’s probably where the O’s are headed.