Peter Schmuck: Orioles do have urgent need for pitching help, but not at any price -

Peter Schmuck: Orioles do have urgent need for pitching help, but not at any price

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan USA TODAY Sports


There is a school of thought – largely among those who didn’t believe the 2023 Orioles would be this competitive to begin with – that the young pitching staff is too fragile to get through the rest of the season, which should ramp up the sense of trade deadline urgency in the front office.

There is a credible case to be made for that, especially with Tyler Wells suddenly in Bowie for a couple of spa weeks and Dean Kremer looking a bit worn on Sunday night, but executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said over the weekend that he is confident that the Orioles are capable of playing deep into the postseason as configured.

There also is a credible case to be made for that, since the first-place O’s have defied the odds for 65 percent of the season, but Elias also made it clear that, while he certainly likes his club as it is, he still hopes to add some quality pitching depth before the Tuesday evening deadline.

“Doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve,’’ he said Friday. “The Dodgers are pretty good, too, and they’re bringing some extra help in, so we’re looking at that, but I think very clearly this team has revealed itself to be as capable as anyone in our league and in baseball now to make a playoff run.”

Perhaps closer to home and of more relevance to the Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays just made a key move to upgrade their bullpen, dealing their No. 7 prospect (right-handed pitcher Sem Robberse) to the Cardinals to acquire hard-throwing reliever Jordan Hicks for the remainder of this season. The Orioles certainly had the wherewithal to outbid the Jays for Hicks, who would have given them a third reliever with triple-digit velocity, but Elias made it pretty clear he isn’t high on the idea of dealing any of his top-five prospects for a two- or three-month rental.

How far he is willing to go to shore up the bullpen or the rotation (or both) will become clear in a matter of hours. The big dominoes have been falling for the past few days, making the market more problematic for an Orioles organization that rightfully wants to keep Elias’s “elite talent pipeline” pumping in their own direction.

ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney opined during the Sunday night broadcast of the Orioles-Yankees series finale that future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander would make perfect sense for the O’s if the Mets would be willing to eat a big chunk of his contract like they did in the Max Scherzer deal, but Oriole fans know better than to dream that big.

Elias said during his media conclave Friday that the O’s have the ability to take on more payroll, but even a fraction of the approximately $57 million left on the Verlander contract (plus a couple of top prospects) would tip the scales far beyond the “balance” that Elias has said he hopes to strike with any deal he might make.

“I think with the position that our players have put us in right here and how well things are going so far and where we are, I think it’s fair to say if we get within reach of something we’re going to reach for it a little bit to help this team,” he said, “but we can’t set the minor league system on fire because we’re in first place. It’s just our job to balance all of that.”

Though Elias and manager Brandon Hyde are right to be concerned about managing the workload of their young starters – and another veteran starter would help greatly – the more pressing need might be in the bullpen, where the team’s middle relievers have been so inconsistent that Sunday night’s seemingly lopsided victory over the Yankees retained a surprising amount of suspense in spite of the Orioles’ seven-run first inning.

The recent acquisition of hard-throwing Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami has already shown promise and young Mike Baumann has stepped up both in long relief and extra innings, but the soft spot in the middle innings was particularly obvious during the series loss in Philadelphia last week.

If Elias can fill that void it also would make it easier to take some weight off the young arms in the rotation as those pitchers head well beyond their previous inning totals. Either way, however, he said the club will not severely limit anyone based on some arbitrary innings formula in the middle of a pennant race.

The Orioles are treating each situation on its individual circumstances, as evidenced by the decision over the weekend to give Wells a cool-down period in Double-A.

“I think the academic concept of ‘Hey, look how many innings this guy has thrown, let’s back this guy off,’ there isn’t a lot of science there or any kind of science there,” Elias said. “We try to use common sense. We try to use our expertise and also I don’t know a single member of our rotation right now that wants to leave the rotation in some way, shape or form. So there’s that, too. They’re having the seasons of their lives. They’re competing. They have they’re whole careers ahead of them.”

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