Peter Schmuck: Orioles obviously need relief help, but who and at what cost? - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: Orioles obviously need relief help, but who and at what cost?

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Every time the Orioles’ bullpen takes an ugly dive, talk turns to which prized Oriole prospects – and how many – will it take to shore up the late innings by the midseason trade deadline.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I think the front office can afford to wait a couple of weeks to see exactly where the bullpen is before selling the farm for one of the very few elite arms that might hit the market.

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No, I’m not suggesting that Mike Elias just stay the course. The galling loss to the Mariners on Thursday was just more proof that the middle relief corps needs to be upgraded. Bryan Baker has helped since he returned from the minor leagues, but he clearly is one of the team’s not-ready-for-primetime players. Keegan Akin obviously has the talent to be a very effective left vs. left guy but has shown a tendency to pop under pressure.

The O’s can get by with the relief situation as it is as long as they continue to get a high percentage of solid starts and stay among the game’s top-scoring teams, but some cracks in the bullpen will have to be filled if they hope to be the last team standing in October.

The big question facing Elias, of course, is where to focus his attention. Craig Kimbrel is back looking like the future Hall of Famer that he deserves to be, but his ability to consistently convert one-run saves remains in question. Surely, the club would like to have an elite alternative in case his control falters again like it did for a brief period earlier this season, but the price for someone of that caliber would put a real dent in the franchise’s terrific stable of minor league talent … if, in fact, there will be someone available who warrants it.

Thursday’s game, however, illustrated the already obvious need for more middle relief depth, which will be easier to find but less easy to justify the departure of one or more of the major-league-ready prospects (depending on whether we’re talking multiple deals).

Remember, Elias not only has to navigate the stretch drive of this promising season but figures to have some big decisions to make next winter. The moves he makes later this month almost certainly will affect his options when, for instance, the team has to decide whether to re-sign or replace pending free agent Anthony Santander.

As we all know, the recently expanded playoff format has made it possible for a lot more fringe postseason wannabes to rationalize holding onto otherwise available players on the off chance that they can grab that third wild-card berth. That’s why it’s so hard to figure out who really will be available just three weeks from now.

In a perfect world, Elias might be able to conserve some of his minor league talent by finding that elite setup man with closer chops and let manager Brandon Hyde figure out how to create a winning partnership between that guy, whoever he is, and Kimbrel.

For example, the Orioles went deep into the playoffs in 2014 in large part because of the trade for terrific eighth-inning guy Andrew Miller. It came at the cost of top rotation prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who went on to help the Red Sox win the World Series in 2018 and rank sixth in the Cy Young balloting with 19 wins in 2019, but the Orioles were in position to win their first division title in 17 years and took the plunge.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked at all about acquiring another front-line starting pitcher, it’s because I was buoyed by the terrific comeback performance by Dean Kremer this week, and think Cade Povich can hold down the last slot in the rotation.

Of course, one more significant injury to a starter would change the equation.

 


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