CLEVELAND -- With roughly a week left before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the Orioles are continuing to search for improvements.
And it is becoming increasingly clear that adding a corner infield bat with the ability to get on base at a high clip is a major priority – perhaps neck-and-neck with acquiring a starting pitcher.
In the past few weeks, the Orioles have had contact with the San Diego Padres about third baseman Chase Headley, the Philadelphia Phillies about third baseman Placido Polanco and the Chicago Cubs about first baseman Bryan LaHair, among others, according to several industry sources. Scouts from the Padres have watched the Orioles at home and on the road and have been in at least one lower-level affiliate’s park in the past week.
One industry source, however, cautioned that talks with other teams appear to be more preliminary than anything particularly hot, though that could change rapidly within the next week.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette remains quiet about the trade front, but has said he will do what he can to keep the Orioles in postseason contention.
He also has said that he doesn’t foresee dealing away top prospects – namely pitcher Dylan Bundy and shortstop Manny Machado – for a two-month rental, and he believes the available and reasonably priced starting pitchers on the market have similar capabilities as the current stable of starting arms within his organization.
Still, he has been actively involved in talks with myriad clubs, checking in about most hitters and pitchers rumored to be available, according to several sources.
If the Orioles added a position player, specifically a corner infielder or left fielder, it would create a lineup logjam. Currently, Wilson Betemit is playing regularly at third, Mark Reynolds is mainly at first, converted corner infielder Chris Davis is in left and Jim Thome is the primary designated hitter. Betemit, Reynolds and Davis are considered average to below average defenders at their current positions and the 41-year-old Thome can no longer play regularly at first.
Acquiring a player for third, first or left would leave someone as the odd man out, and that could be Reynolds. After hitting a team-leading 37 homers last year, Reynolds has just eight in 230 at-bats this season. He is hitting .209, though his .328 on-base percentage is higher than it was in 2012 and his strikeouts are down considerably as well.
Reynolds, 28, is owed the remainder of his $7.5 million salary this year and has an $11 million option for 2013, which includes a $500,000 buyout. The Orioles obviously won’t be picking up the option, and the likelihood of the club eating the rest of his contract has increased, if they could acquire a player that fits better in a free-swinging lineup.
That said, Reynolds has played better first base defense recently, has hit 30-plus homers in each of the past three seasons and had 17 in the second half last year. They still hold out hope he can regain his power stroke.
Perhaps the best fit for the Orioles is the 36-year-old Polanco. A right-handed, contact hitter with a career .299 average and .344 on-base percentage who can play third or second base and hit toward the top of the order, perhaps second. He is making $6.25 million this year and has a $5.5 million option next season with a $1 million buyout. The Phillies have not officially decided to be sellers, but they appear headed in that direction.
He would cost less as a rental than the highly coveted Headley, who is just 28, is considered a plus defensive third baseman with emerging power and would be under a team’s control for at least two more full seasons.
Given the dearth of quality third baseman, the switch-hitting Headley, who is batting .268 with a .361 on-base percentage and 11 homers and 50 RBIs in his first 96 games, is considered a top chip on the market. And the Padres reportedly are asking a lot for him.
LaHair can play the corner outfield positions and first base, but the 29-year-old late bloomer’s stock -- and potential trade value -- has risen dramatically with a breakout season (14 homers, .282 average, .361 on-base percentage in 82 games) that earned him an All-Star nod.