No one really anticipated in April, with the trade deadline looming in late July, that the Orioles would be looking to buy and the Philadelphia Phillies looking to sell.
That’s the way it appears to be right now.
The Orioles and Phillies have already made one trade this summer, with the Orioles acquiring designated hitter Jim Thome for two minor leaguers.
The clubs are talking again with Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline approaching, and there are several players that could fit the Orioles’ top needs of a starting pitcher and a corner infielder/outfielder that can get on base: starter Joe Blanton and a trio of outfielders, Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.
Third baseman Placido Polanco is also a potential fit, but he is on the disabled list with back inflammation.
The Orioles have been one of the most aggressive on Blanton, an industry source says, but 5 to 7 clubs have at least inquired about the husky right-hander.
Blanton, 31, is a veteran who, when healthy, can eat innings. This season he is 8-9 with a 4.59 ERA in 21 games (20 starts). He has been better as of late, making five quality starts in his last six and putting up a 3.82 ERA in July after a 4.54 ERA in June and an ugly 5.94 mark in May.
He is a free agent at season’s end, and is making $8.5 million in 2012.
He fits the profile of a veteran starting pitcher who wouldn’t cost a lot in players or prospects – but Blanton doesn’t exactly look like a fit for Camden Yards or the AL East. In three starts at Camden Yards, he is 2-1 with a 6.27 ERA and has allowed four homers in 18 2/3 innings.
In his career against the AL East – including the Orioles – he is 11-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 39 starts, and has served up 33 homers in that span. The only team he has a winning record and sub-5.00 against in the division is the Toronto Blue Jays (4-2, 3.48 ERA in eight games). But more than one AL East team has at least inquired about Blanton’s availability, a source said, so apparently that is not a deal killer.
The strike-thrower is a home run machine – allowing a NL-league high 22 longballs compared to just 18 walks this year, again numbers that would be tough in Camden Yards in the muggy summer, when balls fly out precipitously.
Given those numbers, and his less than stellar physique, there is definitely a faction within the Orioles’ organization that would rather see the current stable of younger pitchers continue to start instead of adding Blanton. Frankly, he projects as a rich man’s Tommy Hunter.
The problem is, since the Orioles will not deal prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, and are exceptionally hesitant to move Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz for a rental, Blanton may be one of the few alternatives on the open starters’ market that fits the Orioles’ price tag. Phillies ace Cliff Lee is reportedly available, but since the O's won't give up Bundy or Machado, they wouldn't have enough to get the deal done.
If the Orioles want to fill their left-field and top of the order hole, pending free agents Juan Pierre and Shane Victorino are options.
Victorino, 31, is hitting .261 with a .324 on-base percentage in 101 games. An outstanding center fielder, he would move to left in Baltimore, giving the club three plus-defenders in the outfield. But since center field is a premium position, he’ll be sold as a center fielder, making his price tag higher. He may be the most coveted players still on the market – meaning the Orioles likely won’t have what it takes to acquire him.
The 34-year-old Pierre would be a more affordable piece and is hitting .306 with a .346 on-base percentage in 84 games. The Cincinnati Reds are one club that is interested in Pierre, and have to be considered the favorites for his services, according to an industry source.
Pence, 29, is having a down year by his standards, hitting .271 with 17 homers and a .336 on-base percentage. He is making $10.14 million this year and is arbitration eligible in 2013. He would cost a lot in return and there is a question as to whether the Phillies would move him given the advanced age of their offensive stars.
The one thing that makes another Phillies-Orioles marriage possible is that former Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan is the Phillies’ development director now. There’s probably no one outside the organization that knows the Orioles’ prospects better than Jordan.