The Samardzija factor; Cubs scouting Delmarva; Duquette on young pitching

May 28, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

Well, we have made it to Memorial Day. Students are graduating, pools are open and we have our first "Orioles have interest in trading for ..." story.

I love annual traditions.

This report comes out of CBS Chicago – that the Orioles are interested in Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, a free agent after the 2015 season who is 1-4 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts this season.

The Orioles were interested in Samardzija this winter and certainly haven’t lost that interest since the 29-year-old has posted the second-best ERA for a major league starter so far this season.

Here’s something else that will fuel the fire:

The Baltimore Sun has learned that one of the Cubs' top talent evaluators was in Low-A Delmarva this weekend to watch a few games, including one started by right-hander Hunter Harvey, the Orioles’ top pick from last year. This is not a guy who normally is assigned to the low-level minors, though it could be just routine coverage.

Still, that lends more credence to the report that the Cubs have interest in the Orioles' system.

The writer of that CBS report, Bruce Levine, suggests the two sides fit because the Orioles need help in the rotation to separate themselves in the American League East, they have pitching prospects, and the Cubs want young, controllable arms.

Levine, who is a good reporter and has been around for a long time, also suggests that the Orioles might want to make a preemptive strike before the competition for Samardzija’s services heats up heading into the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

And that makes sense, too. Executive vice president Dan Duquette did it last year with the Cubs, acquiring Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop on July 2. He also picked up Jim Thome from the Philadelphia Phillies on June 30, 2012.

I asked Duquette about striking when a deal works, regardless of the timing, and he said he’s never beholden to a specific deadline.

“We haven’t been. We made a trade over the weekend [for catcher Nick Hundley]. It’s about adding the needed pieces to our ballclub,” Duquette said. “We talk to teams all the time.”

So Duquette’s not necessarily going to wait until the end of July if he feels the Orioles can add an important piece now. We also know that this team’s window appears to be closing with so many key players able to leave by the end of 2015, and so a win-now mentality is certainly a possibility.

But Duquette again stressed the importance of winning with pitching and developing those arms.

“Our young pitching is maturing,” Duquette said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to use it to help out our own ballclub.”

When asked specifically about Samardzija, Duquette said: “It’s not appropriate to talk about players on other teams.”

So there you go.

Also, keep in mind there is a flip side to this.

Although a preemptive strike may help the Orioles, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Cubs, given the Orioles’ current top pitching inventory. You would think the Cubs, or any team, would want to take its time thoroughly scouting the Orioles' top pitching prospects now.

Dylan Bundy is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has not thrown in a game that has counted since Sept. 2012. Any team making him the centerpiece of a deal would need to watch him for a while in the minors this year before signing off. And that won’t come until June.

Likewise, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez just got back from a knee injury for Double-A Bowie. There has to be some caution there, too, until he works the rust off.

Harvey can’t be traded until a year after his signing, which would be June 20 or so (though he could be listed as a player to be named later).

There are no strings attached to Kevin Gausman, except that the Orioles view him as a player who will help them at the major league level this year and not just a future prospect.

And that’s the other thing: It would take probably two players from an otherwise top-heavy Orioles system to get a player like Samardzija, especially preemptively, and that could be a stretch for Duquette and company.

Bottom line is Samardzija fits the Orioles, and the Cubs are interested in – and scouting – the Orioles’ top prospects. But everybody is interested in Samardzija. And the Orioles have shown reluctance in the past to deal their top pitching prospects.

So, at this point, consider it more post-Memorial Day talk than anything.

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