The Major League Baseball season is 60 games into its annual marathon. The good teams are starting to separate from the not so good teams and it appears the Orioles are on the good side of the coin to stay. They have mashed their way to the top of the AL East with timely late hitting and a dominant bullpen. The offense is top five in home runs, runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). No other team in baseball can say that. But this team has one glaring, gaping, gigantic hole: starting pitching.
We’ve seen this narrative before. The last four years is has been the same story. But this year so far is shaping up much different. Manny Machado is playing at an MVP level. Chris Tillman is a borderline Cy Young candidate. Kevin Gausman is taking steps to becoming a consistent top of the rotation starter. The pieces are there for this team to make a deep playoff run in a wide open American League. But they could miss the playoffs all together if they do not address the rotation.
Starters not named Tillman or Gausman have a tidy ERA of 5.96. They’ve amassed a total of 200 innings in 37 games started. That is just over 5 innings per start. Giving up a bunch of runs while only getting about 15 outs a game is usually a one way bus ticket to Norfolk. But that’s where this gets complicated. Yes, Wright and Wilson have options and could be sent down. But who on the Norfolk roster should be brought up to replace them? Odrisamer Despaigne has been called up for a bullpen role. Nobody in their rotation has a sub 3.50 ERA. The answer isn’t coming from the farm. How about T.J. McFarland? Just because he can start doesn’t mean that he should. He strikes out exactly the same number of batters that he walks (2.84%). Bundy isn’t ready for that role as his arm still needs to be stretched out. And with the Orioles’ minor league system being as poor as it is they aren’t going to be able to trade for a major upgrade.
Unless the Orioles want to roll the dice with Gallardo, Wilson and Wright they need to get creative. That means they need to consider moving one of their bats as a center piece in a deal. Trumbo could be a nice haul except you would need a contender with pitching depth willing to take a half year rental on a player notorious for poor second halves. Good luck finding a match with that. That brings us to Jonathan Schoop.
There are plenty of reasons to love Schoop. He’s young with power and has a cannon that helps him turn double plays better than almost any second baseman in the league. But his plate discipline is keeping him from breaking out. His contact percentage is 72.5; below the league average of 78.3%. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he didn’t swing at almost everything. Hitters swing at a pitch on average 46.1% of the time. Schoop swings 60.9 percent of the time. 42.4% of the time the pitch is out of the strike zone. While he is still young enough to improve- his BB% is up from 2.8% in 2015 to 3.8% this year- we are getting close to saying this is pretty much the type of hitter he is. But a power hitting second baseman who is only 24 years old still holds plenty of value that other teams would be interested in. And unlike Trumbo, teams that are selling would be more than willing to trade for him.
A prime example would be the Atlanta Braves. They are in full rebuild mode but with an already stocked farm system, they don’t need a bunch of top 200 prospects for a deal. Instead young, controllable, major league players would be highly attractive. Julio Teheran would be a terrific fit. He is averaging over eight strike outs a game and has gone over 200 innings the last two years. Teheran is signed through 2019 so it will take more than just Schoop to pry him away from Atlanta. Schoop, Bundy and Sisco is quit a price to pay but if that would get the Braves to pull the trigger, Teheran could push the Orioles over the hump. Sonny Gray is another young starter would carry a heavy price tag but the A’s are in the same position of valuing young, cost controlled players ready to help contribute as soon as 2017. The most interesting match could be with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rich with pitching for what seems like forever, the Cardinals are fighting for a wildcard spot in the NL. While they have Carpenter at second base at the moment, the Cardinals would do better to shift him back to third as soon as possible. Kolten Wong just singed a nice extension but was sent down to triple A because he has seemingly forgot how to hit. Schoop would not only give them another power bat to lengthen their lineup but improve their infield defense. Working out a deal for Michael Wacha isn’t out of the realm of possibility. *If the Orioles really want to go bold, they could find a way to get both Wacha and Wong but I am stretching it just by suggesting the team should trade Schoop.*
Yes Schoop is Manny Machado’s best friend and trading him would upset him greatly and probably would mean he would leave. Except that doesn’t matter at all. Baseball is a business. When Manny Machado is looking to sign an extension and the Orioles are willing to pay up it will get done. Money is the great equalizer. So is winning. And the Orioles have a much better chance of winging with Teheran/Gray/Wacha in the rotation than they do with the current crop of pitchers plus Schoop. The offense will be just fine without him. The defense won’t suffer at all and in fact could get better. Schoop has 6 DRS in 2317.2 innings while Ryan Flaherty has 7 is 1394.1. Trading Schoop might not be the ideal way to improve the starting rotation, but it is the best way to get an impact starter into a Baltimore uniform. And when that could be the difference between a possible World Series run or missing the playoffs, the decision should be pretty easy.