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Is their any hope for an improved O’s rotation?

By: Will Pitts

Brad Brach is one of the Orioles relief pitchers they’ll be looking to trade, but is there any way they could flip him for help in the rotation?

To call the Baltimore Orioles’ 2017 season disappointing would be a monumental understatement.

After a run of three playoff appearances in five straight winning seasons, the O’s looked poised to take the next step toward a world championship. All the pieces seemed to be in place. Much of their core from previous seasons remained intact, and a rotation of young, promising starters Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Chris Tillman seemed perfectly suited to hold it all together.

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.

There is no defending the Orioles’ pitching this season. As a team, Baltimore’s earned run average of 5.14 is by far the worst in the American League, a whopping 0.31 more than the next-worst team – Minnesota – and 0.81 more than the league average. Four of the five regular starters have an ERA over 5.00, two of them over the inexcusable mark of 7.00. The biggest disappointment so far is Chris Tillman, who saw a 16-4 record in 2016 collapse into 1-5 in 2017, with seven no-decisions.

Manager Buck Showalter has made several call-ups from the Orioles’ farm system to aid the team’s sluggish pitching rotation, with little effect. In June, the team gave up five runs or more in 20 straight games, tying a major league record. Take a step back and imagine twenty games for a second. That is nearly one-eighth of the regular season, consecutively, in which a team’s pitching staff has failed to hold the opposing hitters back from scoring at least five runs. With pitching like that, it’s little wonder that the Orioles are tied for last place in the American League East.

With less than two weeks to go before the trade deadline, the team’s biggest priority is as clear as day.

The crop of pitchers available is not as wide as in seasons past, but there are several options for Baltimore. Recent rumors have indicated that the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates are willing to trade right-hander Gerrit Cole to restock the team for the future. While his production has dropped steadily since 2015, when he went 19-5 with a 2.60 ERA, he can still deliver an outstanding performance.

Another possibility is Phillies righty Jeremy Hellickson. This season, Hellickson has been one of the few bright spots for the otherwise dismal Phillies, winning his first four starts. His contract will run out at the end of the season, giving the Phillies an incentive to ship him off and see what they can get for him. This season has shown that there is some promise in the 30-year-old.

The Athletics’ Sonny Gray is also on the trading block, with his team also stuck in last place and looking to rebuild quickly. Plagued with injuries and inconsistency last season, Gray has rebounded, collecting a 3.72 ERA so far in 2017 – nearly two whole runs better than what he managed in 2016. While his contract expires after the season, the former All-Star will command a high price for the Orioles if they decide to make a deal.

Of course, the Orioles are at a major disadvantage when it comes to getting any of these players. Their farm system is completely depleted, rated as one of the worst in all of baseball. However, they do have some major leaguers they could trade. Owner Peter Angelos told Dan Duquette that he cannot trade any of the core group of position players the team has, but relief pitchers such as Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach are all available. Outfielder Seth Smith is also available. It is also likely they could trade little-used outfielder Hyun Soo-Kim and pending free agent catcher Wellington Castillo as well.

Teams like the Pirates, Phillies or Athletics would not trade one of their top trade chips for a pending major league free agent. The Orioles only real hope is to work out a multi-team trade where they would give bullpen help to a team that has prospects, then flipping them to one of the teams for a starting pitcher.

It will be a tough challenge for the Orioles, but doing nothing at all would be worse than trying anything when the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline comes.

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Will Pitts

After playing youth ice hockey for nine years and high school lacrosse for two years, William Pitts decided he would take the path of reporting on sports rather than playing them. In addition to writing for SoMuchSports, he also operates his own blog, the cleverly-named "Sports on TV" Blog, focusing on the business of televised sports. He hopes to one day become the next Al Michaels, but he'll gladly settle for becoming the next Joe Buck.

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