Someone’s giving Grandma a run for her money in the category of coupon clippings, and it’s none other than the Baltimore Orioles. Whenever this team has a need, the perfect opportunity seems to fall into their lap. Need a slugger? 75% off! Need another slugger? Trade a backup catcher. How’s about an ace reliever? Try the lost and found (waiver wire). Since 2011, the Orioles have found gem-after-gem in the discount bin of MLB talent. Of course they’ve made a few mistakes in recent memory, but what’s really impressive is that their biggest miscalculation (the Jake Arrieta trade) still netted them a league-leading slugger.
The Orioles were a bit of an enigma in the first decade of the 2000’s, never winning more than 78 games in a season. As of today, the Orioles are tied with the Red Sox for 1st place in the AL East with identical records of 36-26. Guys like Mark Trumbo (OF/DH), Chris Davis (1B), and Darren O’Day (RP) are much to thank for this. Over the past few seasons, Davis and O’Day have become part of the core in Baltimore, along with the homegrown crowd of Manny Machado (3B), Adam Jones (CF), Chris Tillman (SP), Zach Britton (CP), and Jonathan Schoop (2B).
Starting with the acquisition of Chris Davis in June of 2011, the Orioles have made a series of low-risk moves that are still paying off to this day. Davis was acquired along with Tommy Hunter (RP) from the Rangers in exchange for relief-ace Koji Uehara. This was known as the Koji Uehara trade at the time, as he was pitching to an ERA of 1.72 at the time, and Davis was still an unproven player. The man now known as “Crush” Davis has hit 177 home runs since being acquired, while Uehara departed from the Rangers in free agency the following year. For the price of a stud reliever, the Orioles received an elite slugger and a reliable innings-eater in Tommy Hunter.
Just a few months later, the Orioles scored another core piece from the Rangers in the form of submarine-throwing reliever Darren O’Day. This time though, the Orioles gave up literally nothing. O’Day had been placed on waivers by Texas after struggling in 2011, and was claimed by the Orioles. He has been a staple in their bullpen ever since, pitching no less than 62 innings per year with an ERA no higher than 2.28. Both Davis and O’Day were re-signed by Baltimore in free agency this past offseason, meaning they’re no longer the bargains they once were. While their price tag has gone up, this does not change how little the Orioles paid to acquire them in the first place.
Following the Biogenesis Scandal in 2013, several notable sluggers such as Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta were suspended for the purchase of PEDs. Cruz was one year away from free agency, and missed 50 games to the suspension. He had a tough go in free agency, and was still without a team in February, with Spring Training right around the corner. The Orioles seized the opportunity to cash in on Cruz to the tune of a 1-year, $8 million contract, and he rewarded the team with an All-Star campaign, batting .271 with 40 home runs. When you compare Nelson Cruz’s contract to his production on the field, you’d think the Orioles signed him with a coupon for %75 off (or something like that).
Spring turned to Summer, and the Orioles kept on wheeling and dealing. On July 2nd of the same year, the team made a trade they’d probably like to take back. In an attempt to solidify the pitching rotation they traded an unproven Jake Arrieta (SP) alongside Pedro Strop (RP) to the Cubs for Scott Feldman (SP) and backup catcher Steve Clevenger. Feldman was strictly a rental piece, as his contract was expiring at the end of the season, while Arrieta’s contract runs through 2017. Feldman pitched like a back-end starter (4.27 ERA) and departed in free agency, and as we all know, Arrieta blossomed into a Cy Young winner. Oh well, they aren’t all going to be winners.
On the other hand, there was a bit of silver lining for Baltimore in this deal. Steve Clevenger, who was essentially the throw-in piece of the Arrieta trade, was flipped to the Mariners for another diamond in the rough. Following an unimpressive half-year stint in Seattle, Mark Trumbo (OF) was shipped out by GM Jerry Dipoto as part of their expedited rebuilding process during this past offseason. The Orioles saw another golden opportunity, and acquired Trumbo in a 1-for-1 swap for Clevenger. Clevenger’s yet to make an impression on his new team, as he’s only played in 18 games thus far and hasn’t produced anything at the plate. Meanwhile Trumbo’s leading the league in home runs with 20, carrying an impressive .286/.337/.584 batting line. Once again, the Orioles managed to acquire an All-Star caliber player for next to nothing.
No one is batting 1.000, but the O’s have been doing a damn good job as of late. Two of the past three league-leaders in home runs were Orioles (Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz), and their most recent steal (Trumbo) is on pace to do the same. These are just the popular names though. Shortstop JJ Hardy has been good for about 14 WAR over roughly 5 seasons in Baltimore, and reliever Brad Brach (career 2.98 ERA) has been a stud since coming over from the Padres. It’s funny to think they were all acquired for the MLB equivalent of pocket change, isn’t it?