BD: Well the Baltimore Orioles had an eventful week, as they made the first splash of the season. After the uncertainty on catcher Matt Wieters health status for the rest of the season, the front office made a trade with the San Diego Padres for catcher Nick Hundley. In return the Padres received relief pitcher Troy Patton. But this move has simply raised more questions about the Orioles All-Star backstop. What do you make of Baltimore acquiring a catcher and what is Hundley’s long term value with the team?
BK: The decision to acquire a veteran catcher who can handle the lion’s share of catching duties was a wise one. The Troy Patton for Nick Hundley trade was a classic example of shortage and surplus. Following his 25 game suspension, Patton was unable to carve out a role in the Orioles’ bullpen, which features two dependable left-handed relievers in Brian Matusz and Zach Britton. In San Diego, Hundley was relegated to third catcher status behind starter Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera. Because Baltimore was able to turn a relief pitcher for a fill-in starting catcher, the Orioles get the edge in this trade.
Acquiring a player like Hundley did not surprise me; the roster decision to send C Steve Clevenger down to Triple-A Norfolk instead of Caleb Joseph was downright shocking. Clevenger was doing an admirable job handling the pitching staff, and his bat showed some life that the team hasn’t received from a backup catcher in quite some time. Meanwhile, Joseph kept his spot on the roster despite his sub .100 batting average. By demoting Clevenger, Hundley became the starting catcher by default. For a team that still has David Lough and Ryan Flaherty on the roster, it should not come as a huge surprise that a player like Joseph gets to stick with the club.
Hundley is a veteran of a perennial losing franchise in San Diego, a career .238 hitter, and has little to no familiarity with the Orioles’ pitching staff. From the time that the Orioles placed Matt Wieters on the disabled list until the team acquired Hundley, the combination of Clevenger and Joseph went 4-9. The team is 2-4 with Hundley as their everyday catcher. If Wieters winds up missing a substantial amount of the season, the Orioles must equally split up the starts at catcher between Hundley and Clevenger. In a division that is currently being dominated by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles’ front office should feel more of a sense of urgency to win now and capture a division that is up for grabs. Quit worrying about the major league time of Clevenger, and do what is best for the pitching staff and the entire organization.
Speaking of pitching staff, a report from Bruce Levine (CBS Chicago) earlier in the week stated the Orioles are the lead team to be interested in Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. In the midst of a career year, there is no question that the price for a pitcher of his caliber will be steep. Brett, are you surprised to hear that the Orioles could make a move for Samardzija, and should the team part ways with one or multiple top prospects for his services?
BD: It is definitely uplifting hearing the Orioles are looking to still improve their pitching staff. And Samardzija has agruably been the best pitcher in baseball for the first couple of months. He currently sports a 1.68 ERA and 1.067 WHIP, but has received little run support in Chicago, holding only one win. Samardzija has another year left of team control as well, making him a very valuable commodity, especially notoriously cheap teams like the Orioles.
If they acquire him, it would fill out their rotation, while improving the bullpen as well. If he handles the top spot, everyone else is moved down to their appropriate pitching role. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez now have less pressure, as the respective two and three starters. While it also bumps wither Wei-Yin Chen or Miguel Gonzalez into the bullpen. The depth that creates would allow Buck Showalter to seriously consider Zach Britton as the long term closer as well. But with this organization, it always comes down to what is the cost?
Now if the Orioles were to make a deal it would have to involve one of their top players they covet. A deal with Kevin Gausman seems least likely, since he is the top prospect in the organization and could help the big league club in the coming weeks. But if the team decided that winning now is most important, with the small window for the current core, then pitcher Dylan Bundy could be the centerpiece to a trade. He injury issues may make him expendable, as he has not proven anything in the major leagues in his short career. Either way other pieces would have to be involved as well.
The other options would involve moving some of their proven players like Wieters or Adam Jones or exclude Bundy, but give up the next four to five prospects in the system. Both are completely unrealistic because it does not improve the major league roster or depletes an already thin farm system. So do I think the team will eventually bite the bullet and send Bundy backing for a proven front line starter? No. But if the team is serious about making a run within the next two seasons towards a World Series, Samardzija could be the missing piece. This is the ultimate decision to win now or build for the future.
Besides, I bet the Ravens are hoping he makes his way to Baltimore considering their questions at wide receiver. Maybe he could run a couple deep routes on Sundays like he did a two-sport star while attending Notre Dame.