It's certainly natural to spend baseball's midseason trading period pondering the possible player moves that might improve the Orioles' chances of making a deep playoff run.
Who wouldn't want one more front-line pitcher or All-Star-caliber hitter? Why wouldn't a team that hasn't been to the World Series in 31 years want to do anything at the July 31 deadline for completing trades without waivers to make that more likely?
Those are fair questions indeed, but the Orioles front office needs to tread very carefully in this market. There might be more risk than there is reward.
The Orioles, like everyone else in the American League East division they stand atop, are far from a perfect team. They've had to find a way to replace one of the best catchers in the game. They've struggled to get enough innings out of their starting pitchers. They continue to have issues with offensive continuity and plate discipline.
That would seem like an argument for immediate upgrade at just about any price, especially to those fans who are desperate to assure that this season doesn't end until at least mid-October. And it would be hard to debate if there were a player out there — someone the Orioles have a reasonable chance to acquire — who would dynamically improve the club's chances of getting to the mountaintop.
Tampa Bay Rays ace left-hander David Price fits that description, but he isn't coming here. Philadelphia Phillies veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett might be coming here, but he doesn't fit that description.
Burnett: Burnett's name has been linked to the Orioles in recent trade speculation, which isn't surprising since the club was believed to have some interest in him over the winter until he signed a one-year, $16 million contract with the Phillies. He also lives in nearby Monkton, which shouldn't mean a thing but always comes up in the conversation.
He's a 16-year veteran with 153 career victories, but his 2014 numbers do not make the case that he is clearly better than any of the five starters currently active in the Orioles rotation. In fact, he's the answer to this telling trivia question: Who ranks second in the major leagues behind Ubaldo Jimenez in walks?
This is not meant to disparage Burnett, who is a gamer and might give the Orioles rotation the additional veteran presence that left-hander Joe Saunders provided late in the 2012 season. It is, however, intended to illustrate the complicated equation that the Orioles present as they head toward this particular trade deadline.
Manager Buck Showalter has made that clear every time he has been faced with a trade question by walking a semantic tightrope to keep all of his options open without showing any lack of confidence in the current roster.
Utley: He has said all along that he's willing to accept some front-line help but reluctant to part with any of the players who have played a role in the Orioles' climb to the top of the AL East standings. Whether it's someone like Burnett or a quality left-handed hitter, such as Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, there is always the risk of doing more harm than good.
The Orioles aren't in first place by accident, even in a division full of banged-up rivals. They are there because executive vice president Dan Duquette and Showalter put together a roster that has been able to weather some major setbacks and develop a winning chemistry. They will mess with that chemistry at their own peril.
The Orioles also have finally begun to build some real organizational depth that might sustain them as a competitive team for the foreseeable future. They could use some of that depth to add a little more veteran talent for the stretch run, but it's hard to envision a scenario that accomplishs that immediate goal without taking an outsized hit over the long run.
Really, would you trade Jonathan Schoop for Utley and risk breaking up a possible All-Star middle-infield combination that might be here for the next decade? Would you trade two of the club's top minor league pitching prospects to rent a decent veteran starter when Showalter is already juggling a six-man rotation?
Barring a blockbuster deal that no one is currently contemplating, those are the kind of choices the Orioles face as the time to make a trade draws short.
If Showalter really likes his guys — as his T-shirt says — he would be better served to stay the course. He already has a pretty good team.