We’re eleven days away from the July 31 trade deadline and the rumors about possible deals are piling up. The Orioles are once again sitting in last place in the AL East, so they are obviously sellers at this year’s deadline and have several valuable pieces.
Over the next few days we’ll be looking at the Orioles that are most likely to be dealt, the teams that could use the given player the most, and what the Orioles could expect in return.
Today I’m going to discuss Koji Uehara, who has been one of the best relievers in the American League this season. He’s 6th in fWAR (0.9), 6th in K/9 (11.86), 5th in BB/9 (1.64), 1st in K/BB (7.25), and 11th in FIP (2.64).
Despite being a bit home run prone (1.23 HR/9), Uehara has put up closer type numbers this season and no matter his role on a contender — whether he’s a setup man, or just a middle reliever — he would be a strong addition to any bullpen. Not only has Koji put up excellent numbers, but he also comes extremely cheap. Uehara’s only making about $1 million for the rest of 2011 and has an option that vests with 25 games finished or 55 total appearances. He’s already made 40 appearances this year, so unless Uehara gets injured it’s highly likely the option vests, which extends him for the 2012 season for just $4 million — still fairly cheap.
The Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies have been either been rumored to be looking for relief help (Phillies) or have been directly linked to Uehara (Pittsburgh & Cincinnati). Here’s a look at what each of the three teams have to offer:
The Reds have a middle of the pack bullpen, ranking 18th in the majors in FIP at 3.88. The Reds already have a strong back of the bullpen in Nick Masset, Bill Bray and Francisco Cordero, but are rumored to be looking for a “top reliever” and “middle relief” — and Koji fits the bill. An expected return of a B/B- prospect would be fair value for the Orioles.
The Reds have a fairly deep farm system, especially at the Triple-A level. If the Orioles are looking to add some depth and want a player that would contribute quickly, utility man Todd Frazier is a good fit. Frazier, 25, has put up an .817 OPS with 34 walks in 311 AB in his second season at Triple-A Louisville. He won’t wow you but hits for some pop and plays average defense in left field, second base and third base. He’s a solid B- prospect.
Corcino’s small frame (5′ 11″, 165 lbs.) may force him to the bullpen eventually, but he has fared well as a starter this season with 102 strikeouts in 88.2 innings for the Class A Dayton Dragons. He works with a 91-94 mph fastball backed by an above-average breaking ball.
Lotzkar is a bit of an injury risk due to some ugly mechanics but has a 90-93 mph fastball with a solid breaking ball that’s a swing and miss pitch. He’s struck out 37 and walked just 11 in 34.2 innings for the Dragons.
The Pirates are reported to have direct interest in Uehara. The Pirates have a number of pitchers that, alone, should be enough for Koji.
Double-A RHP Bryan Morris was recently moved into a relief role and has excelled since, although he does have the stuff to start. Morris is a ground ball pitcher which would play at OPACY and could help in the big league bullpen fairly soon. This season as a reliever he has struck 26 in 27.1 innings while walking just 6.
The Phillies are looking for cheap relief help and as noted early, Uehara’s contract is very reasonable for any team.
Trevor May is a guy I would love to see the Orioles deal for, but he’s not coming to Baltimore for just Koji. So we can cross him off the list.
A very reasonable return would be RHP Justin De Fratus, who, on the year, has 65 strikeouts and 20 walks over 52.1 Double-A and Triple-A innings. De Fratus is a power right that sits in the 93-96 mph range with his fastball and touches 98 mph. There is some closer potential here, and the Orioles would be receiving a guy who could be in the majors in early 2012.
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The Orioles aren’t going to get an impact player back for a 36 year old reliever with injury history. But Uehara is enough to acquire a big league contributor who could help the Orioles down the road.