When the Orioles acquired several players on one-year deals this offseason, it was expected that they'd have a surplus of trade bait if they were out of contention in the summer.
Well, it's late July and the Orioles are again buried in the American League East. Yet the two Orioles drawing the most interest as Sunday's 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline looms — reliever Koji Uehara and starter Jeremy Guthrie — could contractually remain under team control through next season. The other intriguing trade chip, shortstop J.J. Hardy, signed a three-year extension earlier this month and is now off the market.
Meanwhile, three players who are almost certainly gone from Camden Yards at season's end — reliever Michael Gonzalez, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, first baseman Derrek Lee — will not bring much in return even if the Orioles can find a taker. And there is no rush to deal those three since they're expected to pass through trade waivers and could be moved in August.
Andy MacPhail, the club's president of baseball operations, said he has been fielding calls about Guthrie and Uehara as well as several other players on his 25-man roster. As a matter of policy, MacPhail does not talk about specific conversations or potential deals, but according to several baseball sources, teams also have inquired about the availability of center fielder Adam Jones, reliever Jim Johnson and starter Alfredo Simon, among others.
"There's a greater interest in a larger number of players than there has been in the past," said MacPhail, who has been with the Orioles since 2007. "I don't have anything at this time that I think we are close to working something out."
Given that the Orioles (40-58) are further out of first place than any other team in baseball, no one on the roster is considered untouchable. It would take an overwhelming offer, however, for MacPhail to deal a projected piece of the future like Jones.
So if the Orioles make a significant move in the next six days it would likely involve Uehara or Guthrie. The sense within the industry is that it would be a surprise if both were still with the Orioles on Monday. One is expected to be traded and possibly both.
Speaking to several baseball insiders, opinions are split as to which Oriole is more likely to be dealt. As a starting pitcher, Guthrie is a more valued commodity, but interested teams are gambling that his 4-14 record will improve dramatically with a change of scenery. In comparison, Uehara is having a phenomenal season, but has an injury history and non-closing relievers typically don't yield as much in return. Plus, Uehara is 14 appearances away from a reasonable $4 million option kicking in for 2012.
MacPhail stresses he has not been told to shed salary and is under no obligation to make a trade. Financially, Guthrie ($5.75 million in 2011, arbitration-eligible in 2012) and Uehara ($3 million in 2011) do not boast cost-prohibitive contracts.
"[Any potential deal] will have to meet the scrutiny of a player-personnel transaction and not a financial transaction," MacPhail said.
Since 2008, MacPhail has made several late-summer trades — he dealt away Miguel Tejada and Will Ohman in 2010, Aubrey Huff and George Sherrill in 2009, Chad Bradford in 2008 and Steve Trachsel in 2007. Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two prospects was the most significant of the group.
Like always, if MacPhail makes a trade, he'll first be looking for young, major league-ready pitching in return. In addition, the Orioles could be trolling for a future first baseman as well as extra infield help and possibly an outfielder.
"Pitching, and particularly starting pitching, is always in demand," MacPhail said. "That has been a problem for us during the course of this season, and it is always a commodity that you are going to be looking for, as other clubs are.'
Industry-wide, MacPhail said he expects this deadline to "take its normal course" and that several marquee names likely will be moved within the week and then smaller trades will be consummated in August.
Will the Orioles be in that mix?
"Yes, if it makes sense for us," he said. "If the opportunity comes up and it makes sense for us."