Orioles’ trade deadline activity sends mixed signals

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BALTIMORE — The Orioles are a better club after Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went.

At least I think they are.

The acquisition of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra in exchange for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies provides an upgrade at the corner outfield positions that have been a wasteland for most of the 2015 season. Even if it’s a stretch to expect the 28-year-old left-handed hitter to sustain his career-high .328 average and gaudy .886 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2015, the organization doesn’t seem overly concerned with giving up Davies, a 22-year-old right-hander who has pitched well over the last couple years but doesn’t project to be more than an eventual No. 4 or No. 5 starter at best in the majors.

Despite lacking the commodities to trade for high-profile names, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette succeeded in adding one of the better outfield bats in the National League this year to replace the struggling Chris Parmelee on the active roster. Time will tell how the two-time Gold Glove outfielder performs over the next two months and whether the Orioles will sign the pending free agent this offseason, but he’s a distinct improvement over the likes of Travis Snider, Nolan Reimold, and David Lough.

However, the second trade of the day that sent veteran relief pitcher Tommy Hunter to the Chicago Cubs for 25-year-old outfielder Junior Lake sent a different message as it relates to the Orioles’ chances in 2015.

Hunter may not have been the Orioles’ best late-inning pitcher and had some rough stretches over the years, but the 29-year-old logged plenty of meaningful innings over the last four seasons and was better than many wanted to admit. In contrast, Lake was no longer regarded as a valuable piece in the Cubs system with a career .663 on-base plus slugging percentage in 642 career plate appearances in the majors and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk upon being acquired.

The Orioles will point out that they now have two optionable pieces in their bullpen with talented rookie right-handers Mychal Givens and Mike Wright replacing Hunter and the disappointing Bud Norris, moves that create the roster flexibility the organization desires. It’s even possible that Givens or Wright — or both — will net better results than Hunter as both are held in high regard for the future, but neither are proven in the majors, especially in the midst of an anticipated pennant race.

But those reasons distract from the real motivation behind dealing Hunter minutes before the deadline.

It was a salary dump.

Asked whether there were financial reasons for the Hunter trade that followed the addition of Parra, Duquette pointed out that the Orioles added payroll on Friday, which is true. The Orioles will pay the remainder of Parra’s $6.24 million salary — a sum in the neighborhood of $2.25 million — but a sizable portion of that will be offset by the rest of Hunter’s $4.65 million for the 2015 season coming off the books.

Hunter was unlikely to be re-signed after the season and was unlikely to be a major variable in determining whether the Orioles make the playoffs or not, but it’s difficult to accept that the trade improved their chances to make the playoffs in 2015, which was supposed to be the whole point on Friday. Considering Hunter’s popularity in the Baltimore clubhouse, his former teammates are likely thinking the same thing.

It doesn’t help that the move came on the same day that the Orioles designated Norris for assignment, bringing the total amount of money they originally committed to jettisoned players from the first 25-man roster of 2015 to $22.9 million. Ultimately, Hunter became the victim of too many other sunk costs, and you hope the Orioles bullpen doesn’t suffer down the stretch because of it.

While seeing other contending clubs add significant money to their payrolls to improve their chances to contend, it’s disheartening to see the Orioles subtract from its bullpen — the strongest part of the club — in the name of saving a relatively insignificant amount of money to pay Parra. And it leaves another question until someone else proves he’s ready to pick up the slack in Hunter’s spot in the bullpen.

Yes, it appears the Orioles improved themselves on Friday.

I’m just not sure by how much after they completed two very different trades.

 

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