Lateral Moves: Grading the Orioles’ latest trade

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It’s been another, forgettable off-season in Baltimore.

This week, the Orioles cut ties with another member of their 2016 club: starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who was last year’s “prize” free-agent signing. The ten-year veteran has been banished to Seattle, in exchange for part-time outfielder, Seth Smith.

Gallardo was terrible, last season, and O’s fans won’t shed many tears over his departure. They should be more upset about their front office’s thought process – or lack thereof, as indicated by their trade return.

In an injury-plagued 2016, Gallardo went 6-8 with a 5.42 ERA with 6.48 K/9. His walk-rate skyrocketed (4.65/9) while his groundball-percentage dropped from 49.3% in 2015 to 43.2% last year.

While waiting to be signed, Gallardo missed most of the team’s 2016 spring training. He admitted that his conditioning lagged, as a result, and his arm never felt right, all season.

Still, he is just 30 years old, with a proven track record of solid – if unspectacular – performance. He will make $11 million in 2017, and the Mariners will hold a club option for 2018, at $13 million – “cheap” compared to the going-rate for starting pitchers (Homer freaking Bailey pocketed $18 million last year).

Seth Smith (not to be confused with Seth Smith, author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is your classic, good guy, decent-hitting, role player. He’s not going to hurt your club too much, as long as you keep him far away from left-handed pitchers.

He’s even been moderately productive. Smith owns a career slash line of .261/.344/.447. Last year, he clubbed 16 home runs, while splitting time between the corner outfield spots.

More importantly, he bats lefty. Orioles VP Dan Duquette had hoped to add balance to a righty-heavy lineup (Hyun Soo Kim, Chris Davis and Ryan Flaherty are the only lefty-regulars on the roster).

That’s the good news.

As mentioned before, Smith is unplayable against lefties (.476 OPS against southpaws in 2016).

Defensively, he will not be confused with Brady Anderson, anytime soon. In 2016, Fangraphs gave him a mediocre fielding score (-4) in right field and an even worse mark (-7.7) in left.

At 34, Smith is not a prospect. He is who he is. Which begs the question, what were the Orioles thinking, in trading for him?

It’s not a salary dump. In fact, the Orioles will send the Mariners cash to off-set the difference in their 2016 salaries (roughly $2 million).

They’re not selling high. In fact, Gallardo’s market value is probably the lowest it has ever been, during his career. Dealing him now, unless you’re 100% certain his arm is going to fall off his body, makes no sense.

Furthermore, platoon outfielders are a dime-a-dozen. Smith is good, but not to the point where he’s worth trading a viable starting pitcher for.

What the Orioles need badly are prospects. A decade of poor drafting has left the farm system barren – something the front office must explore all possible avenues to fix.  And, don’t forget, they gave up a first-round draft pick with the Gallardo-signing.

The Smith trade is yet one more example of water-treading, a lateral move that will continue to ensure the ball of mediocrity will continue to roll for another year.

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