BALTIMORE -- The Orioles need pitching badly. A 16-game stretch heading into the All-Star break in which their starters posted nearly a 10.00 ERA brought to the forefront a problem that has been bubbling underneath the surface for much of the season and an issue the team will try to address in the coming weeks.
"It's definitely something we are looking at to try to augment," said president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who acknowledged that given the state of the organization's farm system, the Orioles' best bet is likely to fill the void through external options.
MacPhail, who doesn't have a contract beyond this season, has a lot of decisions to make regarding the July 31 Trade Deadline and what to do with underperforming veterans Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, who are both on one-year deals and don't figure to bring Baltimore back a substantial return.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy and right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, two players who could feasibly net the Orioles something in return, have more complex situations. There have been ongoing negotiations with Hardy's camp in getting an extension done to keep him in Baltimore. The club's top position prospect, shortstop Manny Machado, is believed to be about two years away, and Hardy, a subject of trade rumors for most of his big league career, has made it no secret that he values the stability a long-term deal presents. How long, however, could be a factor, as it's highly unlikely Hardy signs anything shorter than a three-year deal and it's unknown how high the O's will go in negotiations, which are expected to reach a standstill -- one way or the other -- in the days leading up to the Trade Deadline.
While there are several contending clubs interested in Guthrie as a back-end of the rotation type pitcher, he is the ace of the Orioles' staff and provides some stability and innings to a youth-infused staff that has struggled mightily with Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen and Zach Britton all spending time in the Minor Leagues. Guthrie isn't viewed as untouchable, but any trade would require Baltimore getting back at least one arm to help cover innings. Relievers Koji Uehara and Jim Johnson are both having excellent seasons in the later innings, but Uehara has drawn tepid interest given his age and injury-prone status. Johnson has established himself as one of the best setup men in the American League, and the organization -- which has told several teams it's unwilling to discuss offers for the reliever -- continues to have internal discussions about moving Johnson into a starting role next season.
"I don't think you need to be [labeled] a buyer or seller, you are looking to see what opportunities present themselves," MacPhail said of the Trade Deadline. "In all respects, we are not under the economic pressure of some clubs where we would have to look at a deal that doesn't make sense for us in a baseball sense.
"We certainly have guys that are viable to teams that are looking at the July 31 deadline as a meaningful date. And then [we have] guys that are going to clear waivers in the August deadline, players that can go through and help clubs who are trying to make the postseason."
MacPhail has remained mum on his future in the organization beyond 2011, saying he doesn't "feel any great need" to address his contract until it expires at the end of the season. But regardless of how his future in Baltimore ends, MacPhail said won't deviate from the organizational plan at the deadline.
"If there's a possibility in the organization to try to do things to put the organization in a better circumstance, any trade you do you have to look at it that way -- and that wouldn't change whether I was going to be there one, five or 10 years," he said.
"Sometimes you make a mistake because you've lost X number of games and your record is whatever it is that everything there is bad," manager Buck Showalter said of an Orioles club mired in a seven-game losing streak to start the second half.
"I think that's a mistake. And that's one thing I said when I came in here, the environment and the culture, there's things you want to hold yourself to and there's things that I think have drastically improved. It may not be apparent on a stats sheet, but there's some things where I go, 'OK, yeah, this guy gets it. This guy is a keeper, you can see him jumping on a pile in the seventh game of the World Series'.
"I try to dwell on the positives. It's tough. I have some private moments where I close the door [in my office] and go, 'Wow. Really?' But the more I'm here, the more I understand some of the challenges we've had."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.