First off, because people seem not to follow the distinction, I want to say that the Orioles got a fair amount of value for Koji Uehara. Koji is unlikely to provide much more than $2 M in excess value to the team, assuming his option for 2012 kicks in. Even if Chris Davis never becomes more than a Four-A player, Tommy Hunter being cheap and non-terrible should give the O's more than $2 M in excess value. This is a fine trade from that perspective. The issue was the kind of return. Instead of prospects, the Orioles picked up younger but already close to their prime players (assuming 27 as peak age). There isn't a whole lot to dream on. Davis might hit 35 home runs next year, but he's unlikely to be even an average first-baseman overall given his plate discipline number (lots of K's, not a ton of walks). It's nice that the O's took a chance on a guy who has some skills but was currently blocked from getting some time in the majors, but that's the kind of pick-up they should go for on the cheap - not with their best trade chip. For Hunter, being a good #4 starter is about as good as it'll get. The worst part may be the repeated suggestions by the club that Davis and Hunter are building blocks and important pieces of the team's future - they're either lying or somewhat delusional.
The trade seems like the Orioles are foregoing improving their chances to win a division title in 2014 in return for not sucking quite so much as they end up in fifth place in the AL East in 2012-2013*. Given that, it seems more in line with the Vlad signing, which was intended to improve the team in 2011 at the expense of giving Nolan Reimold a full season of playing time - a focus on making the present less bad instead of trying to make the future good. It might be a hint that Andy MacPhail is on the way out after this season and that Buck Showalter had a hand in the trade, given that you'd expect a GM to think longer term while the manager wants to win right now. And just because rebuilding hasn't worked before isn't a reason not to try it again. Having a team with a few average-ish players and then everyone else being mediocre is surely not a recipe for success - better to take the risk and hope to win 90 one day (with the down side of losing 100) then to make sure you get the 75 (but max out at 80).
* The Red Sox and Yankees aren't falling off a map so soon, the Rays still have a lot of talent and a good farm system, and the Jays have improved by leaps and bounds as an organization, have perhaps baseball's best player (Jose Bautista), and a very good farm system as well.
So what should the Orioles have done with Koji? Trade him to the Rangers, but for prospects. When people asked me if I thought the O's could have really gotten prospects back for a 36 year-old reliever (as if Koji's age really matters - it's not like Texas is looking to sign him to a 5 year extension), I said I thought a solid B and a C+ with some upside would have been reasonable. Today the Padres ended up dealing reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers for pitching prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland.
Mike Adams: for 2010-11: 2.21 FIP, 2.95 xFIP; making ~$4.8 through 2012
Koji Uehara: for 2010-11: 2.46 FIP, 2.50 xFIP; making ~$5.2 through 2012
These are very comparable relievers.
Robbie Erlin was a top 100 prospect in baseball coming into the season, rated as a B+ by Minor League Ball. He's a lefty with a 123 to 12 strike-out to walk ratio in the minors this year (High-A and Double-A).
Joe Wieland was a C+ prospect going into the season, and is likely even more highly thought of now. He has a 132 to 15 strike-out to walk ratio in the minors this year (High-A and Double-A).
That would have been a very nice return for Koji. It goes with the whole "grow the arms" thing. Sure it's possible that neither player will ever make it to the majors, but is it really better to lock in #4/5 starter production than to take a chance on a guy (two, really) who has a chance of leading the rotation* one day? I'd obviously say no, but the Orioles apparently said yes. And that's a shame.
* Well, leading this rotation. I don't think either are really supposed to be #1 starters.
If this portends the direction of this organization - setting their number one goal as not being the worst team in baseball - then it's going to be tougher to cheer* for the team. There has to be some hope that we'll see the light at the end of the tunnel eventually, but I'm not feeling that. The farm system isn't good, there's not much going on in the international scene, the player development seems to have some problems**, and yet the front office is focusing on making the product on the field right now slightly less embarrassing. Which is a good sub goal, but how's that working out a day after the Yankees outscored the O's 25-6?
* I still will, of course, but it's certainly disheartening.
** I guess given that, it doesn't even matter if the O's trade for prospects if they're going to mess them up anyway.