The team’s roster has talent, but aligning internal valuations with external demand could prove difficult this year,
The trade deadline is just days away, and any chatter surrounding potential trades of Orioles players is essentially inaudible. That’s not terribly surprising. Mike Elias’ front office is often tight-lipped. And while there is plenty of attractive talent on the team’s roster (don’t laugh!), peripheral details like years until free agency, relative health, and perceived value don’t seem likely to align with many other clubs before the end of the week.
That’s true of players at each end of the stat sheet. Cedric Mullins has played like the best center fielder in baseball (4.0 fWAR), and the Orioles would be right to ask for a huge ransom if they were interested in dealing him. But his track record is also relatively short, and contending teams may not be prepared to pay up for anything less than a certainty. It’s similar for John Means, although a recent injury muddies the waters further.
Down the spectrum quite a bit is the trio of Freddy Galvis, Matt Harvey, and Maikel Franco. Each was signed to fill a gaping hole in the Orioles’ big league roster. That was the main goal, but as is often the case with one-year pacts, there was hope that a decent year from the players would turn them into an intriguing trade chip come July. That has not really happened for any of them.
Galvis has put together one of the best seasons of his career (career-high 97 wRC+), but he is cutting it close on getting healthy (quadriceps) before the deadline. The breakout of Ramon Urías has limited Galvis’ value to the Orioles, so if they can get anything on the market it would make sense to move him. That deal just may never materialize.
Harvey, ironically, may have the most internal value. He has stunk (6.65 ERA), but some other numbers (4.43 FIP) indicate it has been a bit better than those surface level numbers indicate. Either way, any possible return could be close to nothing. Meanwhile, the Orioles are still laboring to find enough starting pitching to survive the summer. Harvey’s starts are not always fun, but he shows up for them. A low bar, but one that some of his younger peers cannot meet.
It’s tough to see any scenario in which it would make sense for a contender to add Franco. He’s not a good defender (-8 DRS in 2021), and he is in the midst of an extremely poor offensive season (71 wRC+). If somehow an offer did present itself, Elias should jump all over it and plug Domingo Leyba or Kelvin Gutierrez at the hot corner for the final two months.
The tier in between the team’s stars and the over-the-hill vets is the one where the highest likelihood of being traded exists. That’s where half of the Orioles bullpen lives, as well as the face of the franchise, Trey Mancini.
That batch of relievers is different from most of the bullpen pieces that get dealt around this time of year in that none of them are even close to free agency. There is no Zack Britton, or even a Mychal Givens. The guy closest to hitting the open market is Paul Fry, and he has three years of team control remaining. That shouldn’t stop the O’s from dealing Fry, or Tanner Scott, or Cole Sulser if they deem the offer reasonable, but they also have a safety net that allows them to reject anything less.
Mancini’s situation is, by far, the most complicated on the roster. Drew got into this exact scenario last week. From a roster optimization standpoint, it makes sense to make him available. But that doesn’t mean anyone will be happy about it, and it does not mean the return would be especially exciting.
That is the long and short of the Orioles situation entering trade deadline week. They might make a deal or two, but the likelihood of a blockbuster appears remote. They just simply don’t have a Manny Machado-level talent approaching free agency, or a useful veteran reliever like Miguel Castro that any team would be interested in adding for a mid-tier prospect. It’s the reality of their roster.
But that’s also not a problem. This is what we should expect to happen. As a team deals away established players year after year, they are left with a roster like this. It’s made up of young guys finding their way, veteran re-treads, and a few obvious stop gaps. This is part of the plan. Elias and his crew have stripped down the major league level as far as they can, in conjunction with a revamped draft strategy and reignited interest in Latin America, in an effort to revitalize the team’s minor league system.
This is not dissimilar to what the Astros did in 2013 and 2014. They were active, and they did pull off a relatively big deal when sending Bud Norris to the O’s for Josh Hader, L.J. Hoes, and a competitive balance pick. But Norris was a rarity on that roster. They had already dealt away most of the established players in previous seasons. Guys like Hunter Pence, J.A. Happ, Brett Myers, Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, and Jeff Keppinger. At a certain point you just run out of chips.
If the Orioles do decide to make a Mullins or a Means available now or sometime over the winter, then an influx of talent from another organization could be on the horizon. Otherwise, expect calm trade waters in Baltimore for the immediate future.
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