Although the Orioles retained several players who are under control in coming years at this season’s trade deadline, there’s no guarantee they’ll be around for the next one.
It’s certainly possible executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will explore trades opportunities involving first baseman Trey Mancini, left-handed relievers Paul Fry and Tanner Scott, and others in the offseason. By not moving them by Friday’s deadline, Elias added to the list of decisions the Orioles will have to make then.
They’ll have only a couple of free agents, but a bevy of arbitration cases to manage and a multitude of prospects who need to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid selection in the Rule 5 draft. With the trade deadline come and gone, here’s a look at some of what’s ahead for the Orioles this offseason:
Free agents to be
The only trade the Orioles made involving a player on their 40-man roster sent shortstop Freddy Galvis to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Tyler Burch. Galvis will be a free agent after the season and, his time missed with a right quadriceps strain notwithstanding, was the only Oriole of that category who has been wholly productive this season.
Right-handed starter Matt Harvey has opened the second half with three straight scoreless starts of at least six innings, but he had a 7.70 ERA before that. Third baseman Maikel Franco signed a one-year deal with Baltimore late in spring training as a projected source of right-handed power, but he has yet to provide it consistently. Franco said Saturday the season’s final months will be “really, really important for me,” and that’s true for Harvey as well. With a wave of pitching on its way to Baltimore, it’s unclear whether there would be space for him to return, though Hyde has consistently praised the veteran leadership he’s brought. If he keeps his strong start to the second half going, Harvey could also have plenty of opportunities beyond the Orioles.
This is where most of the Orioles’ decisions lie. These players have between one and three years of team control left, and Baltimore could elect to non-tender some, trade others and provide raises to those that remain.
The most intriguing case is that of Mancini, who is playing well in his first season after missing 2020 battling stage 3 colon cancer. Elias said he hopes Mancini, a free agent after the 2022 season, will be an Oriole “as long as possible,” and each decision going forward will be an opportunity to back that up.
Outfielder Anthony Santander has been a trade candidate in the past but has dealt with both injury and poor performance following his 2020 Most Valuable Oriole campaign. He’ll be in his second of what, in his case, will be four years of arbitration eligibility.
The only other Orioles who have been eligible for arbitration are catcher Pedro Severino and infielder Pat Valaika, both of whom have largely struggled in 2021 and have prospects in the system coming up behind them.
Baltimore has five pitchers who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time. That includes 2019 All-Star John Means, who, along with 2021 All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins — a potential Super 2 who, like Santander, would have four years of arbitration — Elias said the Orioles never seriously explored trades for. Fellow starting pitcher Jorge López is an interesting case, given that his performance hasn’t lived up to the potential his stuff suggests he has.
Fry and Scott have formed one of baseball’s best left-handed relief tandems over the past couple of seasons, though Scott struggled with his command before landing on the injured list Sunday with a left knee sprain. The Orioles talked with teams about both, but never got an offer they thought worthwhile to move pitchers who could be part of the back end of their bullpen through 2024.
Adam Plutko has a 7.92 ERA in 20 outings since mid-May. He’ll need to whittle that down for the Orioles to consider tendering him.
Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects
Teams have a certain amount of time after players sign to add them to their 40-man roster. Otherwise, they become available to other organizations through the Rule 5 draft.
In the past two seasons, Baltimore has protected 10 prospects from the draft, all of whom had played at least Double-A before being added to the roster. Seven of them have played for the Orioles at some point this year.
It’s possible that space cleared moving some of the names mentioned above will open 40-man roster spots for these players. There are seemingly three locks in this year’s eligible class, and they’re all starting pitching prospects. Left-hander DL Hall, the Orioles’ preseason No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America, dominated at Double-A Bowie before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, but it’s doubtful the Orioles risk exposing their 2017 first-round pick.
Right-hander Kyle Bradish (No. 12) and left-hander Kevin Smith (No. 18) are at Triple-A Norfolk after being acquired in trades, with Bradish being one of four pitchers the Orioles got from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy and Smith being half the return from the New York Mets for Miguel Castro.
Two ranked infielders have cases. Terrin Vavra (No. 22), who the Orioles got from the Colorado Rockies as part of the package for Mychal Givens, has posted an .860 OPS with Bowie when healthy. Adam Hall (No. 16) has yet to play above High-A and is out until mid-August with a quad strain.
Other candidates include three 2018 draftees: 37th overall pick Cadyn Grenier, third-rounder Blaine Knight and fifth-round pick Robert Neustrom.
What’s to come?
The Orioles make their first visit to Yankee Stadium since the season’s first week for a three-game series to open a stretch where 13 of 16 games are against the American League East. The New York Yankees are not the juggernaut they were expected to be entering this year, but they bought at the deadline and remain in playoff contention.
Their best bet to get there is through the wild card, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox jockeying for first place in the division. After a day off Thursday, the Orioles will try to play spoiler in a weekend series with the Rays at Camden Yards. On Saturday, they’ll recognize their recent hall of fame classes: J.J. Hardy, Mike Devereaux, Joe Angel and Mo Gaba.
What was good?
Imagine reading this quote from Means about Harvey two months ago:
“With how well he’s been pitching lately, I wasn’t really holding up my end of the bargain,” Means said. “Just being able to follow his outing up, but I mean he’s still pitching a lot better than I am.”
Flashback to the start of June, and Means had a 2.05 ERA and was trending toward his second All-Star appearance. Harvey’s ERA, meanwhile, was 6.84 amid a stretch in which it would grow by nearly another run as he failed to complete five innings in nine straight starts.
One outing later, Means was on the IL, but once he came back after a six-week absence, it didn’t take long for him to rediscover his form, holding Detroit to one run in six innings Saturday. It came a day after Harvey pitched his third straight scoreless start of at least six innings, tying a franchise record done only thrice in the past half-decade.
Harvey’s turnaround and Means’ return have suddenly given the Orioles some length out of their rotation. In their past 13 games, they’ve gotten six starts of at least six innings (46.2%), compared to 16 such outings in their first 91 contests (17.6%).
The starters going deeper comes at a good time. The bullpen just lost one of its key pieces in Scott.
In the Orioles’ nine second-half wins, Scott, Dillon Tate and Cole Sulser have pitched in seven of them, while Fry has pitched in six. No other Orioles reliever has appeared in more than two of those games, which don’t include a matchup with the Rays in which Scott blew the lead in the ninth after Sulser, Tate and Fry had scoreless appearances in front of him.
Hyde has overly relied on that quartet to hold leads out of the All-Star break, though right-handers Tyler Wells or Hunter Harvey would likely be a part of that mix if healthy. As the Orioles await their nearing returns, Hyde will need to turn elsewhere to fill Scott’s high-leverage role.
“Now, somebody else is going to have pitch when the game’s tight from the sixth through the ninth,” Hyde said. “There’s one more pitcher that needs to step up.”
On the farm
The news of Hall’s season-ending elbow injury is disappointing, but another left-handed pitcher made the most of his first outing with Double-A Bowie.
In his Baysox debut Saturday, Drew Rom, Baltimore’s preseason No. 26 prospect, allowed one run in five innings. Between that start and his 14 appearances with High-A Aberdeen, Rom, 21, has a 2.72 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 72 ⅔ innings.