Soon after Mike Elias became the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager in November 2018 and throughout the nearly two years since, opposing executives have pestered him in trade talks about acquiring Mychal Givens.
Elias finally moved the longtime Orioles reliever Sunday, sending him to the Colorado Rockies in Baltimore’s second trade on the last full day before the trade deadline. In return, the Orioles acquired prospects Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra plus a player to be named later.
“As soon as I got hired in late 2018, it was like, ‘Givens,’ right away, people asking for him,” Elias said. “He’s been extremely popular all across the league for the closing in on two years that I’ve been here now. But we just hadn’t found a package that really felt like it reflected his value until today.”
In trading away Givens, the longest-tenured member of their pitching staff, the Orioles added two of the Rockies’ top 20 prospects to their farm system.
Nevin, 23, was drafted 38th overall by the Rockies in 2015 and is the son of former major league All-Star and current New York Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin. He has a career .286/.362/.441 batting line in five minor league seasons playing first base, third base and left field. He spent last season in Double-A, where he primarily played first and posted a .744 OPS.
Having been on the Rockies’ 40-man roster before the trade, Nevin joins the Orioles’. Elias described him as “serviceable” at third base and in the corner outfield, but said Nevin would likely begin 2021 as the first baseman in Triple-A Norfolk after attending major league spring training.
“Tyler Nevin’s been a very attractive and very productive hitter since he signed in 2015,” Elias said. “Really good up through the fall league last year and had a very solid Double-A at age-22. Digging into his numbers and some of his batted ball data a little bit more from Double-A last year, we actually think he had some bad luck, and it could’ve been an even better season. He controls the strike zone really well. He’s got a really pretty swing.”
Vavra, 23, was the Rockies’ third-round pick in 2018 out of Minnesota and has hit .313/.405/.483 in 146 games across the Short-A Northwest and Low-A South Atlantic leagues. The infielder, the son of Detroit Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra, is the Rockies’ No. 17 prospect, according to Baseball America, while Nevin is ranked 13th. Both players will join the Orioles’ alternate training site in Bowie after clearing coronavirus intake testing.
“We’ve been kind of accumulating infielders the last year or so, and [Vavra] fits right in with that group and just gives us another really high-quality guy,” Elias said. “He can play shortstop, really good second baseman. Kind of a plus contact bat from the left side, really good control in the strike zone. We liked him out of the draft. Gamer-style makeup.”
The Orioles’ second-round pick in 2009 as a shortstop, Givens converted to pitching and made it to the majors in late 2015 to join an Orioles bullpen that was one of the game’s best with Zack Britton, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach already established at the back end.
Givens was manager Buck Showalter’s middle-inning weapon in those times, coming into games with messy situations inherited from the starter and getting out of it cleanly. In his first three seasons, Givens had a 2.75 ERA with 222 strikeouts in 183⅓ innings and a 1.107 WHIP.
He had his peccadilloes. It took Givens years to embrace his changeup as a weapon against left-handed hitters, and he wasn’t as good coming out of the dugout to start a new inning as he was coming out of the bullpen.
Givens never took off in the closer’s role after the Orioles’ bullpen changed in 2018 because of injuries and trades of those three former All-Stars in Britton, Brach and O’Day. He had a 3.99 ERA that season, saving nine games, and had the worst year of his career in 2019 when he recorded a 4.57 ERA and gave up several costly home runs while never really settling into a role for manager Brandon Hyde.
Givens didn’t get a save chance in 2020, instead being used against the other team’s top right-handed bats in high-leverage situations. He responded by allowing two runs in 13 innings with 19 strikeouts and a 1.000 WHIP, and other teams took notice.
The fact that he has another year of club control in 2021 made him a more attractive option for teams looking to acquire more than a rental, and also provided more value to the Orioles in moving him now.
“He’s gonna be an Oriole for life,” Elias said. “He’s going to be part of this organization well after he retires. He’s meant a lot to our organization on and off the field for a really long time, and we’re gonna miss him.”
Givens represents the sixth veteran player traded by Elias and the Orioles since he took over in November 2018. Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for a pair of Venezuelan teenagers last July, which turned out to be the only major leaguer dealt from that roster last year.
Infielder Jonathan Villar was traded to the Miami Marlins for left-hander Easton Lucas in December, and days later, the Orioles acquired four pitchers, including right-handers Isaac Mattson and Kyle Bradish, from the Los Angeles Angels for former top pick Dylan Bundy.
Earlier this month, Elias dealt veteran left-hander Richard Bleier to the Marlins as well for a player to be named later, and earlier Sunday, he traded left-handed starter Tommy Milone to the Atlanta Braves for two yet-to-be-named players.
Although this was expected to be another year in which the Orioles moved their veteran talent for younger players, the shortened season presented several problems. For starters, teams’ finances are tight and clubs might not be willing to take on money for 2020 and beyond.
There are also restrictions about only players being in a club’s pool being eligible to be dealt, though teams are working around that by making trades for players to be named later, which can be decided on now and designated after the season ends. Including the return for sending right-hander Hector Velázquez to the Houston Astros, the Orioles are sitting on five unidentified players.
“Those names will be named at the appropriate time,” Elias said. “I’m looking to forward to naming those mystery players at some point and hopefully welcoming them into our organization.”