Cleveland — Thanks to the hiring of Mike Elias atop the Orioles' baseball totem pole and the continued focus on the farm system and player development, there's something missing from the discourse around the Orioles that's a welcome change from a season ago.
Partially because the bubble already burst last summer, and partially because of the roster construction, the idea that everyone might be traded by the July 31 deadline simply hasn't taken hold yet with these Orioles.
Part of it is because players such as Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman, who would be nearing the end of their club control this summer and thus prime trade candidates, were dealt last summer to keep payroll costs down.
Part of it is bad luck, with veterans such as Alex Cobb and Mark Trumbo working their way back from back and knee injuries, respectively, and unable to showcase what they can do for a contender down the stretch.
That's cut the candidate pool pretty significantly, but considering this weekend is the midway point of the first half, and the trading period will pick up around the All-Star break, it's worth a look at which players could possibly interest a team that wants to bolster its roster by picking from the productive and/or expensive corners of the Orioles' clubhouse.
Here's a ranking of the Orioles’ most appealing trade candidates to the least:
1. Trey Mancini
For all of Mancini's proclamations that Baltimore is where he wants to be, he obviously has no control over that. And the better he plays, the greater likelihood that he'll play himself out of Baltimore.
Mancini will have three more years of club control after this, and considering the numbers he's accumulated, will be well-paid in those years. Considering how much needs to get better before the team can be truly good again, and the financial challenges the Orioles are facing, cashing in Mancini for a couple of legitimate pieces could be the right move as both his value and club control are at their highest.
He's going to be an All-Star and could add some thump to several playoff aspirants' lineups. The life of the itinerant professional hitter-for-hire isn't exactly as comfortable as staying in one place for an entire career, but Steve Pearce got a ring, a World Series Most Valuable Player award and a nice contract out of it.
2. Mychal Givens
With two more years of club control remaining after this season, Givens is another player in a prime spot to get moved while he can still be considered a long-term asset to the acquiring team.
As the Orioles' best and most established reliever, Givens has been used in myriad ways, including two-inning outings, and is finding his footing with a scoreless May that has lowered his ERA to 2.75. Deployed in a more traditional role in a better bullpen, the way he was earlier in his career with the Orioles, Givens could be an ideal piece for a contender to add.
3. Andrew Cashner
One of the few natural fits for a deadline deal because he is in the last year of his contract and has a reasonable salary of $8 million this year, Cashner is one player whose success could prove fruitful for the Orioles.
His 4.10 ERA entering Monday's start is over a full run better than the 5.29 ERA he had in his first year with the Orioles in 2018, helped tremendously by a jump in his strikeouts per nine innings (5.82 in 2018 to 7.45 this season). There's also the thus-unexplored irony that he's switched from a sinker-heavy approach to almost exclusively four-seam fastballs but has seen his ground-ball rate spike from 40.4% to 51.7%.
He's also been throwing a lot more changeups than past years, and has always had an effective breaking ball, so perhaps there's enough different that a contending team who needs another arm can give Cashner a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in his career.
4. Dylan Bundy
Perhaps Bundy figured something out with his pitch mix that could launch him back to being the high-end major league starter he's been for stretches of his career. But in his first year of salary arbitration, Bundy is in a position in which he'll have to be the best version of himself to justify what will likely be a climbing salary in the years to come.
He's not exactly in the position that Gausman was with two years of club control left — the stuff just hasn't been there at that level for a while. But when he's right, Bundy can eat innings and be the kind of steady pitcher to fill out the back-end of a rotation.
5. Jonathan Villar
The lone major leaguer acquired at last year's deadline, Villar has been productive at times but mostly inconsistent this season for the Orioles. A team that loses an infielder midseason could do worse than acquiring him, although two progressive teams moving on from Villar already could raise some red flags in this modern baseball landscape.
He's a player who can make an impact on his best days, as he showed in two months with the Orioles last season, but generally his best days have come far less frequently this season than anyone hoped. Perhaps another change of scenery and another chance to impress can be enough for him to propel a contender down the stretch.
Honorable mentions: Richard Bleier, Shawn Armstrong, Dan Straily
What's to come?
Hopefully on-schedule baseball games with the New York Yankees for the next four days, unlike the washed-out series at Yankee Stadium earlier this week. The pitching matchups are flipped the next two days from last Wednesday's doubleheader — J.A. Happ faces Andrew Cashner and Domingo Germán pitches against David Hess — and the Yankees' portion of those probable pitching matchups should be troubling to the Orioles.
While it seems as if a decent amount of Orioles hitters are doing well, or at least outperforming expectations, the collective offense has scored fewer than three runs per game this month. Seven of the Orioles’ 17 runs on their recent five-game road trip came in one game, and it was a loss.
Four games with the Yankees and their well-stocked bullpen, and then three with a Colorado Rockies team that has plenty of good arms as well, will be a challenge to an Orioles team that can't afford to be offensively-challenge as they continue to sort through some of these pitching issues.
What was good?
Mancini, as usual, but this week's spotlight goes to Givens. The Orioles' closer has struck out 11 of the 26 batters he’s faced in May, allowing just three hits and three walks in 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
It's been a process for Givens to adjust from being the high-leverage, first-man-out-of-the-pen pitcher he was behind Zack Britton, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach to pitching only in the late innings and with a lead for a team that has had few of them. But this has been a strong stretch for Givens, and Hyde has a reason why.
"I just think more aggressiveness in the zone," Hyde said. "I think early, he fell behind in counts quite a bit. He just didn't look as aggressive. Now, I feel like he's coming out of the ’pen and establishing and throwing his slider over the plate in chase counts, but really being aggressive early in the count. That aggressive mindset is what a back-end guy looks like."
Long relievers do a vital job, for sure, but doing that job well enough even a few times often prompts talk of a more important role. Gabriel Ynoa's first two weeks in the big leagues this season were exactly that.
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In consecutive outings, he allowed a run in 3 1/3 innings, then had two straight outings of three shutout innings, prompting questions to Hyde about whether he could start and answering others that he could pitch in high-leverage situations.
After allowing four runs (two earned) in 1 2/3 innings Sunday, Ynoa has followed that stretch with three outings in which he pitched a combined four innings and allowed nine earned runs on 11 hits with five walks.
"I thought he mixed really well and threw a ton of strikes [early]," Hyde said. "Right now, I see a ton of 3-2 counts and a lot of yanked fastballs, and just not as sharp stuff-wise."
On the farm
Just imagine a world in which the Orioles' rebuild is propelled ahead of schedule because a bunch of pitchers drafted on Dan Duquette's watch turn out to be better than anyone expected.
I'm sure Duquette's imagining it, and with days like Sunday, perhaps others will join him. At Double-A Bowie, left-hander Zac Lowther struck out eight in five innings without allowing an earned run as the Baysox won 3-0 and the 23-year-old left-hander lowered his ERA to 1.91.
Lowther was taken on the first day of the 2017 draft, a year after the Orioles used a top pick on right-hander Cody Sedlock. Sedlock's renaissance at High-A Frederick continued Sunday with seven innings of one-run ball, as he struck out six and improved to 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA in seven starts.
Sedlock struggled the past two years with elbow and shoulder issues, but seems back on track and will be joining Lowther in Bowie before long at this rate. Combined with the rave reviews of fellow top picks DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, plus success from Blaine Knight, Drew Rom, Michael Baumann and Keegan Akin, the next wave of Orioles pitchers might be better than most have given it credit for.