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Orioles reset: Breaking down the trade candidates ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline

With Sunday’s win further steadying the ship for the Orioles and bringing them into the last week of August as baseball’s most unexpected .500 club, the Aug. 31 trade deadline comes at a time when the team might not appear as clear-cut sellers in the standings.

That’s not the assessment internally, at least, as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the team was going to listen to offers for its major league talent in hopes of adding players who can help further down the road.

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When he traded reliever Richard Bleier earlier in the season, he noted the transactional nature of other smaller-market clubs that win.

Teams who are calling the Orioles are also getting the impression they’re ready to be transactional this week. Here’s a breakdown of their top candidates to move come Monday’s deadline.

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1. Alex Cobb

There are others on the roster who might be able to help a contender more, but probably no one else for whom the Orioles’ itch to find a new home is stronger. Cobb is owed $15 million, with a good bit of that money deferred, for 2021, and approximately $1.8 million in present-day salary for the remainder of 2020. There’s also deferrals for 2020.

The Orioles were willing to eat almost that much to trade starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to Boston last July, and other teams are getting signals from the Orioles that they’re willing to take on a good bit of Cobb’s money as well to facilitate a trade and boost their return.

Cobb has been the Orioles’ most consistent starter, with a 3.73 ERA in six starts and some good peripheral stats. He’s around his career average in terms of strikeout rate, but ranks seventh among qualified pitchers in ground ball rate (58%), mitigating some of the hard contact he’s allowed in some recent starts.

2. Mychal Givens

So many of the relief arms that powered the Orioles to their surprising start have come back down to earth, but not Givens. Relieved of the ninth-inning duties that simply don’t suit him and primarily pitching in one-inning outings, Givens has dominated this year. He allowed his first run of the season Sunday, and he’s struck out 16 with a 1.03 WHIP in 11⅔ innings.

No one will be acquiring Givens to close games, but what they’ll get is an experienced reliever to set up in their bullpen with the benefit of another year of club control after this one. Givens is owed approximately $624,000 for the rest of the season. The good version of Givens will be well worth that for a playoff team.

3. Any other starting pitcher

Wade LeBlanc’s injury Sunday removes him from this list, but the threshold for return if another team wants a veteran such as Asher Wojciechowski or Tommy Milone in their rotation won’t likely be very high for the Orioles to move one of them.

For the Orioles, neither the players they got back nor the minimal money saved would be the motivator. Instead, the chance to give Thomas Eshelman and prospects Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer starts down the stretch would be more valuable than veteran experience as the team’s fortunes begins to wane.

4. José Iglesias

Iglesias’ absence from the Orioles lineup is plain to see. Someone batting .400 and putting together good at-bats in the heart of the order isn’t easy to replace. But Iglesias might find himself only temporarily back in the lineup if he returns when eligible Wednesday.

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Iglesias is owed around $580,000 for the remainder of the season, which could be a steep price if he’s not able to regularly play shortstop. It would also likely be paying a premium for a hitter who for the past five years has been as productive as Chris Davis, until he had a hot start to this season.

The veteran shortstop still might be more valuable to the Orioles than anyone else, but that won’t prevent him from being dangled on trade calls this week.

5. Miguel Castro

Castro seems to have finally become more consistent after years of trying to harness his lively fastball and secondary pitches, a credit to both him and the coaching staff for finding what is working so well.

There simply aren’t many arms like his in the Orioles’ organization, but Castro is already in his arbitration years and has two years of club control left, meaning there’s plenty of value to an acquiring club beyond this year. It’s unclear who else in the Orioles bullpen teams might be willing to give something up for besides Givens, Castro and Tanner Scott.

Scott, though, might be the only one the Orioles would have to be blown away for to make a trade. The rest might be easier to pry away.

What’s next?

For an Orioles team that still boasts the majors’ best record away from Camden Yards at 8-1, leaving their home ballpark might not be the worst development after Monday’s day off. That they’re facing a Tampa Bay Rays team that looks far better than the team the Orioles swept earlier this season makes the trip far less promising.

But the same way the American League East-leading Rays (19-10) will have retribution on their minds, so to will the Orioles when they go to Buffalo to face the Blue Jays at their temporary home.

The trip to Buffalo won’t bring back fond memories for any of the Orioles hitters who were there last year with Triple-A Norfolk. Ryan Mountcastle, Mason Williams and Cedric Mullins had a few hits apiece and the Tides scored just two runs in a four-game sweep.

What was good?

In a season in which so little has been consistent for the Orioles, outfielder Anthony Santander has.

The switch-hitting slugger is batting .320 with a 1.143 OPS over his 18-game hitting streak, and he entered Sunday with a wRC+ of 161, which was tied with Pedro Severino for ninth-best in the American League. (Severino has also been very good of late, himself).

This Orioles season was always going to be about identifying which players were indisputably parts of whatever winning future the team saw for itself. No one has made a better case for himself on that front than Santander.

What wasn’t?

The idea that Renato Núñez wasn’t going to be so streaky took a hit this week when the same kind of prolonged slump that hampered him for parts of 2019 returned during this homestand. Núñez hit his fifth home run of the season Aug. 7, the Orioles’ 13th game of the year.

He’s now without a home run in 14 straight games, and his OPS dropped from 1.022 when the team returned home from their road trip Friday to .832. Núñez put a good swing on a ball that hit off the left-field wall late in Sunday’s game, but his frustration in slamming and breaking his bat after a strikeout earlier in the game is far more indicative of how things are going at the plate for him.

On the farm

A pandemic and some stringent player development requirements meant Orioles fans clamored for Ryan Mountcastle for almost an entire year before his call-up Friday.

The next player who might be subject to such delays is outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who, like Mountcastle in 2019, might be hurt by the fact that he isn’t on the 40-man roster and doesn’t have to be added until the fall. Barring an injury or something unforeseen, the Orioles won’t have anywhere to put him once Austin Hays returns from his rib injury, with Mountcastle the everyday left fielder and Anthony Santander a fixture in right field.

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Still, Elias said things are going well for Diaz at the Bowie camp.

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“He looks really good, both offensively and defensively, down there at the alternate site right now,” Elias said. “He’s got a great work ethic. The attitude and the energy have been really good every day. Just like Mountcastle did, he’s seeing a lot of really tough pitching, but the performance has been there. He’s really close. … I kind of feel that he’s flying under the radar a little bit right now, which is kind of a good thing.”

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