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Orioles reset: Breaking down the O’s most likely trade candidates ahead of next week’s deadline

Less than two weeks away from MLB’s July 30 trade deadline, there’s still plenty of time for teams targeting a playoff spot to make moves with clubs like the rebuilding Orioles whose eyes are on accumulating as much talent as they can for the future.

Their flurry of trades at the 2020 deadline might not be replicated this summer for a variety of reasons, meaning their activity level may be closer to what happened in 2019 when they traded Andrew Cashner a few weeks before the deadline and everyone else stayed put.

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A variety of factors have contributed to that, from injuries to poor performance, but there are still candidates to move if the Orioles so choose. Alternatively, they can just hold off until the offseason and try again when the market resets.

To the extent teams will call about anyone on the Orioles, though, these are the players they’ll call on:

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First baseman Trey Mancini

The most inspirational story in baseball this year is playing out nightly for the Orioles with Mancini, whose return from colon cancer to being a productive everyday player has been special for all involved. He’s batting .255 with a .788 OPS and 16 home runs while showing flashes of the player he was in 2019, and will be owed approximately $1.8 million of his $4.75 million salary for the final two months of the season with one more year before he reaches free agency.

The control for 2022 will be an asset, but taking the Orioles’ perspective on what Mancini means to their rebuild and the non-baseball value attached to that will make moving him difficult. The return will have to far outpace whatever baseball value the prospects they’re offered could provide, and as they showed holding onto players in 2019, there’s not a mandate to trade everyone at the deadline. They can wait if that’s what they want to do, and no one will complain about Mancini being around beyond this month.

Left-handed pitcher John Means

Before Means went on the injured list with a shoulder injury in early June, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was clear that Means is the type of player who the Orioles can build around. He’s still three years away from free agency.

Unless they’re blown away this month, it’s hard to imagine that will change. It’s also hard to imagine with the question marks around Means’ health and effectiveness on his return that such an offer will materialize.

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Means pitched like an ace at the end of 2020 and has a 2.28 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 71 innings with a 0.831 WHIP in two months of action in 2021. Trading a pitcher like that is a tough sell externally and will require a high price internally. If the Orioles are thinking they can flip their competitive switch next year at some point, it would take a lot to have them consider a world without Means being part of that.

Left-handed pitcher Paul Fry

Around the time of Means’ early-June injury, Fry had ascended to the closer’s role in the Orioles’ bullpen with a fantastic two months. Through the end of May, he’d struck out 31 in 20 innings with a 2.25 ERA while allowing just 11 hits and eight walks, filling up the strike zone with his fastball/slider mix.

Since the beginning of June, Fry struck out 14 in 14 ⅓ innings with a 1.60 WHIP and a 6.28 ERA. Part of that could have been ninth-inning responsibilities, though that can’t fully explain it. Either way, Fry, who like Means will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, represents a tricky proposition for an acquiring team.

The Orioles got plenty of value for their setup men last year, especially Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. And as badly as they need pitchers who can help convert leads into wins, the Orioles getting a starter or possible everyday player for Fry might be worth the short-term hurt.

Trading Orioles relief pitcher Tanner Scott, pitching during a game against the Houston Astros on June 30, would be significantly crippling to the present Orioles bullpen and the one they hope to have when things are going well.
Trading Orioles relief pitcher Tanner Scott, pitching during a game against the Houston Astros on June 30, would be significantly crippling to the present Orioles bullpen and the one they hope to have when things are going well. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)

Left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott

If there’s one reliever on the Orioles’ staff who could truly fit into a contending team’s bullpen, it might be the hard-throwing Scott. His fits of losing his command are less frequent than in years past, and his slider is one of the best pitches in baseball, meaning even when his fastball isn’t on, he can still get by. Scott entered Sunday with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.391 WHIP, striking out 52 in 36 ⅔ innings.

Trading Scott would be significantly crippling to the present Orioles bullpen and the one they hope to have when things are going well, perhaps as early as this time next year. As such, the baseline for such a trade would be the Castro trade with the New York Mets, where they got a Double-A starting pitcher and a promising Latin American teenager. The ask for Scott would rightfully be higher than that for three years after this one following free agency.

Dark horse candidates

Signing as a free agent with the Orioles comes with the expectation that it might end with a trade. That’s why Freddy Galvis’ one-year deal holds a $250,000 trade bonus. But with his serious quadriceps injury, Galvis’ health at the trade deadline likely makes that moot. Maikel Franco hasn’t hit well at third base and is out with a sprained ankle as well.

Perhaps someone saw something they needed to have in Matt Harvey’s impressive start Sunday, but the preceding run of spotty results, bad luck, and an unprecedented workload spike from 2020 make him a difficult player to envision getting moved.

What’s to come?

Judging by the last few trips the Orioles have made to Tropicana Field, some low-scoring games. Since the start of 2019, the Orioles have won just three times there, and scored more than four runs in a game twice.

After the three-game set against the Rays and a Thursday off-day, the Orioles will return home to host the Washington Nationals at Camden Yards.

What was good?

Unless someone replicates John Means’ no-hitter for the Orioles this year, hardly anything is going to challenge Mancini’s Home Run Derby performance as far as top moments of the Orioles season go.

Once he was in it, Mancini wanted to win. He said as much after losing in the finals to Pete Alonso Monday. But upon returning to the Orioles Friday, he said his initial intention of his own battle with colon cancer being an inspiration to those going through it now certainly was fulfilled.

“There have actually been countless people who have reached out and told me they were recently diagnosed with either colon cancer, or another form of cancer, any illness,” Mancini said. “It was so touching and that’s exactly why I wanted to do it. My older sister runs my foundation [the Trey Mancini Foundation] and she said we’re just trying to sort through all the messages we’ve gotten form people like that. She’s told me about some really cool ones we’ve seen, and it’s something where I want to respond to everything I can. It’s really tough but I’m just so appreciative of all the kind words. The messages have just been flooding in. it’s been amazing.”

What wasn’t?

Rookie left-hander Keegan Akin has been honest about his struggles from the time spring training began. After his last spring start, he was asked whether he felt like he’d pitched well enough to make the team and said he honestly didn’t know.

So after he allowed six runs on eight hits with three walks in three innings to begin the second half Friday, he didn’t pull any punches on himself.

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“The execution part seems to be kind of a common theme lately,” Akin said. “It’s always been the knock that I didn’t throw enough strikes, now they say I’m throwing too many good strikes. Just got to re-watch some of those outings and watch pitch locations and just learn from it. It’s just stuff that’s fairly new to me at this level. I always kind of got by on talent through the minor leagues and just threw the ball and threw fastballs and challenged guys, and it’s obviously a little different level up here.”

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There’s a lot to unpack there. Akin’s fastball got on hitters quickly despite average velocity, and he always had more area command than spot command, yet he’d get away with pitching in the zone with it. The Orioles had him emphasize his secondary pitches at Triple-A Norfolk in 2019, but the resulting pitcher hasn’t gotten it done at the highest level with much consistency this year.

On the farm

A pair of Orioles pitching prospects who could factor into the team’s plans in the second half had tough starts for Triple-A Norfolk at Memphis this weekend.

Right-hander Kyle Bradish allowed five runs and four walks in 1 ⅓ innings Friday, then left-hander Kevin Smith walked three and allowed a hit while being charged with three earned runs and recording two outs Saturday.

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