Eventually, if Mike Elias’ dream of building a player development talent machine in Baltimore pans out, the Orioles’ trade deadlines might resemble the one the Padres had this year.
San Diego dealt from a deep prospect base and acquired several players to help them both in 2020 and beyond, including Cleveland Indians star pitcher Mike Clevinger, without really denting their stock of top prospects.
Until then, the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager continues to slowly add players via trade that can be part of the gradual rising tide of minor league talent in the organization. This trade deadline was another piece of that.
The Orioles have made five trades this season and three in the two days before Monday’s deadline. Elias traded Hector Velázquez to the Houston Astros and Richard Bleier to the Miami Marlins earlier this summer, then moved Tommy Milone to the Atlanta Braves and Mychal Givens to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday and Miguel Castro to the New York Mets on Monday.
Since only players in a team’s 60-man pool can be dealt this season, many moves included players to be named at a later date. The Bleier and Velázquez trades yielded one apiece. Milone yielded two. Givens brought back infield prospects Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra, plus another unnamed player, while Castro yielded minor league left-hander Kevin Smith and either cash or a player to be named.
Once those players can be named and those trades will be finalized, it’s likely many will end up littering the Orioles’ offseason prospect lists and further remaking the complexion of the farm system.
Until then, here are five things we learned from the Orioles’ 2020 trade deadline moves:
The trade that defines the Elias era either hasn’t happened yet or isn’t an obvious one.
As the Orioles rushed to ship controllable pieces Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop out the door at the 2018 trade deadline, the opportunity for a new general manager to use those two productive and talented players to put an early stamp on the organization went with it.
Instead, Dan Duquette’s successor ended up with a team that didn’t have many big tradeable pieces, and the moves of the past two years show that. One would imagine that if those players were still around in the winter of 2018, the return for them would be vastly different than what the Orioles got.
Since then, some combination of veterans being owed too much money or under-performing hasn’t offered the Orioles an opportunity for a massive return on which evaluations can be made and true value can be assessed.
The closest thing they’ve done so far was trade starting pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels, which netted four pitchers the Orioles liked in recent drafts who are part of an increasingly exciting crop of young arms. Still, circumstances mean they have yet to appear in a game for the organization.
Perhaps the Givens trade, with three pieces coming back, could fit that mold as well in terms of bolstering positions of need.
The most memorable trades for fans are the ones in which a productive major league starter or position player is acquired for a reliever or pending free agent. Maybe one of these trades will produce such a return.
As it stands, it’s hard to see the full picture of Elias’ trades with only a few segments showing themselves now.
So many unnamed players make things hard to evaluate.
Under normal circumstances, even the most avid prospect hound would see a trade, look up a minor leaguer’s stats and have an idea of what kind of player he was. Not only is that impossible this year because of the canceled minor league season, but in many of these instances it’s not even clear yet who the player is.
It’s likely the return from the Astros for Velázquez won’t be a significant one, considering he still hasn’t been called up by his new club. There’s a chance for some low-level upside in the rest of the deals, and it will probably be the most celebrated day of the Orioles offseason when roster rules return to normal and they are able to announce these players en masse.
Until then, it’s a test of faith that the players targeted are the right ones. The box score scouting will come in the winter.
José Iglesias sticking around is probably for the best.
While it’s true that the Orioles lost their first three games after Iglesias came off the injured list, they’re no less fortunate to be keeping him around for the final month of the season. It became clear in his absence (and since it ended) that this is an incredibly streaky club, capable of productive spells at the plate but also prolonged fallow periods in which players who don’t have a ton of experience can lose their approaches and string together bad at-bats.
Iglesias’ two run-scoring hits and game-saving defensive play Monday contributed more to their streak-snapping win over the Toronto Blue Jays than anyone else, possibly combined. The dropoff in quality of at-bat and consistency up and down the lineup didn’t necessarily reverse itself once he returned, but he’s still doing his part.
This team might not win many more games the rest of the way, now that its luck has run out. Iglesias might not have his option picked up at the end of the season, meaning the Orioles could have lost their chance to trade him. All that considered, his presence on this team through September will make it a much easier one to watch.
It was time for all of these bullpen moves.
Change is coming pretty slowly for the Orioles as they plot the path toward contention through what they hope will be a major improvement on the farm. This major league season could end up feeling as if it’s happening particularly slowly if the only big-name prospects to debut are outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and left-hander Keegan Akin.
That said, a refreshing at the back of the bullpen was due. Since the 2018 trades of Zack Britton, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach, the late-inning relief group of Bleier, Givens and Castro was overworked and pitched in a variety of different roles, but for one reason or another never really settled into anything consistent.
Each deserved an opportunity to pitch elsewhere for a better team, and the Orioles were happy to oblige considering who’s left behind. The Cole Sulser closer experience might not be about developing the next lockdown Orioles bullpen, but giving meaningful, high-leverage innings to Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate certainly is.
Those developing arms will take their lumps, too. The Orioles will need to rely on experienced arms such as Paul Fry and Shawn Armstrong, too. But Givens and Castro being moved signals a true changing of the guard in the bullpen. The results might not feel different for a while, but at least there’s a chance they can be in years to come.
The next wave of trade candidates isn’t so clear.
Another solid month on the mound for right-hander Alex Cobb might make him an attractive offseason trade candidate if a team wants to take on his $15 million salary, but including Cobb and veteran Chris Davis, the Orioles’ highest-paid players might ultimately be their hardest to move.
Iglesias, too, could be a trade chip if the Orioles pick up his 2021 option for $3 million and shop him in the winter. Otherwise, the group of players who will find themselves on the trade block next is still unclear.
Catcher Pedro Severino, right-hander Asher Wojciechowski and Armstrong will be owed raises through salary arbitration, which has been a clear indicator of “available” status for the Orioles so far. Outfielder Anthony Santander will be in his first year of arbitration eligibility as well, but moving him because he’s due his first payday wouldn’t be popular.
Perhaps another year of productivity for some of those players, combined with a still-inexpensive price tag, might make them appealing come the offseason or next year’s trade deadline.
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Absent that, the Orioles seem to finally be young and cheap enough that it’s hard to find anyone worth trading.