Even though selling off its top assets — mainly relief pitchers — would be unprecedented for this Orioles regime as the club looks toward the future, there’s plenty of precedent for the haul that can be expected for trading an All-Star reliever who’s more than a rental.
All three of Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day qualify as that, and the Orioles need to look no further than the New York Yankees’ trades last year that sent relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller to the World Series-bound Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, respectively, for the type of talent required to part with talent like that.
For Chapman, who ultimately was a rental but helped the back end of the Cubs bullpen in a massive way for the final three months of the team’s championship run, the Yankees got a four-player package highlighted by a consensus top-30 prospect at the time, infielder Gleyber Torres.
Torres was ranked the fifth-best prospect in the game by Baseball America this past offseason and was batting .287/.383/.480 between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre as a 20-year-old before a freak arm injury required season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction. He was working at three different infield positions in the minors, and was primed to help the Yankees at third base this season before the injury.
The deal also brought major league reliever Adam Warren back to the Yankees, and included outfielders Billy McKinney (a former first-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics) and Rashad Crawford, a lottery ticket of sorts. McKinney, 22, was promoted to Triple-A on June 30 and has a 1.075 OPS since then.
All that was just for a rental.
Miller had two seasons beyond 2016 and around $20 million left on the four-year deal he signed with the Yankees after he left the Orioles in 2014, and the package for him was even more substantial.
The centerpiece was outfielder Clint Frazier, a first-round pick in 2013 who was rated in the top 50 of most prospect rankings at the time of the deal, was ranked No. 39 by Baseball America this past offseason and has eight extra-base hits in his first 11 games since making his big league debut on July 1.
Left-hander Justus Sheffield, a top-100 prospect who was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft, was a high-level secondary piece in the deal. The 21-year-old had a 3.09 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League before an oblique strain sidelined him earlier this month.
A third component in that deal was then-Triple-A reliever Ben Heller, who joined the Yankees bullpen last August. The fourth was minor league reliever J.P. Feyereisen, who was in big league camp this past spring and has a 2.91 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A this year.
All told, the Yankees used their relief stocks to add four top-100 prospects, three of whom were first-round picks and a fourth who received a $1.7 million signing bonus out of Venezuela a few years earlier. The packages also included several power arms to help replenish that aspect of their farm system.
A later trade brought back right-hander Dillon Tate, a former first-round pick who wasn’t living up to his potential, in a four-player deal that sent veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers.
Each Orioles reliever’s cost would be a factor in the return, though none are terribly prohibitive. O’Day, 34, is owed over $20 million, but signed through the 2019 season, while Britton and Brach have arbitration raises coming next year. Britton will get a raise from this year’s $11.4 million, while Brach will see a good bump from his $3.05 million salary because of his stint as closer in Britton’s absence.
Tuesday’s trade of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, along with third baseman Todd Frazier, to the Yankees presented the option of packaging two relievers together. The inclusion of Frazier, plus the difference in money owed (Robertson is on a pricey contract, while Kahnle hasn’t even reached arbitration) all make it different in a sense.
But the haul the Yankees gave up closely resembled the one they brought in for Chapman — a touted position player (outfielder Blake Rutherford), a major league reliever (Tyler Clippard), plus strong secondary pieces (left-hander Ian Clarkin and outfielder Tito Polo).
Combining any of these assets, especially for a return that the Yankees essentially got for one top reliever last year, would be undershooting their potential by a bit. And if the Orioles are going to blow up such a strength on a team that returns its entire core next season, they have to aim as high as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did when dealing such coveted pieces in 2016.
The teams that need relief help the most — including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Cubs — can all pay the price required. It’s on executive vice president Dan Duquette to set it high.