In 2019, Orioles general manager Mike Elias was quiet at the trade deadline. His only move came earlier in July when he traded the Orioles’ most effective starter in the first half of the season, Andrew Cashner, to the Boston Red Sox for two Dominican Summer League prospects.
After last season ended, Elias got busier, peddling infielder Jonathan Villar, who was entering his last year of arbitration eligibility, to the Miami Marlins for 23-year-old left-hander Easton Lucas on December 2nd.
Two days later, Dylan Bundy, two years away from free agency, was off to the Los Angeles Angels for four right-handed pitchers — Kyle Bradish (23), Kyle Brnovich (22), Isaac Mattson (25) and Zach Peek (22).
Last month, he traded pitchers Hector Velázquez and Richard Bleier to Boston and Miami for players to be named later.
On Sunday, Elias traded left-handed starter Tommy Milone to Atlanta for another player to be named later. Less than three hours later, reliever Mychal Givens was dealt to Colorado for another player to be named later and two 23-year-old infield prospects, Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra.
When he was hired to run the Orioles’ baseball operations on November 16, 2018, Elias said his goal was to build an elite talent pipeline.
After two drafts in which the Orioles added catcher Adley Rutschman, shortstop Gunnar Henderson, outfielder Heston Kjerstad and five other infielders with top picks, fans might wonder if Elias was close to selling off veterans and soon would have the foundation to focus on winning.
“Our system has improved a ton,” Elias said on Sunday night in a video conference call. “I think, at this point, it’s a really consensus top 12, top 10 system, and arguably higher, and that’s great.”
Elias inherited some prospects from the Dan Duquette regime — left-handed pitcher DL Hall and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the top draft picks in 2017 and 2018. Both are at the Bowie secondary site.
“We were starting where there was no talent coming from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic of any note,” Elias said. “It continues to require some catch-up, and we’ll continue to work on that.”
The Orioles were aggressive in July 2019, signing some highly regarded international prospects, but their next class will have to wait until January 2021 when the next international signing period begins.
“I think the organization has drafted well the last few years,” he said. “That goes well beyond when I started, and I think you’ve seen with some improvement in the player development approach that some of these guys blossomed and improved their stock internally, and that’s helped our system rise as well.”
Elias said that he would continue to look for deals before the trade deadline at 4 p.m. on Monday. If he can unload Alex Cobb’s salary — he’s in the third year of a four-year $57 million contract — it will likely be for more prospects.
“We’re just going to keep it going,” Elias said. “You never think your farm system is good enough.”
Fifteen of the 28 players on the Orioles’ roster were in their organization when Elias arrived.
“When we start to see we have enough building blocks on that major league roster, or at least close to it, we will start thinking of shifting our priorities to augmenting that,” Elias said.
“I don’t think we’re at that point. We’re still in a talent collection mode right now.”
Nevin and Vavra will join Bradish and Mattson at the Bowie alternate site. Elias thinks that Nevin will be Triple-A Norfolk’s starting first baseman in 2021, and that Vavra will be valuable.
“We’ve been accumulating infielders the last year or so,” Elias said. “He fits right in with that group. He gives us another really high quality guy. He can play shortstop, a really good second baseman, kind of a plus-contact bat from the left side, really good control of the strike zone, liked him coming out of the draft, gamer-style makeup.”
Nevin “has been a very attractive and very productive hitter since he signed in 2015. Really good up through the [Arizona] Fall League last year. Had a very solid Double-A at age 22,” Elias said.
Elias sent an email to season-ticket holders after he was hired, writing that he thought the team had four key pieces. Two of them, starting pitcher Dylan Bundy and Givens, have been traded. A third, outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini, won’t play this season after colon cancer surgery. A fourth, outfielder Cedric Mullins, has been playing center field since Austin Hays fractured a rib.
Elias has affection for Givens, who was the only active member of the last Orioles postseason team in 2016 and pitched for six seasons with the club. None of the current 28 even played the entire 2017 season with the Orioles.
“Mychal’s an impact reliever, and he’s somebody who’s been an Oriole for so long,” Elias said. “As I told him today, he’s going to be an Oriole for life. He’s going to be part of this organization well after he retires. He meant a lot to our organization on and off the field for a really long time, and we’re going to miss him.”