After a disappointing weekend in Cincinnati where they lost two of three, the Orioles enter August with a 51-51 record with 60 games left in the season — and just over a day before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline.
The Orioles trail Tampa Bay by three games for the third and final wild-card spot. Cleveland and Chicago are also ahead of the Orioles, who finished July with a 16-9 record, their second straight month with a winning record. That hadn’t happened since May and June 2016.
With so many teams in the mix for the wild card, the Orioles will have to play better the rest of the season. Since their 10-game winning streak ended on July 15th, they’re 6-7, and their hitting has regressed.
The Orioles begin a three-game series at Texas on Monday night, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has decisions to make about the present and the future.
Will he find the right value for players such as closer Jorge López, first baseman/designated hitter Trey Mancini and rightfielder Anthony Santander, or keep together a team that has exceeded expectations?
Moving Mancini, who embodies courage and character, wouldn’t be popular. But Elias can’t and doesn’t operate on emotion. His decision will be based on what Mancini would bring in return.
Another factor is that Mancini and the Orioles agreed on a $10 million mutual option for 2023 to settle his 2022 contract without going to an arbitration hearing. If he stays with the Orioles, it’s unlikely that both sides will agree, and he’ll become a free agent.
An offseason departure might be less painful for fans, but the Orioles would get nothing in return—except the outside chance for a playoff berth.
Entering Monday’s games, BaseballReference.com gave the Orioles a 20.7 percent chance of making the postseason, but FanGraphs rated their wild-card odds at just 2.6 percent.
The Orioles have surprised in 2022. Their next win will be their 52nd, which would equal last year’s total. There are fans who believe this year could be the start of an extended period of contention.
Without top starter John Means and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, they’ve managed a .500 record. With starter Tyler Wells now out because of a Grade 1 oblique strain, it will put more pressure on the starting rotation.
Elias could decide to trade veteran Jordan Lyles to a contender, but he also could decide to keep Lyles and exercise his $11 million option for next season. Lyles has been a valuable addition and a mentor to a young pitching staff.
The Orioles have a number of promising outfielders in the minor leagues, and with Santander and his 19 home runs still two-plus seasons away from free agency, he might fetch some starting prospects, too. That would open a spot for Kyle Stowers, who has 17 home runs, 59 RBIs, a .263 average and an .894 OPS at Triple-A Norfolk.
Santander also could be dealt during the offseason.
So could López, who has 19 saves and a 1.68 ERA. An argument could be made that López is the team’s most valuable player and, like Santander, won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season.
The New York Yankees lost Michael King, who fractured his right elbow while facing the Orioles last month, and could look at López or possibly Dillon Tate, who also has outstanding stuff.
It will be interesting to see if Elias would deal with the Yankees. López’s value might never be higher, but would Elias sacrifice a better shot at a playoff berth with him for help in the future?
Oriole fans have waited through some bad years. The team is finally competitive and fun to watch, but Elias is still building a foundation he thinks will put the Orioles in consistent contention.
A year ago, the Atlanta Braves were 50-52 after 102 games and general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired outfielders Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler just ahead of the trade deadline. The Braves went on to capture the National League East and the World Series.
The American League East is much more difficult than the NL East, and while there might be sentiment to keep this team together, Elias is taking the long view. His moves will be based on what he thinks is best for this year and beyond.