The most intriguing trade deadline of the Mike Elias era is approaching. By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, we’ll know how the Orioles have handled it. In Elias’ first four seasons as executive vice president/general manager, the Orioles concentrated on selling off veterans nearing free agency or later years of arbitration and accumulating young pitchers.
Now, most people assume Elias wants more experienced pitchers, perhaps a starter and a reliever, but don’t know what he’ll be willing to give up.
For a few days, there was wishful thinking among some fans that Shohei Ohtani would be on the market, and wondered what sort of a package the Orioles might offer.
Now, it’s apparent Ohtani will stay with the Los Angeles Angels, so the speculation turns elsewhere. Lucas Giolito won’t be coming to Baltimore, either. He’s with the Angels now as well.
Here are some questions and thoughts about the trade market when it comes to the Orioles.
Do they need another starter? The conventional wisdom is that there’s never enough starting pitching. The Orioles’ rotation includes Kyle Bradish, Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez and Tyler Wells.
If the Orioles acquired another starter, who would he displace? Or would they possibly go with six starters—or use piggyback starters? That could mean two starters working four or five innings.
That might help keep Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano fresher, but it would also mean a seven-pitcher bullpen instead of one with eight relievers.
None of the starters except for Gibson has pitched in a complete major league season much less the postseason.
John Means is still not close to returning. He hopes to return in September when the team can add another pitcher, but maybe he’d be better out of the bullpen.
Should they bolster the bullpen? They made a first step last week when they acquired Japanese right-hander Shintaro Fujinami, who threw two spotless innings in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, from the Oakland Athletics.
The cost was minimal, left-handed reliever Easton Lucas. an afterthought when he came to the Orioles in a trade in December 2019 for infielder Jonathan Villar.
Lucas methodically worked his way through the organization and had recently been promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, but he wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Orioles’ top 30 prospects.
Besides Bautista, Cano and Fujinami, the Orioles have Bryan Baker, Mike Baumann, Danny Coulombe, Cole Irvin and Cionel Pérez in the bullpen.
Irvin can easily fill in as a starter if there’s an injury to one of the current starters, but he’s pitched in relief just twice in the 13 games the Orioles have played since the All-Star break.
Of the other relievers, Baker has allowed 47 percent of inherited runners to score. Pérez has allowed 41 percent, Baumann 40 and Coulombe 26 percent.
That’s an area the Orioles would like to improve upon, and perhaps another experienced reliever can be obtained much more reasonably than a starter.
Fujinami is a free agent after this season, and he said in his first interview upon arriving last weekend that while relieving is fine for now, he prefers to start. Maybe that will be in Baltimore in 2024, maybe not.
What do they have to give up? Many teams looking to sell off veterans are seeking young pitching prospects. That’s an area the Orioles might not be able to help them with.
Their highest ranked pitching prospect is DL Hall, who’s at the Florida Complex League. Hall’s been a top prospect for six years, and while the Orioles keep saying he’s a starting prospect, because of injuries he never gets the necessary innings in the minor leagues to enable him to start for a full season.
Other teams covet Hall’s arm, and perhaps the Orioles would consider moving him.
The next three highest pitching prospects are left-hander Cade Povich and right-handers Seth Johnson and Chayce McDermott.
All three were acquired by the Orioles at last year’s trade deadline.
Povich, who’s rated 11th, was just promoted to Triple-A Norfolk while Johnson had Tommy John surgery last August and McDermott was also recently brought up to the Tides.
Drew Rom, their 18th-rated prospect, is 7-6 with a 5.49 ERA and averaging nearly five walks per nine innings.
The conventional wisdom is that the Orioles should deal from their surplus of infield and outfield prospects, but what if teams want young pitching prospects that the Orioles don’t have or can’t afford to part with because they don’t have enough?
It seems the Orioles have some position player prospects that they wouldn’t want to include in a deal, either.
Shortstop Jackson Holliday, the top prospect in minor league baseball who’s at Double-A Bowie, is off the table, and outfielder Heston Kjerstad, infielder Joey Ortiz and second baseman/outfielder Connor Norby, who are ranked fourth, fifth and sixth in the Orioles’ system, should play key roles with the 2024 Orioles, and perhaps even sooner.
Surely, the Orioles would want to keep all of them.
Anything else on the shopping list? With both Aaron Hicks and Cedric Mullins on the 10-day injured list, they’re playing Colton Cowser and Ryan McKenna in center field. Austin Hays can play there, too.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Elias add another left-handed hitting outfielder at minimal cost.
How about the postseason? Baseballreference.com gives the Orioles a 93.2 percent chance of playing in the postseason. FanGraphs pegs the number at 82.5 percent.
With a 62-40 record and 60 games remaining, a 30-30 split would earn the Orioles 92 wins. Their record projects to 98 wins.
As Elias contemplates his moves over the next several days, it’s clear that any deals he makes are not only to strengthen the Orioles for the final two months of the regular season but for an extended postseason run as well.