A couple of weeks ago, the Orioles were said to be in "ongoing trade talks" with the Rockies about one of their surplus outfielders. Thursday afternoon, the Rockies made their outfielder trade, but it was not the Orioles who benefited. It'll be an O's division rival who gets to enjoy any benefit from this trade. The Rays sent reliever Jake McGee and pitching prospect German Marquez to Colorado in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson and third base prospect Kevin Padlo.
As the youngest of the trio of outfielders Colorado was believed to have made available, as well as the one with the most team control remaining, Dickerson, a 6'1" left fielder, was a player whose use for the Orioles seemed fairly obvious on the surface. They need an outfielder still. Dickerson's left-handed power might have played well in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
What might it have taken for the Orioles to pull off this trade instead? From the Rockies perspective, it is a weird one. They have picked up two years of a strikeout machine of a reliever in McGee, as well as the player who was ranked #25 in the Rays system, in exchange for four years of Dickerson. The Rockies gave up a lottery ticket power hitting prospect in Padlo as well.
This feels like a light return, although it is important not to get too hung up on Marquez's ranking with in the Rays system. The rankings haven't been updated to reflect 2015 performance, and Marquez, a 20-year-old who got merits for holding his own in High-A, may have moved up the Rays list somewhat. Also, not every team's system is equal in quality. Saying a player is the 25th-best Rays prospect is more of a positive than if a player is the 25th-best Orioles prospect.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal talked to a scout about Marquez:
Rival scout on German Marquez: "91-96 with plus cmd, above-avg true CB. Always one of youngest in league, doing well. Just needs innings."— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 29, 2016
Sounds decent enough. Still, Marquez hasn't snuck into any top 10 lists released by other sources like Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus, so it seems fair to label him as a mid-level prospect at best, and possibly a bit lower than that.
You can't really try to map either of these now-ex-Rays to equivalent players in the Orioles organization. There aren't any. Zach Britton, with an extra year of team control remaining and a dominant sinker that McGee lacks, ought to have more trade value than McGee - and is a more indispensable piece to an O's team that wants to get back into the postseason.
Brad Brach and Mychal Givens each have more team control remaining than McGee but they don't have his track record. McGee has been very good for three of the last four seasons and inexplicably bad in the fourth of those. There's no match here.
As for the mid-level prospect... well, the Orioles don't really have any of those either. Of course at the top there's Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy, two guys who have much higher ceilings than Marquez but also huge question marks due to injuries. Farther down in the system rankings, they might get some capable big league pitching if they're lucky. There's no one farther down there who fits in the box of Marquez, a young for the level guy who's enjoyed modest success in spite of being challenged in that way.
What's left for the O's is a bunch of low-ceiling pitchers like Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright who might grind their way into the back end of a rotation. Look farther down and it's names like Joe Gunkel and Chris Lee, older (for prospects) guys trying to overachieve. These guys could be destined for bullpen roles, or it may turn out that a long big league career, or making the MLB level at all, just isn't in the cards for these guys. Not much of a shock this caliber of player wasn't going to entice the Rockies into a Dickerson trade.
We don't even know whether the Orioles were most enamored with Dickerson out of the Rockies outfielders. They might have liked either Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon better. Maybe the report about the talks from a couple of weeks ago was overblown.
Maybe the Rockies were demanding any trade involve Kevin Gausman, who went to high school in Colorado. Maybe the Orioles thought there were too many question marks about Dickerson. Maybe other teams did too, and that's why the Rockies had to seemingly settle for a lighter return than might have been anticipated.
One thing about a player having more team control remaining is that they have less of a track record. While Dickerson has an .879 OPS in his big league career, his limited track record also includes his playing only 65 games in the 2015 season, making three separate trips to the disabled list. He has been bad against lefties in his career, batting only .246/.299/.377. How much should a platoon player be worth, even if he has four years left?
Additionally, there may be concerns about how Dickerson's hitting will translate outside of Coors Field. The home/road splits for Dickerson are stark. He's hit to the tune of a 1.085 OPS at home, while hitting only a .695 OPS on the road. That's in about a season and a half worth of big league action over three seasons. His strikeout and walk rates would have fit right in on the Orioles, which you know is not a complimentary statement for me to make. As a defender, his arm has been a bit of a liability.
Listing all of those potential downsides really just amounts to making excuses for the Orioles inaction, though. There's always risk. If their farm system wasn't depleted, they surely could have made this trade, and would have gladly done so. Dan Duquette has traded better-regarded pitching prospects for worse players with less team control remaining than Dickerson.
Maybe Steven Brault, Stephen Tarpley, or Zach Davies might have intrigued the Rockies. Too bad they were flushed away in trades for outfielders who were failures in Baltimore.
Not every minor leaguer is going to be a big leaguer. Sometimes a trade is the way to get the most of them. You can't hug prospects forever. But too many bad trades, bad drafts, and bad injuries leave you where the Orioles are right now, unable to match or exceed even what seems to be a light trade return for a player who would have likely represented a real upgrade to the team on the field this year.
Barring a surprising acquisition between now and the start of the regular season, the Orioles are going to have to make do with what they have already. At this point, they can't afford anything else.