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Orioles get another trade-able draft pick. How will they waste it next year?

The Orioles will have another competitive balance pick next year, which they’ll probably trade in a frustrating way like the last two.

MLB: General Managers Meetings
This man loves to give away draft picks.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing that the Orioles might love almost as much as making Rule 5 picks is giving up early-round picks from the June draft. The O’s will have another chance to find a way to do that in the 2017 draft, as they have again received a competitive balance round B draft pick, which MLB announced on Tuesday, currently slotted at #74 overall.

No one should go getting any ideas about what the Orioles might be able to do with that pick or the slot money it will provide. The pattern in recent years is that, some way or another, the Orioles will trade this pick.

The competitive balance picks, which came into existence in time for the 2013 draft, are the only MLB draft picks which can be traded. In the four drafts since then, they have made the pick just once - the inaugural year for the balance picks, when they took outfielder Josh Hart at #37 overall - and have traded the pick every other time. In order:

  • The Orioles traded their 2014 pick, also #37 overall, to the Astros in the Bud Norris trade from July 2013. The Astros selected outfielder Derek Fisher, who batted .255/.367/.448 in 129 games last year in Double- and Triple-A. Say, do you know a team who could currently use a high-OBP lefty-batting outfielder in the pipeline?
  • In April 2015, the O’s traded a round B pick, #74 overall, for that June’s draft to the Dodgers along with reliever Ryan Webb in order to avoid paying Webb’s $2.75 million 2015 salary. Webb was immediately designated for assignment by LA. The Orioles received two minor leaguers to pretend that it wasn’t a total salary dump trade.
  • In May 2016, the Orioles traded a round B pick, #76 overall, for that June’s draft to the Braves along with Brian Matusz in order to avoid paying the rest of Matusz’s $3.9 million 2016 salary. That saved about $3 million. Matusz was immediately DFA’d by Atlanta. The O’s received two minor leaguers to pretend it wasn’t a total salary dump trade.

There is a definite pattern here. The Orioles prefer to find other uses for these picks than actually making them, and it seems like that’s even more pronounced with the round B picks in the 70s. The last two picks were traded for salary relief, presumably to enable acquisitions at the trade deadline.

Not that the Orioles particularly made the most of the money they saved. Based on the salaries of the players involved, it seems like a lot of that Webb money went into paying Gerardo Parra, while a lot of the Matusz money went into paying either Wade Miley or the injured Steve Pearce. Clearing $3 million is one thing. Putting it to productive use in July without the benefit of any real prospects is another.

This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the Dan Duquette tenure as GM of the Orioles, especially when you combine it with his giving up first round choices for Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo and, this offseason, an apparent fascination with re-signing slugger Mark Trumbo rather than collecting his compensation pick.

The Orioles need these picks. That should almost be taken as a given. While the success rate of the #74 overall pick itself is not so high, the fact is that it’s an opportunity to take a future good big leaguer if you draft the right player and get lucky.

For example, the holder of the #74 pick in the 2006 draft, ten years ago, could have taken Zach Britton, who went instead to the Orioles at #85. In the 2007 draft, Giancarlo Stanton was on the board at #74. So was Freddie Freeman. Stanton was drafted 76th and Freeman 78th. Go ahead one more year and it’s Craig Kimbrel (#96 in 2008) and one more year still for Kyle Seager (#82 in 2009).

In that group of players, you have two of the game’s current top tier of relievers and three players who’ve already accumulated 20+ bWAR in their big league careers. The teams who picked them had skill in identifying future good big leaguers, but they got lucky that things worked out, too.

Sometimes a lottery ticket hits - and you can still gain from the lottery even if you don’t hit the big jackpot anyway. The O’s could find useful roleplayers so they don’t have to rely on the Rule 5 draft just to get a Ryan Flaherty or Joey Rickard-caliber player, or maybe even some day develop a back of the rotation starting pitcher so they don’t have to keep trying to find them in free agency.

Or they might find interesting-looking prospects doomed to bust later who can be dangled to get better players in trade than the useless Travis Snider. What if the Orioles could have pulled off the Yoenis Cespedes trade in 2015 instead of the Mets? We will never know.

But this just isn’t a persuasive argument for the O’s, based on their behavior. So there’s no point in thinking about how the Orioles are in line for four of the top 74 picks. They’ll probably trade the balance pick and they might even re-sign Trumbo to lose that pick.

There aren’t any obvious candidates in the $3-4 million salary range who seem likely to lose their roster spot in the middle of next season. There are a few more expensive players who you’ve probably already seen enough of and who could have overstayed their welcome by June.

The Orioles being the Orioles, all of those candidates are starting pitchers. They do seem to have six starters for five roster spots, since they appear to be determined to try to keep Dylan Bundy in the rotation from start to finish. Whether that’s a good idea is another story, but it sure seems to be what they’re aiming to do.

So it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where whoever is struggling the most through mid-May out of Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley gets packed off along with some salary and the round B pick to save about $3 million.

I don’t even want them to do it, but it’s the Orioles and it’s what they do. If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I’d bet on Gallardo. If he’s still hurt and still struggling, they can hide him on the disabled list for a little while, watch him get torched in a few rehab starts, then ship him off. And hopefully they won’t miss out on the next Stanton as a result.