After weeks or months of wondering what would happen with the Orioles and Manny Machado, the deal was finally finished on Wedneday night: Machado to the Dodgers for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, righty starter Dean Kremer, righty reliever Zach Pop, third baseman Rylan Bannon, and utility infielder Breyvic Valera. For Orioles fans, one question presents itself after this momentous deal. Are these guys going to be any good?
If your dream trade return for Machado involved visions of multiple top 100 prospects bolstering the O’s farm system, this will seem like a disappointing trade package because the O’s only got one such player, Diaz, with a big gap between him and the next-best player they received.
Unfortunately, the ship likely sailed on that kind of trade return when the O’s declined to move Machado this past offseason, or perhaps even last July when they chose to forge ahead with competing in 2017 (when they finished 75-87) and this season (28-69 and counting).
There is nothing anyone can do to change that now. We can only hope that the O’s got the best return they could get right now and that things work out for the new prospects. With that in mind, who the heck are these guys?
OF Yusniel Diaz
If this trade is ever thought of with some fondness by O’s fans, Diaz will probably be the biggest reason why. He is the headliner here and maybe even the new star of the O’s farm system. MASN’s Roch Kubatko talked to one scout who succinctly said, “He’s better than anyone else you’ve got.”
That scout is not the only one to think so. Diaz was the #47 prospect on a recent Baseball America update, higher than any other O’s prospect. ESPN’s Keith Law had Diaz at #49, again higher than players like Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays. MLB Pipeline, rating Diaz at #84, has him behind Mountcastle and ahead of Hays.
Diaz is 21 years old, signed by the Dodgers out of Cuba three years ago for a whopping $15.5 million bonus. They had to pay a 100% tax on that bonus, too. The Orioles cannot immediately rectify their failure to invest internationally, but swooping in to get the production of a player someone else signed for big money is not a bad way to start down that road.
If you watched MLB’s All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, you saw Diaz unleash two bombs in the game. For all that, power isn’t one of his calling cards, as he’s homered just six times in 59 games at Double-A Tulsa this year and had 11 home runs in 114 games across two levels last year.
The fact that Diaz has walked more than he has struck out this year (41-39) is interesting, though it’s a new development - he walked 45 times with 102 strikeouts last year. Law thinks the most likely outcome is “solid regular” rather than star, though there’s still some potential power develops. The assessment is echoed in other places like Fangraphs and MLB.com.
One thing to keep an eye on going forward will be who among the existing O’s outfield prospect crop ends up getting displaced by Diaz. Will DJ Stewart have to settle for a DH role? Will Hays manage to rebound from his injuries and ineffectiveness this season?
RHP Dean Kremer
The 22-year-old Kremer jumped from the 28th-best in the Dodgers system to #13 in the O’s system according to MLB Pipeline. Part of that is because the O’s system isn’t as good as the Dodgers and part of it may be that Kremer has made himself a bit more interesting as a prospect with his 2018 performance, striking out 114 batters in 79 innings for the Dodgers High-A affiliate this season. If the strikeouts stay as the O’s send him to Double-A Bowie, that will help people feel better about this trade.
Kremer has the distinction of being the first-ever Israeli-born player drafted into MLB. The Padres picked him in the 38th round in 2016 before he signed with the Dodgers out of the 14th round in 2016.
Fangraphs gives him a range of “back-end starter to middle reliever,” with concerns that he does not have enough weapons presently to attack left-handed batters. However, with development on his slider and/or changeup, they think he could make it. Can the O’s player development crew pull off this adjustment? Ay, there’s the rub.
3B Rylan Bannon
Bannon jumped from the #27 Dodgers prospect to the #17 Orioles prospect. Their farm was better than ours and it still is.
Standing out right away is the fact that Bannon, 22 and in his first full season of pro ball, has socked 20 dingers for the Dodgers High-A affiliate with an overall batting line of .296/.402/.557. Wow! Law cautions that Bannon’s age and the home park of Rancho Cucamonga make this feat less interesting, and indeed, Bannon’s road OPS of .768 is much less eye-catching.
The Orioles have assigned Bannon to Bowie, where I would guess he will play second base as the O’s continue trying to have Mountcastle make it at third. The Fangraphs analysis on Bannon notes that “scouts have generally written him up as a try-hard bench piece,” with the slight bit of optimism that his performance to date has exceeded that reputation. If Bannon is still raking in Bowie at year’s end, he, too, may be more interesting.
RHP Zach Pop
There is nothing interesting about acquiring a reliever, except when you read phrases like “profiles, at least stylistically, as a right-handed version of Zach Britton” and “frisbee slider that causes right-handed hitters skin to crawl.” Pop, 21, has lit up Low-A and High-A in turn this year, striking out 47 batters in 43.1 innings with a 64% ground ball rate, and the O’s are challenging him with an assignment to Bowie.
Pop is a reliever with a lower arm slot. That’s interesting as he comes to the O’s because these are the kinds of guys they have had some success developing in the bullpen, with Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens being the biggest, but not only, success stories. If Pop is the next such guy, that would be nice to have as the O’s try to build their next competitive team.
INF Breyvic Valera
There’s nothing exciting about a utility infielder, either, especially when he’s already 26. The Orioles front office was too dysfunctional to sign Ryan Flaherty and they’re still casting about for his replacement. Is it Valera? I don’t know, maybe. He has only played in 25 big league games and batted 45 times, so that’s too early to write him off for a lack of hitting.
Unlike most Orioles you could think of, Valera does NOT strike out a lot, with just 20 strikeouts in 223 plate appearances for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate so far this season. That is not out of line with his career. He makes contact. It’s added to to a MiLB batting average of .302, including above .300 each of the past two seasons at Triple-A in the Cardinals organization.
It’s that contact rate combined with the capability to play average shortstop defense that leaves the prospect writers seeing him with a possible future in the big leagues as a utility infielder. But that’s not nothing. If you can find a guy who can actually spell all of your infielders while hitting decently enough to stay in MLB, that means you don’t have to muck about trying and failing to find one in the Rule 5 draft or on the waiver wire.
The gold standard trade by which all other 21st century Orioles trades will be measured is, of course, the deal that brought Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore for Erik Bedard. That was a five-for-one swap too, but the O’s could demand more in that instance, with Bedard having two years remaining until he was a free agent when that deal was made.
So if you expect another one of those, then this trade is going to be disappointing. Diaz is unlikely to turn into a five-time All-Star for the team. Kremer probably does not have five years at the front of the O’s rotation in his future. They can still be useful, though, as could the other three fellows if things go right enough for them.
If the O’s can really pull off a homegrown outfield, they don’t have to keep screwing around with the likes of Craig Gentry and Colby Rasmus. If Kremer is a back-end of the rotation guy, that spares the O’s needing to sign the next Andrew Cashner.
The O’s have to hope that these useful pieces, combined with what they already have in the system and what they will hopefully get with their remaining trades this July, can eventually come together to form the next contending Orioles team. It’ll be a while before anyone can know that for sure. For now, it seems like the O’s did the best they could with the hand they dealt themselves about Machado.