There was a lot that was sad about the trades that the Orioles had to make last July. Few of them are more of a bummer than the necessity of splitting apart the fantastic friendship of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop by trading first Machado and then, before the end of the month, Schoop. So many of the good moments of the several seasons prior to last year were wrapped up in those two friends being their goofy selves and all of that was gone in what felt like the blink of an eye.
The Schoop trade, like the Kevin Gausman trade less than an hour before it, was not something that seemed inevitable on the morning of trade deadline day. While the O’s had moved pending free agents Machado and Zack Britton earlier in the month, the Dan Duquette front office had not yet done anything to make me feel like they really understood that this was going to be a multi-year rebuilding effort.
Duquette managed to kid himself at both the 2017 trade deadline and over the offseason that the Orioles might be contenders, after all. It wasn’t hard to imagine him angling for a similar sort of foolishness as he chased a new contract. Sign a couple of mid-tier starters who would fail to live up to expectations, talk up a dismal farm system and lash out at its critics. We’d seen that movie before.
As it turned out, that worry wasn’t necessary, though the Schoop trade went so much down to the wire that in the minutes after the deadline passed, Schoop was still wondering if he should put his Orioles uniform on or not. Not too long after that, the news of the deal became more official and it became apparent he should not put the uniform on.
After a breakout 2017 campaign where Schoop smacked 32 home runs and batted .293/.338/.503, with solid enough defensive numbers at second base, the then-26-year-old Schoop started off the 2018 season looking like a possibly interesting trade piece if things did play out in a way where a rebuild was the only choice.
A middle infielder with 30+ home run power and team control remaining for 2019 would have had value to teams in the hunt for both last season and this one. The remainder of his $8.5 million salary for 2018, plus whatever arbitration raise he could have earned for 2019, represented far cheaper expenses than going out and signing some free agent.
Unfortunately for Schoop, and for the Orioles hopes of cashing in that tradeable asset, 2018 was not so kind. He scuffled deeply at the plate, entering the month of July with just a .197/.242/.345 batting line for the season, with only eight home runs.
In July, Schoop flipped the switch, posting an OPS of 1.056 for the month, racking up nine home runs in July alone. He took a 12-game hitting streak into the trade deadline. This seems to have been enough to get Schoop traded, though not enough to get him traded for much.
As things played out, Schoop went back to scuffling for the Brewers, finishing the season with a .577 OPS there. He batted just six times in their two postseason series and did not record a hit. The Brewers did not tender Schoop a 2019 contract, with Schoop eventually signing a deal for 2019 with the Twins, where he’s batting .255/.301/.463 through 85 games, or just about a league average OPS.
Brewers get: Jonathan Schoop
Orioles get: IF Jonathan Villar, RHP Luis Ortiz, IF Jean Carmona
There was something extremely fitting about the 2018 Orioles acquiring a player who is unfairly remembered mostly for one thing in his career: the infamous “butt slide”. The baseball corner of the Internet has not yet reckoned, and probably never will reckon, with the fact that if you pay attention to parts of that GIF other than Villar’s face smacking into Brandon Phillips, he looks like he was safe.
In acquiring Villar in the Schoop trade, the Orioles effectively swapped one underperforming second baseman for another one with one more year remaining of team control before free agency. Villar, after a peak 2016 season where he batted .285/.369/.457 and stole 62 bases for the Brewers, had fallen on harder times. He had just a .693 OPS at the time of the deal last July.
Schoop’s post-trade struggles were discussed above. Villar, on the other hand, improved his fortunes somewhat after getting sent to Baltimore, batting .258/.336/.392 in 54 games to close out the season, with 21 stolen bases. This year, Villar’s overall performance is enough that he’s been worth 1.7 bWAR or 1.5 fWAR, depending which you prefer.
Mike Elias might cash in his Villar chip for more future value as this year’s trade deadline comes and goes. Villar is set to be a free agent after the 2020 season. A team with a need in the middle infield that believes it’ll compete next year too could surely use Villar. If that’s what happens, there will be new names in the system to make sure that the Schoop trade has more opportunity to pay off for the future of the Orioles.
Maybe the biggest reason to hope that Villar turns into more prospects is that the other guys in this deal aren’t exactly yet looking like part of the Orioles eventual return to contention, or even some intermediate mediocre stage.
Ortiz, the 30th overall pick in the 2014 draft, made his way onto top 100 prospect lists prior to the 2016 season, rating as high as #64 with Baseball America. The Rangers, who drafted Ortiz, used that prospect stock to pair Ortiz with even-better-ranked prospect Lewis Brinson and acquire reliever Jeremy Jeffress and catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers at the deadline in 2016.
There was not so much shine on Ortiz by the time the 2018 deadline rolled around. With two more years under his belt, Ortiz still hadn’t thrown 100 innings in any professional season. Posting a 4.01 ERA at Double-A in 94.1 innings, with 79 strikeouts and 37 walks, does not build the hype. Ortiz was repeating Double-A at the time the O’s acquired him, with a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate across 68 innings.
Duquette sent Ortiz to Triple-A Norfolk after acquiring him. His six Norfolk starts eventually got him an MLB debut in September that we won’t talk about. The one game he’s pitched in MLB in 2019 was also bad. In Triple-A this year, Ortiz has a 6.38 ERA in 14 starts. He’s sunk to just a 6.4 K/9 and his BB/9 has ballooned back up to 4.2.
Ortiz turns 24 in September, so while he’s too young to just write him off entirely, he’s old enough where the point where you say, “That guy just isn’t going to be good” isn’t far off, either. The durability concerns are still there, too: Ortiz last pitched on July 2 and is on the injured list right now.
You have to look at the 35-deep Fangraphs Orioles prospect ranking to find mention of Carmona, their #33 prospect in the system. While the O’s system has improved this year, even a good system’s #33 prospect is not likely to ever be much of a guy who matters. They described his bat as “very much a work in progress.”
With Duquette’s Orioles not participating meaningfully in the international amateur market, he seemed to angle to grab other teams’ lottery ticket international guys in his July 31 deals. JC Encarnacion from the Braves system was one, and Carmona, who’s still just 19, is another.
Carmona had done well enough at age 17 that the Brewers brought him from the Dominican Summer League, where he batted .302/.406/.447 in 47 games, to the rookie-level Arizona League. It’s interesting any time someone that young is sent up to a US-based league.
When the Brewers followed that up in 2018 by having Carmona at their rookie-level Helena affiliate, Carmona’s .239/.298/.406 batting line at the time of the trade was intriguing. With Carmona almost two and a half years younger than the average player in the league, that he could post numbers even at that level matters.
However, he scuffled in his post-trade Aberdeen assignment, batting .226/.280/.301 in 24 games. He was three years younger than the average player there, but that’s not quite enough to say he was holding his own. Carmona repeated at Aberdeen this summer and landed on the injured list for a little while before returning just last night. He’s only 19, so he’s two years younger than most of this year’s college draftees. It’s far too early to say he’s a failure. He is a lottery ticket, though.
When Orioles fans look back several years from now on Duquette’s two July 31, 2018 deals, it could very easily end up being that the only players from those deals who made it to be a part of the next good Orioles team are whoever Villar gets traded for today, if he is traded.
It could be that Ortiz was picked up by the O’s just in time to be revealed as a total bust, and that Carmona was never meant to be more than a long-shot throw-in. For a rebuilding team, prospects might be the future, but a lot of them will fall by the wayside along the way.
Even the smartest team is going to end up collecting some players whose potential they believe in who turn out to be duds, and the Orioles under Duquette, especially in the later years, were certainly not the smartest team. In the case of the Schoop deal, Duquette is currently looking shrewd for taking advantage of the Brewers willingness to swap Schoop and Villar. And maybe even one of the others will pan out in the end, too.