We knew the present was going to be rocky, and it has been. But the Baltimore Orioles’ future looks better than it did a year ago at this time.
The trades of Manny Machado and Zack Britton have helped the farm system. Prospects like Grayson Rodriguez and Ryan Mountcastle have delivered as well as anyone could have hoped. Adley Rutschman is in the organization, drafted, signed and ready to go.
And even the players currently on the Orioles who could help at the trade deadline are starting to do their part. Andrew Cashner is having a bounce-back year. Dylan Bundy has found his way back after a miserable 2018. Trey Mancini has been a de facto All-Star, even if not an official one.
You can add Mychal Givens to the list. And just in time, too.
Givens is returning to form as a veteran who could inspire some takers in the coming weeks. The overall stats aren’t great; he has a 4.76 ERA, a 1-4 record, and almost as many blown saves (five) as successful ones (six).
But after a shaky start to the season, Givens has started to look like the pitcher Orioles fans have seen around these parts for the past few seasons. Givens blew a save on May 29; since then, a span of 11 appearances, he’s pitched to a 2.61 ERA and, most impressively, a .162 opponents’ batting average while striking out 18 in 10.1 innings.
He’s back to looking like an overpowering reliever - which contenders are often looking for at this time of year. After seemingly killing his trade value with one bad outing after another, Givens is pitching his best at the best time.
If this narrative sounds familiar, it’s because we saw something similar just last year. In 2018, as the Orioles bottomed out, Jonathan Schoop did the same. After he hit .293 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI and looked like he’d progressed into one of the best second basemen in baseball, Schoop’s stats plummeted. By early July he was hitting only .198, with eight home runs. The O’s were suddenly sellers, and what should have been one of their top chips was sputtering.
And just in time, Schoop caught fire. From July 4, the day after his average dipped below .200, to July 29, he batted .365 with nine home runs and a 1.080 OPS. In the last nine games of that stretch, Schoop homered in seven of them. He was the hottest hitter in baseball, and the Orioles didn’t hesitate. On July 29, he went deep for Baltimore, and in his next game on Aug. 1 he suited up for Milwaukee, having been traded for Jonathan Villar, Jean Carmona and Luis Ortiz.
That’s what the Orioles, so far, are looking at with Givens. He’s 29 years old and not signed past this year. With Baltimore in no position to contend next season and likely 2021 as well, the team may not want to hold onto him through these next two years of arbitration, and his future in Camden Yards could be limited to this season.
So he’s a perfect trade option. The problem was that you saw his value go down with each pitch he saw get smacked 420 feet. His ERA was an ugly 5.70, opposing hitters had an .844 OPS against him, and he had allowed six home runs in only 23.2 innings. Even his recent hot stretch hasn’t put away all the red flags; he blew another save on June 16, and he’s still only been close to 50 percent on save chances. Even now, it’s hard for a team that needs a shutdown closer (the Red Sox, for instance) to see a perfect fit for its woes in Givens.
But at least now Givens is back to being a pure power arm, somebody who throws hard and is getting hitters out as well, and that is always in demand at this time of year. Even teams with closers look for a dynamic bridge to the ninth inning. Remember what Andrew Miller did for the O’s in 2014?
Furthermore, Givens has a track record of pitching at his best when his teams were at theirs. In 2015, the Orioles went deep into August as a wild card contender, and Givens’s ERA was 1.80. In 2016, the Orioles made it back to the postseason, and Givens was their gas-thrower out of the pen with a 3.13 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 74.2 innings.
Even now, Givens has 49 strikeouts in 34 innings, for a 13.0 K/9. That’s the best of his career. It may be hard to sell him as a closer, but it’s never been easier to sell him as someone who can come into a jam and punch out hitters.
As the Orioles get ready for another yard sale, Givens is making sure he gives his team a chance of flipping him for a prospect. There are still three weeks to go until the deadline, however, which is plenty of time for Givens to go back the other way. The O’s have seen it, and it would be another blow in a season that’s been full of them for the team to see it again.