One of the big, publicly unanswered questions about the Orioles rebuilding project is what year is the year where the O’s decide that they are set to compete? O’s fans all want to know when they will draw the line and say this far, no farther on tear-down trades, veteran-for-prospect trades, and other hallmarks of the last several years in Birdland.
Until then, it’s almost like you can’t get too attached to any player who’s been on the team for several years, because you never know what’s going to happen. In the right trade, however the Mike Elias front office judges what the right trade might be, no one is untouchable. It doesn’t matter how much you or I like the player, how many happy memories we have of a player, how sad it would be if they were traded, or any of that.
With that in mind, let’s consider this morning rumor from ESPN’s Buster Olney, which would be one of the sadder things I can think of if it came true:
Other teams say the Orioles are dangling left-hander John Means for trade. He's set to make about $3 million in arbitration, coming off a season in which he pitched great in the 1st half (2.28 ERA) struggled in the 2nd half (4.88) and had shoulder issues. https://t.co/rSQSDncyrZ— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 23, 2021
My knee-jerk reaction, not connected in any way to rationality, was, “What? The Orioles can’t trade John Means! He threw a no-hitter!”
Longtime readers of Camden Chat may recall my law of baseball rumors, which is this: Probably nothing will happen. That’s a simple fact based on the volume of rumors relative to the number of those rumors that ever come to fruition.
There is a lot of noise out there and there are a bunch of reasons why nothing might happen about a given rumor. The biggest is that a given rumor could simply be mistaken because someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about is spouting off to reporters. For an Orioles example, consider several years ago when Dexter Fowler was absolutely signing with the O’s. Someone who was wrong talked to a bunch of reporters. It happens a lot, though usually not so far into the process where the rumor becomes news.
Another possible reason nothing might happen is if a rumor happens to be true, but it is largely meaningless even if it is true. I think this particular Means rumor probably falls in this category. Let’s say it is true what other teams have told Olney, that the Orioles are “dangling” Means. What does that even mean? Is it worth freaking out about it?
It’s probably not an aggressive signal that the O’s are shopping Means in order to trade him at any cost. If that’s what was going on, Olney would be reporting that instead, and so would a whole bunch of other baseball reporters, national and local. For now, Olney is the only one to have brought up the rumor, which I think also makes it less meaningful. A lot of teams are probably dangling a lot of players right now and only a small fraction of them will be traded prior to the start of the next season.
As to why Olney has picked this specific largely meaningless rumor out of the normal churn, I think it’s because it fits the narrative he trotted out throughout the 2021 season, that the Orioles are in the midst of an unprecedented streak of suck that is a disgrace to baseball, or whatever the complaint is today among the segment of baseball media that want to hold against Mike Elias the fact that the Orioles have been very bad since 2018, a year before Elias was hired.
The merest whiff that the O’s might think about trading Means fuels the narrative. Note how Olney ties the rumor to Means being set for a $3 million salary in his first year of arbitration. He’s implying that the Orioles are so cheap right now that they’ll even trade Means instead of pay him $3 million, though he’s done this in a way that he can deny that’s what he is doing.
If the Orioles did trade Means, Olney would not be wrong in the sense that it would leave a grim picture for the prospective 2022 starting rotation. There were only two pitchers on the 2021 Orioles who started a game and had an ERA under 5: Means and since-released Chris Ellis. Many of the 5+ ERA bunch will probably get another chance next year. Many of that bunch will probably stink again.
I can talk myself into a lot for the good of the rebuild, but trading a starting pitcher who won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season at this point would be a tough thing to stomach. There would need to be a jaw-dropping set of prospects coming back, probably ones who are expected to contribute at the MLB level very soon.
The Orioles “dangling” Means is likely this exact thing, the team putting it out there just in case they get a bite, not expecting anyone to actually meet the price. Means having thrown a no-hitter doesn’t mean a team with a loaded farm system is going to ship off its top three prospects for him, or anything that would count as an overwhelming return. Just in case someone gets desperate and bites, though...
The reality is Means had a great April and May, fueled by incredible batted ball luck (.193 BABIP) and then wasn’t as good from July on, after he spent some time on the injured list and also after MLB changed its “sticky stuff” policy to be much more strict.
Every team is going to be aware of this and probably wants to see how Means looks in 2022 to get a sense of who he will be as a pitcher for the rest of his arbitration years. And in the meantime, if Olney is to be believed, the Orioles are dangling Means out there, whatever that means. I return to my default stance on baseball rumors, and I think you should too: Probably nothing will happen.