The trade deadline is just over a month away, and the Orioles are going to be sellers. What else is new.
Here’s the part that is something of a change, however: The list of players Baltimore could move is not very defined.
There’s no MVP or Cy Young candidate who can fetch a bumper crop of prospects. No shutdown reliever who should be closing for a contender. No starter who would be an ideal fit as a No. 2 pitcher for a winner. None sporting a “For Sale” sticker, at least.
The Orioles are in their fourth straight season as a losing, future-thinking organization (I know, last year had its fleeting hopes for contending in the weird COVID-affected structure), and in the past, they’ve approached the deadline with a clear-cut list of players who could draw the interest of teams looking to make an addition for the stretch run.
Last year (which had an Aug. 31 deadline due, again, to COVID), it was surprise MVP candidate Anthony Santander, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Jose Iglesias and Alex Cobb leading the list, with Givens getting dealt to Colorado and Castro getting traded to the Mets while Iglesias and Cobb ended up being dealt in the offseason.
In 2019, it was Hanser Alberto, Jonathan Villar, Trey Mancini and Andrew Cashner, with Cashner getting moved and Villar waiting until the offseason before he too was shipped out. And 2018, of course, was The Great Exodus, when Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach and Zack Britton and, well, just about everyone got traded, and the last winning team the organization knew was finally stripped down.
This year, the potential trade chips have question marks, either due to how much teams would want them, or how willing the Orioles would be to part with them.
The player who would seem to be the perfect fit as the coveted star is John Means, and if the deadline were in late May, he would probably have had contenders falling over each other to land him. When he left the mound on May 24 he had made 10 starts, and he was 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA. He was also 28 years old, and it’s hard to imagine the Orioles not pulling the trigger if they somehow got a top prospect on the table for a pitcher who seemed destined to be close to a Cy Young Award selection.
Since then, however, Means’s market may have cooled. He hasn’t pitched since June 5 due to a strain in his left shoulder, and even when he was still pitching, his ERA went from 1.79 to 2.28 in his last two starts. He also hasn’t pitched since MLB’s crackdown on adhesive substances, and while it’s unknown publicly whether he’s used anything umpires are looking for, a potential suitor could get cold feet.
Even if Means is still someone that can get teams interested, he’s under team control through 2024, and the Orioles may be more reluctant to make that move than they were with someone like Villar or Givens. Given GM Mike Elias’s all-in approach to the rebuild, the Orioles would probably listen to offers. But it’s hard to know for sure.
The other trade targets on the roster have similar “yeah, but”s to their name. Santander is available...but he’s hitting .233 and his OPS is down from .890 last year to .642 this season. Trey Mancini could get some interest...but it’s really hard to imagine even a team as heavily in sell mode as Baltimore is trading away such a fan favorite, considering the odds-defying return he’s made from colon cancer.
Keep going. Cedric Mullins is having the best season of anyone on the team and would fetch a good amount in a deal...but he’s not a free agent until 2025, he’s only 26, and he might be, along with Ryan Mountcastle, the start of the foundation of the next winning Orioles team. Freddy Galvis was a trade candidate with his .720 OPS and reliable defense...until he limped away from Saturday’s game with a quad injury that’ll have him out of action for a while.
The rotation is...well, to be frank, if any contenders have any interest in a non-Means Orioles starter, they may as well go to the nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods, buy a batting tee and save themselves the cost.
The bullpen may be the best place for a buyer to look, but again, there are asterisks. Paul Fry was perfect trade bait with a 1.78 ERA through June 18, but he’s struggled badly in two of his last four outings. Tanner Scott had a 2.12 ERA, .155 batting average against and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings on May 19 and was looking like one of the game’s best power lefties. In 14 appearances since, he has a 4.68 ERA and a 1.607 WHIP. Cole Sulser, with a 2.30 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 27.1 innings, may be the only reliever whose stock is on the rise, but with no real track record of success, he may net a marginal return at best.
This isn’t to say the Orioles couldn’t still get what they’re looking for. Maybe a team out there decides Means’s incredible start to the season is too good to pass up. Perhaps a contender sees Fry’s recent scuffle as nothing to worry about, and he becomes this year’s Darren O’Day or Britton or Givens. Maybe the Orioles accept the PR hit, bite the bullet and deal Mancini. It’s hard to imagine Elias would be content to come out of the deadline with the same team he has now.
It’s just hard to pinpoint who is most set up for that kind of move. There are questions everywhere, and right now it’s hard to come up with the answers.