Draft ‘em, grow ‘em or sign ‘em, building depth on the roster and at the lower levels of the farm is the lifeblood of good teams. For a long time, it seemed like the Orioles were chronically unable to do any of them, what with high draft-pick flameouts like Adam Loewen and Matt Hobgood, bloated and bad contracts awarded to Ubaldo Jiménez and Chris Davis (and not awarded to contributors like Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis), and a farm system consistently at the bottom of professional baseball ranks.
As we approach the trade deadline, which is officially 4 p.m. today, it seems like a good time to revisit moves the Orioles have made in recent trade deadlines past. There’s the waning years of the Dan Duquette regime, which began its slow dismantling of the team in 2018, and then the early years of Mike Elias, which didn’t sell aggressively until 2020. Here are the main results:
Ill-advised buyers in 2017 (shocker: Tim Beckham and Jeremy Hellickson were not enough to push the team to a World Series ring) before selling off, like, everybody in 2018, the Orioles made many trades that were painful to the fanbase, but not more painful than their mixed results.
· July 11: Darren O’Day and Kevin Gausman to ATL for C Brett Cumberland, 3B Jean Carlos Encarnación, LHP Bruce Zimmermann, RHP Evan Phillips, and international slot money
· July 18: Manny Machado to LAD for OF Yusniel Díaz, IF Breyvic Valera, RHP Dean Kremer, IF Rylan Bannon, and RHP Zack Pop
· July 24: Zack Britton to NYY for RHP Cody Carroll, RHP Dillon Tate and LHP Josh Rogers
· July 29: Brad Brach to ATL for international slot money
· July 31: Jonathan Schoop to MIL for SS Jean Carmona, RHP Luis Ortiz, and INF Jonathan Villar
Verdict: Mixed is putting it nicely. Only two of these prospects are still on the major-league roster: Dillon Tate, a talented but erratic reliever (and possible trade chip today), and Bruce Zimmermann, who’s had moderate effectiveness in a tiny sample size and is now injured. The rest of the Britton trade has been very disappointing: Josh Rogers has a 5.57 ERA for Nats affiliate Triple-A Rochester after a difficult Tommy John recovery, and Cody Carroll has an identical ERA for Triple-A Norfolk, having struggled mightily in two innings with Baltimore last year (54.00 ERA in three appearances). Ditto with the O’Day/Gausman trade: Evan Phillips’ 5.11 ERA for Norfolk is nothing special, JC Encarnación was cut from the organization this June, and, with a .207 average for the Tides, Brett Cumberland seems like a solid defensive catcher but not exactly ready for a promotion.
Same with the Machado deal, whose most valuable player is now a reliever for the Marlins (Pop). Dean Kremer has been a disaster this year, with a 7.25 ERA in the Majors—and a 6.98 one in Triple-A. After two-and-a-half seasons, Díaz is still the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect but he’s been hobbled by injuries and is hitting only .186 for Norfolk. Rylan Bannon, at No. 20, has been injured, too, and is likewise hitting .134 for the Tides. Also, Breyvic Valera is a Blue Jay now.
As for the Schoop deal, which CC’s Mark Brown wrote about in 2019, the assessment hasn’t changed much in two years. It was hard to lose the likable Schoop, and considering that the most valuable acquisition was Jonathan Villar, who was an Oriole only for one season, it seems hard to be sunny on this one. There’s a Luis Ortiz on the Orioles’ Top 30 list, but he’s a different Luis Ortiz signed out of the Dominican Republic. That Ortiz, meanwhile, is in Texas’ organization after being cut by the Orioles. Meanwhile, the switch-hitting Carmona spent two seasons in Aberdeen not hitting and is now hitting .254 and OPSing .730 with Delmarva. He is just 21, though.
Supposedly, under the watchful eye of a new regime guided by data analytics and a non-negligent approach to scouting and player development in Latin America, the drafting and growing part would turn around. What about trading? In truth, they didn’t have much to deal, especially in 2019.
· July 13: Andrew Cashner to BOS for CF Elio Prado and SS Noelberth Romero
· July 31: Dan Straily to PHI for cash
Verdict: Soon to say. I was sad to see the likable Cashner go, but these two prospects, both aged 19 today, are still too green for us to know what the Orioles got in return. Prado is on the 60-day IL for Delmarva and Romero is hitting .233 for the FCL Orioles Orange. As for Straily, yeah, why not. Whatever the Orioles got for Straily, nobody was too cut up about seeing his 9.82 ERA and 1.993 depart.
It was a weird year for trades, with the shortened season moving the trade deadline to September 1st and teams willing to overpay for rentals with a wide-open eight-team playoff format. The Orioles didn’t have a ton of talent to deal, but they were certainly more aggressive than in 2019 and with more obvious returns to the farm system.
· July 29: RHP Héctor Velázquez to HOU for RHP Michael Padilla
· August 1: Richard Bleier to MIA for INF Isaac de León
· August 30: Tommy Milone to ATL for INF AJ Graffanino and INF Greg Cullen
· August 30: Mychal Givens to COL for INF Tyler Nevin and INF Terrin Vavra
· August 31: Miguel Castro to NYM for LHP Kevin Smith and SS Victor Gonzalez
Verdict: Not surprisingly, the bulk of the enthusiasm for trade deadline moves centers around this group of “deep cut” prospects acquired by the Elias regime. The 19-year-old Padilla has struggled to an 8.68 ERA for the FCL Orioles Black this season. The 19-year-old De León is OPSing .716, also for the FCL Orioles Black. The 18-year-old Victor González is on the IL for the DSL Orioles 2. But yeah, they’re all really young. At age 24, Graffanino is showing limited upside for the IronBirds. But Greg Cullen showed enough promise in 10 games with Delmarva to earn a promotion to Bowie, and his teammate Vavra, meanwhile, is OPSing .860. As a bat-first first baseman, Tyler Nevin needs to do better than his .720 OPS to be of value to the organization, but his MLB pedigree is elite, and his OBP consistently exceeds .300. Of all of these prospects, Kevin Smith seems the closest to sticking at the MLB level, blazing through Double-A with a 1.04 ERA in six games, though he’s started a little slower at Triple-A. Still, the Mets apparently viewed Smith as a starting rotation option at the major league level, and there’s evidence he can be that with Baltimore.
Final thoughts? The Duquette regime’s midterm rentals game seems to have gone pretty poorly for the Orioles, with none of the Britton, Machado, and Schoop deals returning much. And 2020 seems to be the trade season warranting the greatest optimism, with a handful of bullpen pieces who were probably not going to be a part of the future returning an interesting crop of young players. Don’t expect the same haul this trade deadline. Still, for an organization long known for neglecting this side of the business, it is refreshing to think we may be turning the corner.