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Know Your Orioles 40-man: John Means

The lefty once again enters a season as the Orioles’ ace with little support behind him in the rotation. While he still has three seasons of team control remaining, his future in Baltimore is unclear given the trajectory of his career and the team’s rebuild.

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each player currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.

Note: On 4/17/22, the Orioles transferred John Means to the 60-day injured list. He is not currently on the 40-man roster.

The emergence of John Means in recent years has been one of the few pleasant surprises of the Orioles’ lengthy rebuild process. By this point, Means’s story is well-known around Baltimore. He was an 11th-round pick back in 2014, steadily worked his way through the minors, at one point made a LinkedIn profile when his big league dreams looked bleak, and has since turned into a viable, long-term starting pitcher.

It seemed his career had peaked in 2019, when the then-26-year-old put together a dominant first half (2.74 ERA over 92 innings) that earned him a spot on the AL All-Star team and a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. Instead, he managed to follow up a difficult 2020 campaign with another standout season last summer, which included the 10th no-hitter in Orioles history, an incredible performance against the Seattle Mariners on May 5.

Means enters 2021 as the obvious ace of a dicey Orioles pitching staff. If previous performances are any indication, the O’s will have one of the best pitchers in the league on their hands in the season’s early months. The lefty’s career ERA is 2.15 in March/April, 2.60 in May, and 2.49 in June. It’s the second half of the season where he tends to struggle.

His ERA jumps to 5.95 in July, 5.60 in August, before coming back to earth with a 3.87 mark in September/October. It would seem that injuries have played a significant role there. He began the shortened 2020 season on the IL with left shoulder fatigue. That popped back up last June and kept him sidelined until late July.

O’s manager Brandon Hyde said last year that the club has “no long-term concerns” about Means’s arm, but there is enough of a pattern there to wonder. It is normal for pitchers to wear down throughout a season. But with a rotation as thin as Baltimore’s they need to protect Means. That could require a lowered pitcher count, an occasional extra day of rest, or a mix of the two. It’s better to have him throw five innings once a week than missing a month-and-a-half because he was overused.

Keeping Means healthy is important for everyone. The 28-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year. He and the Orioles are going through the process currently, which should see him receive a raise up to the $3.1 million range, per MLB Trade Rumors. That has him on track to become a free agent after the 2024 season, but it’s unclear if he will be an Oriole when that time comes.

If the rebuild is going to plan, the Orioles should be competitive by the start of the 2024 season. After all, the organization’s biggest talents, Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall, are already on the precipice of the big leagues. They are likely to be joined by Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and others in the next 18 months. If a playoff berth is not within reach shortly thereafter, then something has gone horribly wrong.

The question becomes, how does Means best fit into that scenario? While possible, it’s tough to see a future in which Rodriguez, Hall, and Kyle Bradish all turn into reliable, playoff-capable starting pitchers. Keeping Means around would certainly simplify things and give the Orioles more assurance of assembling a formidable staff in that timeframe. The only downside would be eventually losing him for nothing.

Another option would be to trade Means to the highest bidder. It’s unlikely that he would be viewed as an ace by teams looking to make a playoff push right now. Regardless, he is a lefty who would slot into the middle of most team’s starting staffs. That sort of talent paired with multiple years of control remaining would likely make him one of the most desirable arms on the market and should net the Orioles several intriguing prospects in return.

Door number three would be a contract extension for Means. This is something that has been discussed amongst the fandom regarding several Orioles (Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, even Rutschman) in the last year or so. But Means is the one who feels the most likely given his position, proximity to free agency, and his track record.

If Means were to be given a deal right now, it’s reasonable enough to look at the pact that Eduardo Rodríguez signed with the Tigers this offseason as a guide. It’s not a perfect comparison. Their recent statistics are similar and they are the same age, but Rodriguez was a free agent. There were no years of relatively cheap team control to buy out. Even still it would value a pitcher like Means to be worth $15 million-$18 million per year. Is that an investment the Orioles would be interested in? Would Means prefer to bet on himself and hit the open market in three years?

For now, Means is the best pitcher on the Orioles major league roster, and he will be on the hill Opening Day against the Rays. Nothing beyond that is guaranteed.

End-of-season prediction: Once the trade deadline rolls around, Means will be discussed. There will be rumors as to who is interested. The Orioles will entertain offers, and fans will angrily post online that the rebuild is never-ending. However, I do not expect him to be traded, and instead he will end 2022 on the Orioles’ major league roster. Mike Elias once again has several trade players that are easier to move. Guys like Mancini, Anthony Santander, Rougned Odor, Jordan Lyles, and a slew of bullpen arms. They all may go. Crafting a Means trade is more work, especially in-season, and it would create a massive hole that the roster is not able to absorb just yet.

Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Jorge López, Ramón Urías, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Cole Sulser, Jorge Mateo, Tanner Scott, DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle, Tyler Wells, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini

Tomorrow: Cedric Mullins