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With John Means out, who will be the Orioles’ most attractive deadline piece?

The O’s top starter was bound to be a serious midseason trade candidate. But with his injury, who takes his place as Baltimore’s best potential trade chip?

Milwaukee Brewers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The news over the weekend was bad, for both the present and the future.

John Means revealed Saturday that he needs Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, meaning he’ll be out for the rest of the 2022 season and into 2023.

Such news has extending repercussions. In the present, the Orioles lose their No. 1 starter, their de facto ace and the only proven member of their pitching rotation. Baltimore was looking at a shaky pitching picture coming into the season with Means; now without him, a rotation of what at the moment looks like Bruce Zimmermann, Jordan Lyles, Spenser Watkins, Tyler Wells and Chris Ellis is stretched even tighter.

It’s true that a couple of those pitchers, most notably Zimmermann and Watkins, have impressed thus far, but that’s a difficult spot in which to put a largely makeshift rotation. Pitchers like Means who can get the ball every fifth day and deliver solid starts, and hold their own against good teams and other good pitchers, just help keep the pressure off the other hurlers and allow them to pitch from a comfort zone.

What might have general manager Mike Elias hitting his head against the wall, however, is how Means’s injury affects the future.

With Adley Rutschman’s debut approaching and other high-ranking prospects like Grayson Rodriguez likely following him sooner rather than later, the Orioles are getting closer to seeing the pendulum shift from trying to mount young players for the minor league teams to trying to acquire players that can help ensure this incoming core of players will be ready to win some games at the big league level.

But they’re not there yet, and this is probably the last year of Baltimore being in total sell mode once the summer arrives and people start talking trades. And Means would have been one of their most attractive pieces. A starter with an All-Star appearance under his belt who was excellent at the start and end of last year, and who was off to a solid beginning this season (two starts, 3.38 ERA), would have likely been someone who could fetch a decent return. Means was probably Elias’s best chip, and now that chip is gone.

So who’s the best of the remaining bunch?

Cedric Mullins could fit that description. A top-10 MVP candidate last year, when he became the first 30/30 player the Orioles have had, Mullins, 27, might be a foundational piece in Elias’s mind, or he could be someone who’s tempting to move considering the return he could get and the fact that he’s up for arbitration next season. He’s scuffled so far, though, with a .213 average, .708 OPS and 17 strikeouts in 16 games, and if those numbers don’t get better, the amount of teams looking to pounce to get him will be low as well.

Trey Mancini fits the bill as well. Mancini has been the subject of strong trade rumors ever since his breakout 35-homer season of 2019, but he’s had trouble returning to that form ever since his cancer diagnosis cost him the 2020 season. He hit 21 home runs with a .758 OPS last year, and was hitting .237 with one home run, 6 RBI and a .627 OPS entering Tuesday.

The metrics show, however, that Mancini is hitting the ball better than the numbers indicate this season. According to Baseball Savant, his hard hit percentage and average exit velocity are all in the 90th percentile or better, as are his expected batting average and expected slugging percentage. These suggest that we’ll see those numbers lift as the summer progresses, and if and when they do, it shouldn’t be hard to find suitors for a mid-30s home run bat.

Other positional players like Anthony Santander and Rougned Odor are in that conversation as well, but below the caliber of the aforementioned players. On the mound, though, Dillon Tate could be someone who draws interest. Tate slumped in 2021 after an excellent 2020 season, but he’s started to right the ship this season with a 2.89 ERA and .750 WHIP. If he continues to pitch well, he’ll be a bullpen arm that keeps the ball in the yard and is under team control for three more seasons, even if his current salary of $711,500 will get a bump next year in arbitration.

Elias lost a big chip for the trade table this season. But if he is looking to make moves, there will still be some candidates on hand.