The topic of trades is something the Orioles cannot seem to avoid right now. That happens when you are the hottest team in baseball and exceed all previous expectations. How the Orioles approach this impending trade deadline is suddenly a national baseball news story because the media (and the team itself) can no longer default to saying “sell, sell, sell.”
Our own Tyler Young recently discussed the variety of approaches the Orioles could take at this trade deadline in excellent detail. For once there does not seem to be a wrong answer to the “buy or sell” debate when it comes to the O's. Sure, moving on from Trey Mancini and/or relievers like Jorge Lopez, Felix Bautista and Dillon Tate could prove to be the prudent move. Mancini needs to be paid and presents a tough case when projecting how he fits in with the younger stars developing around him. Relievers are incredibly volatile assets and, unless you think you have someone like 2016 Zach Britton, there is always some logic to cashing in while the player’s stock is at a peak.
All of this trade talk has ignored something that simply cannot be ignored about the Orioles. More often than not, when it comes to trades, the Orioles end up looking back and saying, “Man, we wish we wouldn’t have made that one.”
Almost all Orioles fans shudder a little bit when thinking of this week’s opponents the Chicago Cubs—and how they fleeced the Orioles by pawning off three months of Scott Feldman for future Cy Young award-winner Jake Arrieta (AND Pedro Strop). Then there was the infamous 2014 Andrew Miller for Eduardo Rodriguez swap—which, yes, the 2014 Orioles won the AL East and made it to the ALCS with Miller. Can we really say it was worth it, though, when Miller parlayed that into a monster deal with the Evil Empire from the Bronx and Rodriguez tormented the O's for six seasons in Boston? And, let us not forget the more obscure but still painful swap where the Orioles turned Josh Hader into… Bud Norris.
Those were all trades where the Orioles were in “buy” mode. However, the Orioles as sellers haven’t been much more successful—especially in deadline deals. From four separate trades in 2018 that saw the Birds send out Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day, they received 12 players in return. Of those 12 players, only Tate and Dean Kremer are on the Orioles’ major league roster, with only Bruce Zimmermann, Rylan Bannon, and Yusniel Diaz also on the 40-man. Diaz, at the time considered the centerpiece of the Machado deal, has gone from the Orioles’ #1 prospect and a top 50 prospect in all of MLB to barely keeping his place in the Orioles’ top 30 prospects. That’s not to say that all of the 2018 fire sale was a failure—Tate has proved to be the better long-term asset than Zack Britton. Kremer makes us as Orioles fans rehash the Machado trade with every recent start. Jonathan Villar provided a season and a half of slightly above-average second base play.
It’s at this point that most fans would point out all of these aforementioned trades were executed under the Dan Duquette regime. They would say that no one should besmirch the good name of Mike Elias by drawing a parallel between the current Orioles’ leadership and the front office of (forgettable) years gone by. While a fair criticism, Elias has certainly yet to light the world on fire with deadline deals the same way he has on draft day. Since taking over in 2019, Elias has made nine player-for-player trades (he’s made many more moves where he traded cash for a player). Of those, the only one that has paid true dividends in this rebuild was the 2020 move that sent Mychal Givens to the Rockies. Not only did the Orioles get current third baseman Tyler Nevin, but also prospect Tevin Vavra. The infielder—who is hitting .329 at Norfolk—seems destined to be fighting for the Orioles’ starting second base job sooner rather than later. Still, no major league hitter gets credit when he goes 1-9—even if that one is a well-hit double—and so far it seems fair to view Elias’ trade history through the same lens.
In a clip from his recent podcast, MLB insider Ken Rosenthal spoke with hints of disdain about the idea of the Orioles continuing their passive approach when it comes to rebuilding this team. He seemed to suggest that if the O's don’t show any sign of being buyers, it would be an insult to baseball. Rosenthal’s comments echo the same sentiment heard around baseball when the Orioles entered the season with a $33 million payroll. Yet, despite this organization’s unwillingness to do what the rest of the wider baseball world wished they would in their approach to this rebuild, the Orioles are ahead of their perceived schedule.
All of this is to say that even with the winning streak, even with .500 baseball just around the corner, and even with an immense amount of talent knocking at the door of the majors, now is not the time to try and drastically alter the trajectory of this process. Elias and Co. have shown that they’re at their best when they take untapped talent—either through the draft or through players discarded by other organizations—and mold them according to their vision for player development. We’ve already seen this pay huge dividends in the work the organization has done with players like Lopez, Jorge Mateo and Ramon Urias. Those outside of Birdland who vilify this approach shouldn’t push the Orioles or the fanbase toward rushed decisions.
Yes, the opportunity to trade Mancini, Lopez and other hot commodities presents a chance at acquiring the types of talents that the organization can mold into even better players. These are not truly top-end trade chips though, certainly below the level of Machado back in 2018. The return is likely to be more of the same, prospects that will struggle to make an impact on an already crowded organizational depth chart.
Advocating for “standing pat” is certainly not going to be the most popular opinion amongst the fanbase. I look forward to going through the comments to see the arguments for doing anything but what I’ve outlined so far. Yet this Orioles front office will have plenty of opportunities to add talent—major-league ready or for the future—outside of this trade deadline. The O's have five of the first 81 picks in this year’s draft, a nearly unprecedented signing-bonus pool to work with—oh, and the No. 1 overall pick.
They are also looking forward to a 2022-23 offseason that is sure to present plenty of opportunities for moving and shaking. By November, they will have the benefit of seeing more of their top prospects get a chance to make first impressions in Baltimore. Right now this core is still growing, gelling and defining their roles within the organization—and they’re doing it all together. The history of Orioles’ deadline moves certainly gives this writer pause about any potential deal. Contrast that with the amazing feeling that comes with seeing this team—as currently constructed—take the field every day and it makes you want to continue to let this team blossom untouched. This picture forming from the puzzle of this Orioles rebuild is certainly a beautiful one—so maybe we don’t need new puzzle pieces just yet.