It is August, the Orioles are 2.5 games out of a wild card spot, and the Orioles have traded their closer, Jorge López, for prospects. The Baltimore Sun’s Andy Kostka was the first to report on the deal. Mike Elias did not stop with the trade of Trey Mancini. If the team is going to continue to exceed expectations, they’re going to have to do it without one of their best relievers to date.
The full trade, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, brings four pitching prospects back from the Twins. They are: Cade Povich, Yennier Cano, Juan Nuñez, and Juan Rojas.
Cano, 28, has appeared in ten games at the MLB level for the Twins this season. The 6’4” Cuban is a right-handed reliever who’s been in the Twins system since 2019, when they signed him out of Cuba. He has a 9.22 big league ERA because he’s walked too many dudes: 11 men in 13.2 innings.
Povich, 22, is what might pass for the immediate headliner of this trade. He was the Twins third round pick in the 2021 draft. These are the kinds of guys Elias really seems to like to target in trades - other teams mid-round pitcher picks when Elias was himself loading up on position players. Povich has spent this season at the High-A level, where he’s picked up 107 strikeouts in 78.2 innings. We can guess that the O’s like his arsenal and think they can make it even better. This lefty is listed at 6’3”.
Nuñez, 21, and Rojas, 18, are more in the vein of Elias deep cuts, acquiring guys you’ve never heard of. These guys have been pitching in the Florida Complex League. Well, that’s at least a step above the Dominican Summer League. Both are striking out a lot of guys. Nuñez, listed at 5’11”, has picked up 47 strikeouts in 29.2 innings for the FCL Twins. Rojas, a 6’0” lefty from Venezuela, has struck out 38 - and only walked 4 - over 29.2 innings.
These are additions with down-the-road potential but not a lot of immediate excitement. Povich checked in at #22 on the MLB Pipeline ranking of the Twins system as well as on the FanGraphs ranking. FG’s report on Povich includes the following:
We like Povich’s size, athleticism, feel, and underlying traits enough to consider him a good bet to be an integral part of the pitching staff eventually ... we think he could reasonably end up in the No. 4/5 starter area.
“Well, he might be a #4 starter” just isn’t very exciting! The fact does remain that the Orioles need to collect some pitching prospects who could potentially be back-end-of-the-rotation guys. Develop them yourself and you don’t have to do like Dan Duquette did and either try to compete with a rotation including Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, or desperately sign Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Alex Cobb, or Andrew Cashner.
This one might be even tougher to stomach than the Mancini trade, in a way. López, unlike Mancini, will not become a free agent until after the 2024 season. You could tell yourself that these surprisingly-competitive Orioles now could use an elite closer in the next two years as the team hopefully gets better and better with the addition of more and more prospects. They could use a good closer right now. Again, they’re 2.5 games out with only two teams to pass!
López is one more unlikely success story for the Elias Orioles. He simply wasn’t any good as a starting pitcher and the transformation into an All-Star reliever was phenomenal to watch. He’s been pitching great. He’ll leave the O’s this season having posted a 1.68 ERA and 0.972 WHIP in 44 games. Although he hit a rough patch right at the start of July and has taken six losses overall, it’s also the case that him locking down games late is part of why the O’s are where they are.
We already saw before the season that Elias is unafraid to deal right out of his bullpen. The Cole Sulser/Tanner Scott trade seemed a bit confusing at the time, but it turns out to have worked out, because it opened up roster spots for the patchwork set of guys who’ve all done well.
This might be part of why the Orioles think they can deal López: They can turn to more of their current relievers, and perhaps think they can find more pitchers who will turn into success stories like Dillon Tate, Félix Bautista, and Cionel Pérez have done. I suppose I shouldn’t count out Tate being traded before the 6pm deadline.