The Orioles barreled towards the trade deadline this year in a much different place than they have been over the last few full seasons. The team’s 10-game winning streak in July was enough to lift them into genuine contention for one of the wild card spots in the American League. The calendar has turned to August now and the Orioles are 1.5 games out of a playoff spot.
For a team that was deep in the basement of the league last year, it’s quite a transformation. Not only is there surprise hope for this season, now there can be even more hope that next year’s Orioles team will be better than this from the get-go. The current roster has achieved good things and it’s nowhere close to the best roster that you can hope the Orioles will be able to assemble in the near future, given how many prospects are performing well at Triple-A and feeling like they’re on the cusp of trying to help the MLB team.
With the surprisingly good Orioles play in June and July, there were a lot of fans who were hoping that this might mean Mike Elias might let it ride with his current roster and see what happened. I was one of these fans. It seemed like the team deserved to find out where they could get with who they had, given where they’d already gotten.
Elias, we now know, did not see it the same way, dealing away Trey Mancini and Jorge López in two separate trades that netted six pitching prospects. On the team’s wild card potential, he offered this cold assessment that ruffled some feathers:
I have to tether my decisions to our outlook and the probabilities for this year. We have a shot at a wild card right now, but it is not a probability that we are going to win a wild card.
Elias is not wrong to say this, though it was painful to hear and I wish he hadn’t. The best Orioles playoff chance you will find right now is 37.4% at Baseball Reference. They’re far below this at FanGraphs, just 2.2%. For fans who haven’t seen the Orioles in the postseason for six years, a one-in-three chance sounds pretty good. Tossing that aside sucks.
For a GM who wants to make sure the Orioles are regularly contending for the postseason even after a chunk of the current roster has hit free agency, betting on a one-in-three chance isn’t so good, especially if it’s really one-in-fifty.
Though the usual suspects in the baseball media world have lined up to dump on the Orioles as if they’ve pulled off another “trade everything that’s not nailed down” deadline, this perspective does not withstand contact with reality. Mancini and the Orioles had a mutual option for 2023 that was not likely to be picked up. He wasn’t going to be here next year. Trading away a 1B/DH even opens up some lineup flexibility that they did not have previously.
López would not have become a free agent until after 2024, but given the success the rest of the bullpen has had this season, it hardly feels like giving up on this season and next at the same time to trade away a 29-year-old who’d never been good before this year. As a general rule, relievers are volatile from year to year. It’s no guarantee he’d duplicate this success next year.
That López made the All-Star team this year and was traded away for players who won’t immediately impact the roster is understandably disappointing to fans. Yet it’s worth keeping in mind that the Orioles polished a 2020 waiver claim into an All-Star closer within two years. The rest of the bullpen is full of guys who were castoffs as well. The Orioles may have good reason to believe they can polish up the next López - and for this year, at least, it sure seems like Félix Bautista is ready to slide into the closer shoes.
The Orioles even made a small addition to the MLB roster, though I’m skeptical that acquiring Brett Phillips, he of the .626 career OPS, will bring much to the table that Ryan McKenna hadn’t already brought. Whatever, it only cost them cash considerations. They’ll make that back the next time I buy a hot dog. I’m concerned about the opportunity cost of the roster spot and whether it might throw up a barrier to evaluating prospects who seem to have conquered Triple-A, but that’s another argument for another article.
Though five of the six pitchers acquired have never pitched above High-A, so there’s not much immediately excitement about them, there are some interesting guys in the bunch. The Mancini trade turning into a three-team deal that fetched the Orioles Seth Johnson was a positive development. Johnson had made it onto at least one top 100 list before recently needing Tommy John surgery. That wipes him out until 2024, of course, but that’s good upside that the O’s were willing to chase by absorbing some risk.
Now that you’ve had some more time to think about it, how are you feeling about the Orioles trade deadline activity? Does it change your outlook about the team for either the rest of this season or for seasons to come?
What grade would you give the Orioles trade deadline decisions?