The Orioles have reached the point in the offseason when most free agents have found new homes. Michael Wacha remains an option, but Baltimore passed on the majority of players capable of making an impact next season. The Orioles, and any other team planning to upgrade its roster, will now shift their focus to the trade market.
“I think now that the free agent market is relatively wound down, the trade discussions are picking up,” Mike Elias said late last week. Elias spoke after the Twins acquired Pablo López from Miami in exchange for Luis Arraez.
The Marlins had been linked as a trade partner for many teams due to their surplus in starting pitching. Miami expressed a desire to receive quality major leaguers in a deal, and they got a reigning batting champ in Arraez.
Elias went on to say that fewer teams are waving the white flag and auctioning off players for prospects. Expanded playoffs and anti-tanking measures have encouraged teams to compete. That is inherently a good thing. It is also unfortunate for an Orioles team entering a winning window with eight prospects ranked in the top 100.
The status quo indicates that the Orioles would need to sacrifice at least one player from their current roster to improve the starting rotation. Is that something they should do?
Anthony Santander and Ramón Urías have been frequent members of trade speculation. Santander struggles defensively and will become more expensive next season. Urías won a Gold Glove at third base but Gunnar Henderson is here to stay. Could the Orioles contend in 2023 without the pair?
Santander posted a 2.5 FanGraphs WAR last season with defensive metrics hurting his cause. FanGraphs assigned Santander an even 15 value based on advanced batting and base running numbers, but gave him a -11.6 for position adjusted fielding. Santander started 116 games in the outfield last season.
Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers will head to Sarasota hoping to win a starting role. Both represent a significant upgrade in the field, but neither pack the punch that Santander brings at the plate. McKenna worked his way into a platoon with Cedric Mullins at one point last season, but Kyle Stowers took only four at bats against lefties. Meanwhile, Santander batted third or fourth in 132 games last year.
John Beers mentioned last week that the Orioles offense began a steady decline after the All-Star break. It’s difficult to imagine Baltimore improving after trading its number three hitter, even with a full season of Henderson and Adley Rutschman. Santander needs to spend less time in the outfield, but the Orioles need his 120 wRC+ in the lineup this year.
Urías appears to be more expendable with Henderson, Jorge Mateo and Adam Frazier set to play a significant role in the infield. Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and even Connor Norby all appear capable of reaching the bigs at some point this season, but there are only so many spots in the infield.
Urías won a Gold Glove last season, but many would argue Mateo made the greater defensive impact at short. FanGraphs assigned a position weighted value of 14.5 to Mateo while Urías earned an 8.5 at the hot corner. Mateo appears locked in at shortstop with Henderson set to supplant Urías at third. That leaves the 28-year-old Urías to compete with Frazier at second base.
Urías can handle second, but his metrics take a hit compared to his league-leading play at third. Should the Orioles move on if they cannot maximize his value?
It’s a fair question, but one that overlooks the fact that Urías can play shortstop. At a minimum, Urías represents a utility infielder capable of hitting like an everyday player. Urías slashed .248/.305/.414 in 2022. Chris Owings, the Orioles utility infielder on Opening Day last season, slashed .107/.254/.143. Playoff teams have bench bats that can hit, and Urías represents a real threat compared to Owings, Richie Martin and Pat Valaika.
Ryan Mountcastle appears poised for a rebound, and a full year of Rutschman and Henderson will go a long way, but the Orioles cannot handle a loss of offensive production. Playoff teams rarely depend on prospects that have yet to make their major league debut like Westburg or Colton Cowser, and Baltimore still needs Santander and Urías right now.
The O’s could certainly use a bump on the hill, but they also needs to see what Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells, DL Hall and even Mike Baumann can do. A deal only appears worthwhile if it substantially improves the rotation, but the cost will likely price out the Orioles for now.
A strong first half could place Baltimore in position to make a deal at the trade deadline. Elias and the gang will have a better understanding of which pitchers belong in the rotation, and multiple prospects could pound down the door by July.