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Good Moves & Head-Scratchers for O’s at Deadline

Yusniel Diaz finishes his swing.
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The Orioles have had an unexpectedly good year and the future is bright, but the trade deadline certainly caused some controversy in Birdland. I take a look at the deadline moves, as well as the rest of 2022 and beyond in my latest version of fact/opinion.

Fact:  The Orioles traded team leader and fan favorite Trey Mancini to the Astros as part of a three-team deal that netted the Os two pitchers, Chayce McDermott and Seth Johnson. McDermott has a likely ceiling of a late inning reliever and Johnson, the prize of the deal, has mid rotation upside even though he needs Tommy John surgery. He was a top eight prospect in the Rays’ very good system.

Opinion:  I personally love this deal for many reasons. First of all, I like the players the O’s got back for a rental player. Johnson has more upside than what you normally would get but because he isn’t really going to be a factor until 2024, he was available. Secondly, I am happy for Mancini because he gets a chance to play for arguably the best team in baseball and has a good chance to win a ring. He hasn’t ever really played meaningful baseball late in the year and I am glad he is getting that chance. He deserves it.

Many fans hate this deal and hate that he is gone. I get it; fans don’t love losing their favorite players and Mike Elias’ remarks, basically saying he cares more about the future than now, rubbed many the wrong way. The thing is, that is exactly how he should be thinking and he made the right move. For now, be happy for Trey. The fact that he had cancer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trade him. It means we should root for him and want to see him happy and succeeding. Let him enjoy that and put your own selfish needs aside.

Fact:  The O’s traded All-Star closer Jorge Lopez, a player who has seemingly come out of nowhere, to the Twins for a package of four players headlined by Cade Povich, a recent third-round pick out of Nebraska who has mid-to-back end rotation upside. The Orioles also paid some (all?) of Lopez’s remaining salary, which tells you that they really liked this package but likely wanted something else included in it, thus paying the salary.

Opinion:  While Povich is the headliner of the deal, the other three arms have some upside, especially Juan Rojas, an 18-year-old pitcher posting impressive K and BB numbers in the FCL. Rojas certainly may have been the key to the deal and the reason the O’s included money.

For me, I dislike the trade. I wouldn’t say I hate it. If I was grading it, I would give it a C/C-. It’s a Dylan Bundy-type trade return.  Four pitchers, all of whom have some level of upside. However, there is no true headline piece and to me, and that was to be expected. I didn’t feel Lopez would have enough value to justify trading him. It’s not that I don’t see value in this package, it’s just that I value Lopez more. And, more importantly, I value a potential greater return down the road or just having him pitch here in 2023 and 2024, when the team should be true contenders.

At the end of June, I wrote an article calling Lopez a poor man’s Zack Britton and said that I expected some regression in his numbers, especially his ERA. At the time, he had a sub-1 ERA but his numbers suggested he was more of a 2.3-3 ERA guy. Part of my reason for that thinking is just that most pitchers don’t hold a sub-1 ERA for long. But also, he had some K and BB issues. At that time, he was 90th in K rate amongst relievers with at least 20 IP. Now he is 64th amongst relievers with at least 30 IP. His BB numbers are about same, standing at 99th now vs 105 last month. His swingstr% is also the same. Those were the three things that lead me to think there would be some ERA regression and there has been. His ERA is now 1.68, which is about a full run higher than June 22, when I wrote the article.

That said, his xERA, FIP and xFIP are all still very good. The K rates are up and the other numbers still remain very solid overall.  In other words, I don’t see anything in his stats that make me worry he won’t be a 2.5ish ERA (give or take) pitcher going forward.

A mantra I keep seeing on twitter is that he hasn’t been good before or we got him for nothing, etc…None of that means anything. First of all, how he performed as a starter is completely irrelevant to what he is doing as a short-inning reliever. Secondly, the idea we got him for nothing is meaningless.  We have had lots of players over the years we got for nothing. Does that mean we should have dealt all of them too?

The other thing I push back on is the idea that Elias traded him at peak value. No, they didn’t. They hedged their bets. They got a package they liked and instead of risking anything, they took what was in front of them, but that doesn’t mean he was at peak value. His peak value would have come in the offseason or at the deadline next year, provided he kept pitching at a high level.  Track record means a lot. He doesn’t have one now. He would have had one later. And yes, there is no guarantee of that and yes relievers are volatile but the relievers who are volatile are usually ones who are doing it more with smoke and mirrors (a guy like Dillon Tate for example). Lopez isn’t doing it with smoke and mirrors. He is getting Ks, limiting homers, missing bats (albeit not as many as I would like to see), limiting good contact and his stuff is excellent.

In previous years, I would have been happy with this move. But now that they could have kept him to actually try and win with him in 2023 and 2024 (not to mention maybe this year although it’s a long shot), I would have rather kept him unless a much better package (or at least headline piece) was on the table.

Fact:  The Orioles traded cash to the Rays for Brett Phillips.

Opinion:  I really hate this move. Did we give up anything? No. Does this move really matter in the long run? No. Can Phillips give you speed and defense off the bench? Yes, but so can Ryan McKenna and by having Phillips here, you don’t have Kyle Stowers here. And yes, I get that they have different roles and you want Stowers playing a lot. But that can happen anyway. There are enough at bats to go around to get a real look at Stowers but with Phillips here, taking up a roster and 40-man spot (Stowers isn’t on the 40 man but has to be added this offseason), it complicates things even more. I just don’t get this move at all. It doesn’t make much sense, either logically or on the field.

Fact:  Despite Adley Rutschman coming off of prospect lists, the Orioles still boast an impressive list, which is now headlined by Gunnar Henderson, who has gone from a top 50ish guy at the beginning of the year to currently a top 5 guy and even #1 in the eyes of some. The O’s also have several other top 100 prospects.

Opinion?:  It’s time to get these guys up here. Stowers, Henderson, Jordan Westburg and DL Hall need to come up and join Terrin Vavra and Yusniel Diaz. And, if he gets healthy enough to pitch, even if it’s just a few starts, Grayson Rodriguez should also get a look. I know that Hall has been struggling since the break but he only has about 20-30 innings left this year, if Elias is sticking to his plan to pitch him about 100 innings in 2022 (he is at 72.1 now). All of these guys need to get their feet wet up here and Hall only has so much more time to do it.

The goal for 2023 should be contending for a WC and the division. Getting these guys experience now is invaluable to helping to get to that goal in 2023. Not to mention, if you are actually trying to win now (and you should be), these guys are just flat out more talented than many of the players the team is playing every day.

I know some will argue about service time but are you really going to wait until late April 2023 to bring these guys up? Are you really, in a year you want to contend, field an inferior team for 3-4 weeks of a season to manipulate the service time? You can do that when you don’t care about wins and losses but you should care starting in 2023.

I get that trading Lopez and Mancini may signal to some fans the Orioles are giving up on this season. I disagree with that but I will say the longer they keep fielding lineups with Rougned Odor and Tyler Nevin and guys like Austin Hays who are clearly hurt and need time off, it starts to make you wonder if winning is the main priority in 2022. Getting those guys up here solves two issues. For one, it makes you more talented and (hopefully) better in 2022 and it prepares them for 2023. Two birds, one stone.

Overall, I think you have to be happy with where the team is right now. The payroll flexibility is there (if John Angelos allows them to spend it), the talent is there and your franchise catcher is settling in and has MVP upside in 2023.

What they do between now and the start of spring training is going to be very interesting and, hopefully, very exciting.

Mike Elias on his laptop.
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