MEOLI: Breaking down Orioles' most likely trade candidates ahead of next week’s deadline
Less than two weeks away from MLB’s July 30 trade deadline, there’s still plenty of time for teams targeting a playoff spot to make moves with clubs like the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles whose eyes are on accumulating as much talent as they can for the future.
Their flurry of trades at the 2020 deadline might not be replicated this summer for a variety of reasons, meaning their activity level may be closer to what happened in 2019 when they traded Andrew Cashner a few weeks before the deadline and everyone else stayed put.
A variety of factors have contributed to that, from injuries to poor performance, but there are still candidates to move if the Orioles so choose. Alternatively, they can just hold off until the offseason and try again when the market resets.
To the extent teams will call about anyone on the Orioles, though, these are the players they’ll call on:
First baseman Trey Mancini: The most inspirational story in baseball this year is playing out nightly for the Orioles with Mancini, whose return from colon cancer to being a productive everyday player has been special for all involved. He’s batting .255 with a .788 OPS and 16 home runs while showing flashes of the player he was in 2019, and will be owed approximately $1.8 million of his $4.75 million salary for the final two months of the season with one more year before he reaches free agency.
The control for 2022 will be an asset, but taking the Orioles’ perspective on what Mancini means to their rebuild and the non-baseball value attached to that will make moving him difficult. The return will have to far outpace whatever baseball value the prospects they’re offered could provide, and as they showed holding onto players in 2019, there’s not a mandate to trade everyone at the deadline. They can wait if that’s what they want to do, and no one will complain about Mancini being around beyond this month.
Left-handed pitcher John Means: Before Means went on the injured list with a shoulder injury in early June, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was clear that Means is the type of player who the Orioles can build around. He’s still three years away from free agency.
Unless they’re blown away this month, it’s hard to imagine that will change. It’s also hard to imagine with the question marks around Means’ health and effectiveness on his return that such an offer will materialize.
Means pitched like an ace at the end of 2020 and has a 2.28 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 71 innings with a 0.831 WHIP in two months of action in 2021. Trading a pitcher like that is a tough sell externally and will require a high price internally. If the Orioles are thinking they can flip their competitive switch next year at some point, it would take a lot to have them consider a world without Means being part of that.
Left-handed pitcher Paul Fry: Around the time of Means’ early-June injury, Fry had ascended to the closer’s role in the Orioles’ bullpen with a fantastic two months. Through the end of May, he’d struck out 31 in 20 innings with a 2.25 ERA while allowing just 11 hits and eight walks, filling up the strike zone with his fastball/slider mix.
Since the beginning of June, Fry struck out 14 in 14 ⅓ innings with a 1.60 WHIP and a 6.28 ERA. Part of that could have been ninth-inning responsibilities, though that can’t fully explain it. Either way, Fry, who like Means will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, represents a tricky proposition for an acquiring team.
The Orioles got plenty of value for their setup men last year, especially Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. And as badly as they need pitchers who can help convert leads into wins, the Orioles getting a starter or possible everyday player for Fry might be worth the short-term hurt.
Left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott: If there’s one reliever on the Orioles’ staff who could truly fit into a contending team’s bullpen, it might be the hard-throwing Scott. His fits of losing his command are less frequent than in years past, and his slider is one of the best pitches in baseball, meaning even when his fastball isn’t on, he can still get by. Scott entered Sunday with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.391 WHIP, striking out 52 in 36 ⅔ innings.
Trading Scott would be significantly crippling to the present Orioles bullpen and the one they hope to have when things are going well, perhaps as early as this time next year. As such, the baseline for such a trade would be the Castro trade with the New York Mets, where they got a Double-A starting pitcher and a promising Latin American teenager. The ask for Scott would rightfully be higher than that for three years after this one following free agency.
Dark horse candidates: Signing as a free agent with the Orioles comes with the expectation that it might end with a trade. That’s why Freddy Galvis’ one-year deal holds a $250,000 trade bonus. But with his serious quadriceps injury, Galvis’ health at the trade deadline likely makes that moot. Maikel Franco hasn’t hit well at third base and is out with a sprained ankle as well.
Perhaps someone saw something they needed to have in Matt Harvey’s impressive start Sunday, but the preceding run of spotty results, bad luck, and an unprecedented workload spike from 2020 make him a difficult player to envision getting moved.