The Baltimore Orioles are fresh off a two-game stint at Wrigley Field against the struggling Chicago Cubs, sweeping the series, extending their winning streak to ten games, and surpassing the .500 mark (the first time since 2017 that they’ve had such a record this far into a season). With this recent win streak, the Orioles sit only two games behind the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, and Toronto Blue Jays for a Wild Card spot. Due to the unlikeliness of this success combined with a negative run differential, many are skeptical that the Orioles will truly be able to compete for a playoff spot down the stretch in August and September and many believe that the Orioles should trade away key players such as Jorge Lopez, Trey Mancini, and Anthony Santander. However, with the Orioles in serious contention for a playoff spot with less than three weeks until the trade deadline, they should stand pat at the deadline and hold on to key players who have contributed to their success so far this season as well as key prospects who will help in the upcoming seasons.
The Orioles Should Hold Onto Key Pieces
As hard as it may be to swallow, the Orioles may be shopping around key players and fan favorites such as Lopez and Mancini who have both played excellently so far this season. Lopez has been one of the biggest surprises as he is likely to be the Orioles’ only representative in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles after he was moved from the starting rotation into the closer’s role at the beginning of this season. Lopez struggled mightily as a starter last season, finishing the year with a 6.07 ERA and a 5.20 FIP. Walks were a major issue for him as he walked more than 4 batters per 9 innings and anyone who watched the 2021 Orioles would tell you that most of his issues did not arise until the second or third time through the order which made him a perfect candidate to move into the bullpen.
Now that Lopez has turned into a dominant closer with a 1.74 ERA who strikes out more than 10 batters per 9 innings, he has become a hot commodity on the trade market since many World Series contenders are looking for a dominant relief pitcher. Any team willing to trade for Lopez will have him under team control until the 2025 offseason which means that any team desperate enough for bullpen help may be willing to pay a steep price in terms of prospects given up but for the most part, teams have shown more restraint in recent years. The Orioles were able to acquire a couple of highly ranked prospects in Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra at the 2020 deadline in exchange for Mychal Givens. With Lopez in high demand, it is not unrealistic to expect that if the Orioles were to trade him away, they should acquire several highly rated prospects since Lopez is under team control for two and a half more seasons and the peripheral stats suggest that his success is sustainable. I believe it is unlikely that the Orioles can yield a return that would justify a trade of Lopez since the Orioles will look to truly contend for a playoff spot in 2023 and 2024 and dominant relief pitchers are hard to come by.
Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander are the other key players that the Orioles could realistically trade at the deadline and both players have a more justifiable case since there are prospects rising through the minors that may be blocked by each of these players. For Santander, the Orioles have outfielders such as Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad who have been rising quickly through the system and could realistically contribute to the Orioles next season. Santander is less versatile than those two players as well as Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins who are a part of the Orioles’ long-term plan and each has had success in Birdland. Similar to Lopez, Santander is also under team control until 2025 and has played well this season with an OPS+ of 114 and 15 home runs through 80 games.
With a logjam of versatile outfielders in the Orioles system, Santander is not likely to play a role in Mike Elias’ long-term plans although he has been a steady presence throughout the Orioles’ rebuild. The trade value for corner outfielders with a slightly above-average offensive impact and not much impact defensively and on the basepaths is already fairly slim but there are also serious questions about his availability for a team looking to acquire him. For one, it is assumed that Santander has not received the COVID-19 vaccine since he did not travel with the team to Toronto in June. As per Canadian rules, anyone without the vaccine can not travel to Canada and since the Blue Jays will likely appear in the postseason it would be a risk for any team to acquire Santander since he might not be able to play key postseason games if a team were to face the Blue Jays. He has also had injury issues over the past few seasons as he has never played more than 110 games in his career and has only reached the 100-game mark once. Santander has been mostly healthy this year but teams will still be cautious. These factors drive down his trade value and the Orioles will likely not receive a hefty haul in exchange for Santander and will be left with a hole in the outfield until Cowser and Kjerstad are ready. A possible solution would be to hold onto Anthony until the season ends and shop him during the offseason when you might receive a better package for him.
Trey Mancini has been a fan favorite in Birdland since his rookie season in 2017 and has only bolstered his fandom over the past few seasons with his return from colon cancer in 2020 and a second-place finish in the Home Run Derby last year. Mancini has had an impressive offensive season with an OPS+ of 122 bolstered by a solid walk rate and extra-base hit power. He is one of the players who has been most hurt by the new configurations in left field which has robbed him of several would-be home runs in prior seasons. He and Ryan Mountcastle also split time between first base and designated hitter with the younger Mountcastle often playing first. Mancini is a free agent after next season and will probably not be extended by the Orioles after that since Mountcastle has much more control and is likely the first baseman of the future.
Right now, a trade of Mancini may yield some solid prospects and could logistically make sense but it also would be a gut-punch for fans and players since Mancini is beloved by all his teammates and fans. While I typically do not subscribe to the idea that teams should cater to fans when making decisions, I also believe that a trade of Mancini for a couple of mid-level prospects would do much more harm than good to the clubhouse and the fanbase.
Rentals That Could Be on the Move
If the Orioles do decide to make any move at the deadline, a logical move would be to trade away one of the rental players they acquired over the offseason. Right now, the only two players on the roster with expiring contracts are Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor. Mancini and Jordan Lyles are the only players with contracts expiring at the end of next season and of those four players, Chirinos is unlikely to be traded because he would bring in little value and provides a veteran presence for Adley Rutschman and a trade of Mancini would be unpopular due to the reasons above. This leaves Odor and Lyles as pieces that could logically be traded although neither one would bring in a large haul. Odor has struggled at the plate with a slash line of .203/.262/.394 with extra-base hit power being his main strength. Any team looking to acquire Odor would need a left-handed bat to insert into their lineup without much expectations of him being a major on-base threat. It would be beneficial for the Orioles to move off Odor since it would open the door for a Triple-A infielder such as Vavra or Rylan Bannon to play steadily in the majors and could also open the door for the MLB debut of either Gunnar Henderson or Jordan Westburg.
Lyles is also a potential trade piece but is not as likely as Odor to be moved because he has an extra year of team control and he provides a veteran presence for the young pitching staff. Once again, a trade of Lyles would open the door for DL Hall to make his big league debut but Lyles has been a proven innings-eater for this rotation and his presence allows the bullpen to not be overworked which is valuable for a young team. In his twelfth big league season, Lyles has pitched 98 innings thus far with a 4.50 ERA and 4.15 FIP which is not bad but also not good. He also leads the American League with 106 hits given up with an opponent’s BABIP of .314 which indicates he has run into hard luck at times which could allow his stats to improve in the second half of the season.
Should The Orioles Trade Any Prospects To Pursue A Postseason Appearance?
Because the Orioles are near the end of a long-term rebuild, it seems unlikely that Elias will want to trade away any prospects that he has acquired through the draft and through trades since he took over in the 2019 offseason. There are young players such as Nevin, Bannon, and Ryan McKenna who have made their debuts but can not find steady playing time with the current construction of the Orioles roster. If Elias could find a suitor for any of those players in exchange for a quality big league player who has several years of control then he may pull the trigger on a deal. Despite the lack of consistent starts, McKenna does play a valuable role as a fourth outfielder since he has more speed and athleticism than Santander and is a competent enough hitter that he is not a complete liability when he does bat. He has an OPS+ of 83 but has shown power potential as he hit his first home run of the season last week against the Rangers when conquered the Great Wall of Baltimore against relief pitcher John King. There may be an unwillingness to part with a player like McKenna but with outfielders such as Yusniel Diaz and Kyle Stowers waiting in Triple-A, a trade might be beneficial for both parties.
Ultimately, the Orioles are in a unique position entering the trade deadline because they have not been buyers since they acquired Tim Beckham and Jeremy Hellickson in separate deals at the 2017 deadline and most people assumed that the Orioles would be sellers once again before they began this current 8-game win streak. The Orioles were 48-54 right before the deadline in 2017 and in hindsight those trades were clearly poor decisions by the Dan Duquette regime when they could have traded away Zach Britton and Brad Brach for valuable prospect packages. It would be a mistake for the O’s to make similar moves this deadline for subpar players who may fill a makeshift need but won’t push the Orioles any further over the edge in 2022. As I mentioned earlier, it would also be a mistake to trade away Lopez or Mancini unless a team is willing to clearly overpay for either one of those players. Of course, Elias would be negligent to not listen to any trade offers that come his way as teams get increasingly desperate the closer the calendar gets to July 31st and the Orioles could benefit from another team’s desperation.