The Orioles were able to strike a deal just minutes before the trade deadline on August 1st. They landed right-handed starting pitcher Jack Flaherty and sent prospects Cesar Prieto, Drew Rom, and Zack Showalter to the St. Louis Cardinals. Here's a grade for each team's return in this deal.
Grading the trade that sent Jack Flaherty to the Baltimore Orioles
The Cardinals didn't receive a huge trade package for Flaherty, but I think they made the most of their situation. With the Cardinals surprisingly struggling this season, they made it a point to deal away their expiring contracts at the deadline, making Jack Flaherty a prime candidate to be moved.
Rentals don't often fetch major returns for the selling team, especially when the player is having a difficult season. But, according to MLB pipeline, the Cardinals managed to land the O's 16th and 18th best prospects (as well as pitcher Zack Showalter who's unranked). This may not seem like much for the Cards, but the Orioles farm system is the best in baseball, making this a solid return.
Cesar Prieto seems to be the centerpiece of the deal and is already ranked as the 9th best prospect in the Cardinals system. Prieto is a versatile infielder, but seems to be best suited at second base due to his average arm strength.
He's best known for his great contact skills which have led to a .349 average across Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season. MLB Pipeline compared Prieto to Cubs infielder Nick Madrigal thanks to their smaller stature and great contact ability (but also a lack of power).
The Cardinals also acquired two pitchers in this deal in Drew Rom and Zack Showalter. Rom has had a rough season at triple-A Norfolk, leading to an ERA of 5.34 in 18 starts. Rom's issue this season has been his command, leading to 46 walks in just 86 innings and a WHIP of 1.70. He has shown great swing and miss ability with 100 strikeouts this season, and he's only 23 years old.
Zack Showalter is a 19 year old pitcher who has split time this season between rookie ball and single-A Delmarva. Showalter has looked promising this season in a limited sample size, pitching to an ERA of 2.37 in 30.1 total innings with 41 strikeouts. It'll be interesting to see how he continues to progress.
I think this was a very balanced trade for both sides, so I gave both teams a B+. The Orioles needed a starter after the demotion of Tyler Wells and Flaherty can fill that role for them. Flaherty is having a tough season and has struggled with injuries and poor play over the past couple of years, but he's shown in years past that he can be an elite starting pitcher.
In 2019, Flaherty finished 4th in Cy Young voting after a fantastic season. He had a 2.75 ERA in 196.1 innings and struck out an unreal 231 batters. He finished the season with a miniscule WHIP of 0.96 and even received some MVP votes. He also had a quality season in 2021, where he recorded 9 wins in just 15 starts and had an ERA in the low 3's. He struck out 85 batters in 78 innings that season and had a WHIP of just 1.06.
This season has been a different story. The command for Flaherty has been his big issue, leading to 4.4 walks per 9 innings, a WHIP over 1.50, and a BB% landing him in the bottom 16th percentile. He's thrown 109.2 innings this season with 106 strikeouts and an ERA of 4.43. But when you take a deeper dive into the numbers, I think there are some things to like. For starters, he's gotten extremely unlucky with his fastball this season.
Flaherty has become more of a contact pitcher compared to earlier in his career and he uses his fastball a lot to get easy outs. The problem is that the batting average against his fastball is over .300 with a slugging percentage of .439. The expected batting average is just .236 with an expected slugging percentage of .370. If his fastball starts to play closer to his expected numbers, we're going to see substantially better results for Flaherty.
To go along with his fastball, his curveball has been easily his best secondary option. The pitch has held opposing hitters to just a .176 average and .324 slugging percentage, with the expected numbers being ever so slightly higher. It also has been a big time swing and miss pitch for Flaherty thanks to a 41% whiff percentage on the year.
I'd like to also circle back around to the idea of Flaherty being unlucky by looking at his opposing exit velocity and barrel percentages. Flaherty sits in the top 77th percentile in both average exit velocity and barrel percentage, while also landing in the top 71st percentile in hard hit percentage. Flaherty has certainly had his struggles this season, but luck hasn't been doing him any favors either.
I think it's also important to realize what the O's gave up for Flaherty. Although the package may suit the Cardinals well, the players given up by the O's didn't represent much value. Prieto and Rom weren't even top 15 prospects in the Orioles farm system and Showalter was unranked. Prieto certainly has some value, but the path to him making an impact with the Orioles was very slim. Even though he was playing great in Triple-A, Prieto still ranked behind Westburg, Norby, and Ortiz who all play the same position as him and are also at Triple-A (or in the majors in the case of Westburg).
Not to mention the already established major league talents like Adam Frazier, Ramon Urias, Jorge Mateo, and most notably Gunnar Henderson. And the Orioles have Jackson Holliday waiting in the wings as well. The farm system is simply too crowded in talent and Prieto was a relatively expendable player for the O's.
Overall, I think it's fair to say this was a solid trade for both sides. The O's get a starting pitcher who could be a big piece with some improved play and better luck, while the Cardinals get good value for an expiring contract.