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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles reset: Ranking Mike Elias’ 17 player-for-player trades as Baltimore’s general manager

The trade deadline is approaching, and the Orioles have done little to clarify the direction executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias might take.

Even in dropping a series to the vaunted New York Yankees, these Orioles showed how competitive they can be if they are kept together and potentially added to. But they remain in last place in the American League East, and in a crowded wild-card race, their path to the postseason is anything but clear. Elias and company might decide that the best direction for the organization to take is to trade away some current players to continue to stock talent for future and more likely playoff runs.

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Since becoming Baltimore’s general manager in November 2018, Elias has made 17 deals in which the Orioles traded one or more players away and got at least another in return. Of those who have come to Baltimore, only one had played in the majors previously. Buying at the deadline would be a shift for Elias, requiring for the first time that he forfeit pieces from the stockpile of prospects he’s built to add to the major league team.

With the Aug. 2 deadline little more than a week away, it seems a good time to look back at Elias’ player-for-player trades.

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Here, they’re categorized in four ways. Early successes are those that are trending well for the Orioles, already resulting in major league pieces with the possibility of adding more. The wait-and-see category represents those where the end result isn’t quite clear yet, with many of Elias’ trades adding prospects incredibly far from the majors. Some of these deals have been washes, with the Orioles’ return never amounting to much before leaving the organization while the player they traded didn’t necessarily burn them. The final grouping is the regrettable deals, and there’s only one that plainly classifies as such: the first of these trades Elias made.

Early successes

1. Starting pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for right-handers Kyle Bradish, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Brnovich and Zach Peek, December 2019: The Orioles turned Bundy’s final two seasons under team control into four pitchers who have been in the upper rungs of their system. Bundy seemed to finally live up to his potential in the shortened 2020 season before struggling in 2021. Bradish joined the Orioles’ rotation early this season and showed potential before a rough stretch of starts preceded an injured list stint. Mattson pitched briefly in the majors last year but has since been removed from the 40-man roster; he was released last week. Brnovich and Peek have both pitched effectively in the upper minors but are facing extended absences with arm injuries.

2. Reliever Mychal Givens to the Colorado Rockies for infielder Tyler Nevin, infielder Terrin Vavra and outfielder Mishael Deson, August 2020: There’s an argument to be made for this trade being in the top spot, but given that the Orioles’ farm system features far more top talent on the position player side than the pitching side, it lands as a solid second. Givens was an effective late-inning reliever for the Orioles but never proved fully capable of closing. Elias turned a season and a half of him into three prospects. Nevin has spent much of this year in Baltimore, while Vavra has pushed for a call-up with a strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Deson is at Low-A Delmarva after a strong Florida Complex League showing in 2021.

Wait and see

3. Shortstop José Iglesias to the Angels for right-handers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto, December 2020: The Orioles picked up the option on Iglesias’ contract after he had a strong if injury-hampered first season in Baltimore. It allowed them to flip him for a pair of pitching prospects. Stallings is at Double-A, where he’s followed a horrific June by pitching well since moving to a bulk relief role. Pinto has become one of Baltimore’s top 30 prospects and has a 2.25 ERA with Low-A Aberdeen since the start of June.

4. Relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to the Miami Marlins for left-hander Antonio Velez, outfielder Kevin Guerrero, right-hander Yaqui Rivera and a draft pick (outfielder Jud Fabian), April 2022: This trade is not yet four months old and hasn’t produced a prospect above Double-A, but it’s boding well for Baltimore thus far. While the move initially seemed as if it might spell doom for the Orioles’ 2022 relief corps, it instead created backend opportunities for inexperienced relievers Jorge López, Félix Bautista and Cionel Pérez, who have all thrived. Of course, Baltimore also added the prospects and $1 million or so to its draft bonus pool, all of which then went to a toolsy outfielder in Fabian.

5. Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelberth Romero, July 2019: In Elias’ first deadline deal, he turned Cashner, a pending free agent, into Prado and Romero, who remain a ways away from reaching the majors but are still in the system and batting in the middle of the order at Low-A Delmarva. Cashner was moved to Boston’s bullpen not long after the trade and hasn’t appeared in the majors since.

6. Right-hander Hector Velázquez to the Houston Astros for right-hander Miguel Padilla, July 2020: The Orioles claimed Velázquez off waivers from Boston days before the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training. He never pitched for Baltimore before being traded to Houston — where he also never pitched — for a player to be named later that turned out to be Padilla, who has a 3.44 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning between the Florida Complex League and Delmarva.

7. Reliever Miguel Castro to the New York Mets for left-hander Kevin Smith and infielder Victor González, August 2020: Smith was added to Baltimore’s 40-man roster this offseason despite dealing with immense control issues at Triple-A in 2021, then went unclaimed when he was removed from the roster in April. He’s mostly pitched in relief for Norfolk this year while averaging 5.7 walks per nine innings. González has struggled offensively in limited action with Baltimore’s complex-level affiliates.

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8. Left-hander Tommy Milone to the Atlanta Braves for infielders Greg Cullen and A.J. Graffanino, August 2020: Signed to a minor league deal, Milone ended up as the Orioles’ opening day starter in 2020. He pitched up to that title before being dealt for Cullen and Graffanino. Milone made only three appearances for Atlanta before a season-ending injury. Baltimore released Graffanino last month, and Cullen has played for all of the Orioles’ full-season affiliates this year, mostly Double-A Bowie, with a .724 OPS.

9. Shortstop Freddy Galvis to the Philadelphia Phillies for right-hander Tyler Burch, July 2021: Burch, who had 49 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings across two levels of the Phillies’ at the time of the trade, has struck out 35 batters in 39 innings while in the Orioles’ system, with an 8.03 ERA this year for Bowie. Galvis plays in Japan.

10-12. Reliever Richard Bleier to the Marlins for infielder Isaac De Leon, August 2020; reliever Paul Fry to the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-hander Luis Osorio, May 2022; catcher Taylor Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Jose Berroa, June 2021: These trades featured the Orioles getting back a lottery ticket for a player who wasn’t going to be a part of their future. Of the players Baltimore got back, only De Leon has reached a full-season affiliate. Bleier is the only of the three players traded away that has appeared in more than two games for the team they went to.

13. Infielder Jonathan Villar to the Marlins for left-hander Easton Lucas, December 2019: This trade finds itself as the last of this group less so for the return than the context surrounding it. With Villar approaching his final season of arbitration and projected to receive a salary near eight figures after being Baltimore’s most productive player, the Orioles moved him at the tender deadline for Lucas, Miami’s 14th-round pick in that summer’s draft. At the 2020 deadline, the Marlins then traded about 25 games of Villar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Griffin Conine, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft who then tied for second in the minors in home runs in 2021. Lucas has a 5.50 ERA this year as a reliever for Bowie.

Washes

14-15. Reliever Yefry Ramírez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for infielder Patrick Dorrian, May 2019; reliever Mike Wright to the Seattle Mariners for infielder Ryne Ogren, April 2019: Both of these deals involve Elias trading right-handers early in his tenure for infielders who are no longer in the organization. Dorrian was one of the success stories of the Orioles’ farm system in 2021 but struggled immensely this year at Triple-A before Baltimore traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash in June. Ogren retired in March.

16. Starting pitcher Alex Cobb to the Angels for infielder Jahmai Jones, February 2020: Jones is the lone player with previous major league experience Elias has traded for. To get him, the Orioles included about $10 million in the deal to pay down Cobb’s salary in the final year of his contract. Cobb made 18 starts with a 3.76 ERA for the Angels before leaving in free agency, while Jones had only 72 mediocre plate appearances for the Orioles before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and getting released.

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Regrettable

17. Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski to the San Francisco Giants for right-hander Tyler Herb, March 2019: Elias’ first player-for-player trade saw the Orioles deal from their upper minors outfielder depth to add to their pitching ranks. But that depth proved to be somewhat overstated during the 2019 season, which saw the Orioles experiment in center field while Yastrzemski was enjoying a breakout in San Francisco. Baltimore’s 2013 14th-round pick has been an above-average offensive producer in each of his four years with the Giants, finishing eighth in National League MVP voting in 2020. Herb, meanwhile, had a 5.82 ERA between Bowie and Norfolk in his one year in the Orioles’ system.

What’s to come?

The Orioles complete their latest divisional stretch with four home games against the Tampa Bay Rays, their last time hosting the Rays this year. They are 4-2 against the Rays at home and 1-5 on the road.

Baltimore then visits the Cincinnati Reds in its final full series before the Aug. 2 trade deadline. A win in any of this week’s seven games would give the Orioles their second straight winning month and more wins than the 2018 club had in its full season.

What was good?

Including López’s All-Star Game appearance, featuring two outs on three pitches, it was a strong week from the right-handers at the back of Baltimore’s bullpen.

López, Bautista and Dillon Tate combined to strike out nine of the 16 batters they faced, allowing one hit and no walks.

What wasn’t?

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The Orioles announced their rotation will remain on turn through the Rays series, meaning left-handed pitching prospect DL Hall likely won’t be joining it this go-around. Hall worked only one inning in his first start of the second half, with the Orioles limiting all of their Triple-A pitchers’ innings out of the break. Baltimore’s No. 3 prospect, Hall is coming off 2020′s canceled minor league season and an elbow injury that held him to 31 2/3 innings in 2021, so the Orioles likely have a cap on how many innings they want him to throw this year. He’s up to 67 2/3 now.

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But this limitation comes as Hall was dominating Triple-A hitters, striking out 40 of the past his 80 batters before punching out of the five he faced Friday; he has a 0.83 ERA in that span. With Hall’s results suggesting how well things are clicking for him right now, each inning thrown for Norfolk feels wasteful.

On the farm

The break did not slow the tear No. 23 prospect Joey Ortiz is on in July. With hits in all three of this week’s games, the Bowie shortstop is now hitting .355 with a .920 OPS this month.

RAYS@ORIOLES

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