As the Orioles prepare to enter what will be the fourth season of a full-scale rebuild, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that they’re “dangling” lefty John Means in trades in talks with other clubs (Twitter link).
Means, 28, is the lone established starter on the Orioles’ roster. Over the past three seasons, he’s pitched to a 3.73 ERA through 345 1/3 innings out of the Baltimore rotation. Means is the only pitcher who’s started more than 31 games for the O’s over the past three seasons (63), and of the 18 pitchers to make at least seven starts in that time he’s one of just three with an ERA south of 5.00. (Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy, no longer with the club, are the only others.)
Dating back to 2019, Means’ 5.1% walk rate is the sixth-lowest among all pitchers with at least 300 innings. His strikeout rate sat at 19% in 2019 but has jumped to 23% in 2020-21, bringing that roughly in line with the big league average. Home runs have been an issue for Means, who has yielded 1.69 big flies per nine frames. Being an extreme fly-ball pitcher at the homer-friendly Camden Yards can’t help the matter, but Means has struggled with the long ball on the road as well.
The 2021 season looked to be something of a breakout showing for Means early on, before a shoulder injury sidelined him for a portion of the year. The lefty pitched to a 2.05 ERA through his first 11 starts, headlined by a 12-strikeout no-hitter (and near perfect game) against the Mariners on May 5. Means faced just five hitters in his 12th start of the season before departing with a shoulder strain that would sideline him for more than six weeks.
There was no appreciable change in Means’ velocity upon returning from that IL stint — 92.9 mph average fastball pre-injury; 92.8 mph post-injury — but the southpaw yielded a 4.88 ERA with a diminished strikeout rate in 14 starts to close out the season, finishing out the year with a seven-run drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays.
With three-plus years of service time now under his belt, Means is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $3.1MM salary for Means in his first trip through the arb process. He’d be eligible for further raises upon that salary in each of the next two offseasons before reaching free agency following the 2024 season.
Means’ first notable salary increase of his career surely plays a role in any willingness to trade him, but it should be noted that there’s no reason that salary should cause payroll issues in Baltimore. The Orioles don’t have a single guaranteed contract on their 2022 roster, with the lone set cost coming via the dead money they owe to Chris Davis following his retirement. Even with that sum, Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez projects a payroll around $56MM, which would rank among the lowest in baseball. Potential trades of Means, Trey Mancini (projected $7.9MM salary), Anthony Santander ($3.7MM), etc. would further drop that figure.
With three years of affordable club control remaining, Means ought to command a strong return even with this past season’s shoulder injury and subsequent scuffles. That said, if the Orioles actually make the leap and trade their lone rotation lock, the 2022 staff could look quite grisly — at least early on. Top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are nearing big league readiness, but the immediate rotation options behind Means have yet to find much in the way of MLB success. Jorge Lopez, Bruce Zimmermann, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and Spenser Watkins have all started big league games, but Zimmermann’s 5.30 ERA is the best of the group.
The Orioles could, of course, bring in a veteran or two on a low-cost deal in free agency, but they haven’t been willing to spend on veteran starters since their rebuild began. They’ve handed out a few minor league deals for veteran arms (Matt Harvey, Tommy Milone, Wade LeBlanc, Felix Hernandez), but the only pitcher given a guaranteed contract under GM Mike Elias was an $800K deal to Nate Karns in Feb. 2019.