The Orioles have shown a willingness to listen to trade offers on center fielder Cedric Mullins, reports Jon Heyman of the MLB Network (Twitter link). The 27-year-old is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he was MLB’s only 30-homer, 30-stolen base player.
Mullins entered the season as an unestablished player, with just a .225/.290/.342 line across 418 plate appearances between 2018-20. He’d been regarded as a solid but not elite prospect, and it wasn’t clear entering 2021 that Mullins projected as a long-term regular, either in Baltimore or anyone else. Perhaps no one around the league has raised their stock more over the past eight months, though, as Mullins broke through with an All-Star showing that garnered him some down ballot MVP support.
The North Carolina native played in 159 games and tallied 675 plate appearances, mashing at a .291/.360/.518 clip. That’s 36 percentage points above the league average by measure of wRC+, and Mullins added further value on the basepaths. In addition to his Silver Slugger winning offense, he was credited with ten Outs Above Average by Statcast in nearly 1300 innings in center field. Defensive Runs Saved wasn’t as bullish on his outfield work, but it’s likely most clubs around the league will view Mullins as an average or better gloveman in center.
There’s no question he’ll be in high demand after that breakout campaign, although that doesn’t guarantee he’ll wind up on the move. There’s a difference between the O’s being willing to hear out offers on Mullins versus actively attempting to move him, and there’s no indication they’re doing the latter. Heyman suggests Baltimore has placed an “extremely high” asking price in talks, no surprise since there’s no pressing incentive for the Orioles to give the Campbell University product up.
Mullins only has between two and three years of major league service time. Barring changes to the service structure in the next collective bargaining agreement, he’ll remain under club control through the end of the 2025 season. Mullins hasn’t even yet qualified for arbitration, so he’ll play next season on a salary just above the league minimum. As with starter John Means — on whom the O’s are also reportedly fielding offers — general manager Mike Elias and his staff can set a high asking price and hold onto the player if no other clubs are willing to meet it. The ask on Mullins figures to be even a fair bit loftier than that on Means, considering that Mullins would seem to have less injury risk and comes with an additional year of contractual control.
Broadly speaking, a willingness to discuss Mullins in trade shouldn’t seem out of the ordinary. Very few players around the league would be absolutely untouchable in trade talks, since front offices have a responsibility to consider all avenues through which they can improve their club. That’s particularly true in the case of a rebuilding organization like the Orioles that stands little chance of competing in 2022 and could have its work cut for out it to contend for a playoff spot in 2023.
That said, the Orioles surely expect to contend before Mullins reaches free agency in 2025-26. Even coming out of a massive rebuild, they’ll need some core players to anchor their next competitive club. Teams understandably covet controllable, star position players in particular. That’ll lead to plenty of strong offers, but it also reduces the Orioles’ urgency to pull the trigger on any deal, since Mullins looks to be precisely the kind of player around whom a franchise can build.