In his latest notes column, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic indicates that rival teams are “asking the Orioles about” outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. The veteran reporter cautions that a trade coming to fruition is unlikely, since Baltimore would like to “get a clearer picture of how their rebuilding plan is progressing before considering trades of their better players.”
It’s not surprising that the retooling Orioles are taking a wait-and-see approach with two of their more promising position players. Both Mullins and Hays come with four more years of team control and at ages 27 and 26, respectively, are likely to be in their primes when the Orioles turn a corner competitively.
While the O’s have been willing to listen to offers for Mullins (and presumably Hays) dating back to before the MLB lockout, it has long seemed that the team’s asking price would prove too prohibitive for inquiring clubs. That’s not to say a team in dire need of a center fielder or outfield thump in general won’t step up, but beyond the club control afforded by both players, each of Hays and Mullins is coming off a career year.
In 2021, the lefty-swinging Mullins made a name for himself with a .291/.360/.518 (135 OPS+) slash en route to a 9th-place MVP finish and Silver Slugger Award. Even that 9th-place finish may undercut how good Mullins was last season, as he remarkably played 159 games and served as MLB’s only 30-30 club member. Defensive metrics varied on the breakout player, but most agree he was at least an average defender in center field.
Hays had the quieter season but still supplied above-average production in the form of a .256/.308/.461 (106 OPS+) slash through 131 games. The right-handed hitter also swatted a career-high 22 home runs and 26 doubles that kept his slash line serviceable despite a below-average walk rate. A good deal of Hays’ value last season came from his glove. A center field-capable player, Hays spent most of his time in the outfield corners to generally positive reviews. As an arguably overqualified corner outfielder, Hays racked up 14 Defensive Runs Saved and a 3.1 bWAR in 2021.
Short of an offer that bowls them over, the Orioles are likely to hang onto two outfielders who thus far have the makings of core players. The team could see either player regress in the coming season, which is a very possible outcome given the limited track record of both players. Still, after five very losing seasons and a new collective bargaining agreement that included some anti-tanking measures, the Orioles may look to piece together a winning roster sooner rather than later.
Top prospect Adley Rutschman’s setback notwithstanding, the future in Baltimore looks to be brighter than it’s been for some time. Baseball America tabbed their farm system as the fourth best in the game in their latest farm rankings, calling attention to their five top-100 prospects— none of whom figure to be redundant on a roster with the aforementioned Hays and Mullins. The four-headed AL East monster above the Orioles in the standings may tempt the team to further bide their time and accumulate prospect capital. For the time being however, Baltimore appears set to hold off from doing anything too drastic.