The Orioles surprisingly enter deadline season with some questions about the course of action they could take over the next few weeks. Baltimore looked like a slam-dunk seller as recently as ten days ago, but an eight-game win streak that has pulled them within two games of a Wild Card spot at least raises the possibility of the club reconsidering that approach.
It’s unfamiliar territory for general manager Mike Elias, who has been overseeing a complete rebuild since he was hired in November 2018. The baseball operations leader acknowledged as much in a chat with Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic yesterday, saying the O’s could be in position for “one of the more flexible trade deadlines that we’ve encountered.” Elias acknowledged the club’s playoff chances remain low given the strength of the AL East but noted the next few weeks of games could have an impact on the team’s plans.
Even if the O’s continue to play well through the end of the month, the front office is unlikely to push many chips in to add impending free agents. Both Rosenthal and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com float the possibility of Baltimore looking to acquire players under control beyond this season, though. Elias told Rosenthal the front office is of the belief the O’s “2023 picture is increasingly bright,” and Rosenthal writes that team officials have downplayed the chance of parting with controllable core pieces like Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays in the wake of their solid run.
The Orioles are one of a handful of teams in the middle-ground of the standings that could resist strict bucketing into “buyer” or “seller” territory. There’s room for the club to explore dealing away players on shorter-term contracts — particularly if they stumble over the next three weeks and fall a bit out of the playoff picture — while remaining open to opportunities to add more controllable talent. In such a scenario, first baseman Trey Mancini would seemingly be the top trade candidate, as he’s likely to decline his end of a mutual option and hit free agency at the end of the season.
Mancini is the only notable impending free agent on the roster, but Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com notes that starter Jordan Lyles could be made available as well. The right-hander signed a one-year, $7MM guarantee over the offseason. That deal contains an $11MM club option for next season, but that seems likelier to be bought out. Through 17 starts, Lyles has tossed 98 innings of 4.50 ERA ball. He’s thrown plenty of strikes but posted below-average strikeout (18.9%) and ground-ball (40.6%) rates. Lyles is a durable source of innings, and Kubatko writes he’s been a strong veteran mentor for the team’s younger starters. Nevertheless, the Orioles aren’t likely to take him off the table if they field offers on short-term veterans.
As for the possibility of simultaneously looking to add controllable talent, infield and/or rotation pickups could be areas of interest. Rosenthal suggests the O’s may be a fit for Blake Snell if the Padres look to deal a starter to free breathing room against the luxury tax. Whether San Diego is willing to subtract from its rotation depth remains to be seen, but the Friars have virtually no payroll space to accommodate midseason additions if they’re intent on not surpassing the base tax threshold.
San Diego is expected to seek outfield help this summer, and Rosenthal reports they’ve had interest in Baltimore’s Anthony Santander in the past. Santander is playing this season on a $3.15MM salary and is arbitration-eligible through 2024; Snell is counting for $10MM against the Friars’ tax ledger, although his actual salary is a bit higher at $13.1MM. He’s under contract for $16.6MM next year before hitting free agency. Baltimore seems unlikely to accept a straight Snell for Santander swap, but they have virtually no commitments on the books next season and could look into an opportunity to buy low on Snell as part of a larger deal.
Feinsand, meanwhile, hears industry chatter the O’s might try to make a push for Marlins starter Pablo López. Unlike Snell, López is eminently affordable ($2.45MM salary) and arbitration-eligible through 2024. It’s easy to see the appeal for Baltimore, but the vast majority of teams around the league would be involved in Miami were to make López available. The Fish entered play Tuesday four games back in the National League Wild Card race and don’t seem likely to shop the 26-year-old over the next few weeks anyhow.
In either event, Snell and López serve as examples of myriad possibilities Elias and his staff could consider. Baltimore probably won’t be motivated enough to outbid bona fide contenders for top-of-the-market trade candidates like Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas, but they’re at least in position to entertain a wide range of outcomes for the first time in a long while.