On Wednesday, May 5th, John Means no-hit the Seattle Mariners. Since that day, the Orioles have played 25 games. They are 4-21 in those games. If we’re being honest, the way this Orioles season has swung probably isn’t a shock. It’s disappointing, no doubt there, but if you were told before the season that the Orioles would be 19-37 now you likely wouldn’t be surprised. So you shouldn’t be surprised that the next thing as far as the Orioles’ major league roster goes is the trade deadline. The Orioles have some valuable pieces so the trick will be determining who they want to move and for what. The second part is far more complicated and sadly outside my realm of expertise beyond generalities, but the first part is absolutely worth discussing. So let’s discuss it!
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The trade deadline can be a great time to get something for players who have limited contractual time remaining with the organization. That really isn’t the situation the Orioles are in on the whole, but they do have a few players with limited time left and some value. Freddy Galvis is having a good year and could help a number of teams, though the fact that he’s a free agent after this year does limit his value somewhat. Maikel Franco could have some value to certain teams, perhaps as a bench bat or as the short side of a platoon, though what Baltimore would receive in return doesn’t figure to move the needle much in their rebuild.
Mostly though, what Baltimore has to offer are players with multiple seasons of team control left, players who should have considerable trade value. The issue is whether or not the Orioles are better off trading them now, trading them in the off-season, or not trading them at all. This is where things get complicated. The players I’m speaking of are Trey Mancini and John Means.
Means has had a sparkling season, with a 2.05 ERA over 70.1 innings. After Max Scherzer and possibly some Phillies starters, Means could be the best starting pitcher on a trade market that will be undoubtedly starved for starting pitching. He could bring back significant value. However, would that value be higher if he finished the season in Baltimore? It could be. Traditionally the trade deadline can be a feeding frenzy for certain positions, but the market is more limited as some teams are sellers, and some teams simply aren’t looking to buy at a given position based on the first half of the season. The off-season is more open though. It’s still true to a lesser extent, not everyone would be looking to trade for John Means during the off-season, but it’s quite possible more teams would, and more teams would drive up the price. Yes, Means would have slightly less team control, but in this case it’s not really significant enough of a difference to alter the price.
What could alter the price is if Means doesn’t pitch as well during the second half of the season, or if he gets hurt. That’s the chance the Orioles would be taking by not moving him at the deadline. Alternatively, Baltimore could hold on to him with the idea that they intend to contend during his team control and they want him to pitch for them for the duration of his team control. While that’s possible, I do wonder about it. Expecting the Orioles to contend in two seasons from now seems reasonable, but at that point Means will have just one year left of team control, making him more of a short-term asset than a long term building piece. If the Orioles extended his contract then that would change the calculous, though if they extend him they’re obviously not going to trade him now or in the immediate future.
And of course that comes with potential problems too. An extension would buy out seasons in his 30s, as he’s 28 now. That’s not a problem necessarily, but typically teams, especially analytically inclined teams such as the Orioles, shy away from signing pitchers into their 30s unless they have to do so, or determine the calculous works (i.e. this particular guy puts them over the top as a World Series contender). That isn’t where the Orioles are right now though.
If a team decides they really want Means and throws a big package of players and prospects at the Orioles then they might be wise to make the trade in isolation, but at a certain point you have to stop trading players away and start acquiring and holding on to major league talent. Where the Orioles are on that continuum is up for debate.
The other big name is Trey Mancini. Unlike Means, Mancini becomes a free agent after next season. This means if the Orioles are going to deal him, this trading deadline is really the time to do it. He’s healthy, he’s hitting really well, and he still has the 2022 season under team control so the acquiring team wouldn’t be getting a rental player in return.
It’s possible the Orioles might rather hold on to Mancini. They could attempt to extend his contract, and while that would be a feel-good story, the more I think about it, the less sense that makes for the Orioles. Mancini will be 31 when he hits free agency, so extending him buys out his early and mid-30s. He’s not a particularly good player beyond his bat (on the field), he doesn’t offer much in the way of defensive value or base-running acumen. He’s a really good hitter right now though, so he should be able to bring back a good haul. Given his age and contractual status, he seems like an ideal candidate to cash in for prospects now, instead of locking the Orioles into a long term contract for a player in his 30s.
If it were me, I’d giver serious thought and effort to dealing Mancini. In addition to the reasons above, given his lack of defensive value, he’s a relatively easy hole to fill on the major league roster, if not with exactly the same caliber of player. This could change depending on the specifics. Perhaps teams aren’t valuing him very highly. Perhaps he’s willing to take a very cheap deal to stay in Baltimore. If either of those are the case then maybe it makes sense to hold on to him. Beyond that though, he’s a guy I’d look to move.
Means is different. He’s under team control for much longer, he’s not expensive at all, and the Orioles do actually need pitching. Plus, he’s actually pretty darn good. I think, and I imagine this will be the case, the Orioles should be open to dealing Means. If a team gives them a great offer, an offer of prospects and/or young major leaguers they are high on, then perhaps you make that deal. Always in the back of your mind, there is danger with pitchers and the Orioles are looking at a longer timeline for contention and thus asking for Means to stay healthy for a much longer time until his value can be fully realized. That said, someone is going to have to pitch for the 2023 AL East Division-contending Orioles. So be open to hearing offers, but beyond a big offer, Means should be starting opening day of 2022 in Baltimore.
That’s what I’d do. But the far more important question is what will Mike Elias do? Does he see Mancini and Means as cornerstones in the rebuild, or is he looking to cash in those chips now while their value is high? We’ll know soon enough.
Matthew Kory is a Orioles / MLB Analyst for BSL. He has covered baseball professionally for The Athletic, Vice Sports, Sports On Earth, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two boys, and his cats, Mini Squeaks and The President. Co-Host of The Warehouse.