More on the impact of Jack Flaherty trade and yesterday's deadline madness

The conversations were ongoing yesterday until the final seconds of the trade deadline. The Orioles got their starter in Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty. They kept pushing to find another reliever.

They ran out of time but celebrated their modest haul.

Small in numbers, large in potential impact.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias could have reeled in a bigger fish if he were more generous with the bait, but he wasn’t going to plop prospects on the table who shouldn’t be touched.

Teams can keep asking. He can keep saying “no” and move onto the next one.

The Orioles are swimming in prospects. The deepest pool in the game. And analysts and prognosticators are quick to connect dots that lead to nowhere.

To put it simply: Just because the Orioles had the most minor league talent to surrender at the deadline didn’t mean they’d do it.

To expand on the point: Having the No. 1 farm system in baseball didn’t mean the Orioles would be the most aggressive wheelers and dealers. That they’d make the “biggest splash” yesterday, as one report predicted.

They still had to find a match. They had to be willing to separate themselves from a group that Elias worked so hard to collect, puncturing a pipeline that’s led the Orioles back to contention and relevancy.

"We might have a couple of players, and I won't name them, that we wouldn't trade for anyone in baseball,” he said.

You can probably identify a few, beginning with shortstop Jackson Holliday. Hands off.

Flaherty placed fourth in National League Cy Young voting in 2019 and looked like ace material, but the truncated 2020 season was a bust and he made two trips to the injured list in 2021 with left oblique and right shoulder strains.

The issues bled into 2022, when Flaherty made only nine appearances with the Cardinals totaling 36 innings. He’s logged 109 2/3 in 20 starts this season, well short of his career high of 196 1/3 in 2019.

Since making his debut in 2017, Flaherty has amassed more strikeouts (706) than any other Cardinals pitcher while throwing the third-most innings with 633.

The Orioles are counting on him to handle a heavier workload and ease the burden on the younger starters.

“I haven’t plugged in with him about that,” said Elias, who scouted Flaherty as a high school player. “I have talked to him today. We FaceTimed, he’s very excited. I think anytime you’re out of the race and then you’re going to a team that’s in first place and you’re a competitor, it’s a jolt.

“He’s very athletic, very outgoing personality. I think he’s got a great delivery. Like his pitch mix. We’ll see where this goes. I think the strength in numbers component of it was an important part of this, that he helps with. I just expect that he’s going to be a big lift for us down the stretch.”

The Orioles will expose Flaherty to their pitching program and see if they can get more out of his stuff, which Elias rates as above average across the board. To get him back to 2019 form.

“Perhaps his execution has come and gone,” Elias said. “We’ve had success thus far this year with some game-planning stuff that other pitchers have done pretty well with. It’s helped their stuff play up. We have two excellent catchers, we have a great defense. We’ll see. I just like the talent, I like the experience, I like what comes out of his hand. And players are going to have some seasons that are better than others. Maybe we can get him hot here in the next couple of months.”

Elias also praised chairman and CEO John Angelos for making the budget possibilities “ample.”

“We were up and down the spectrum. We have the wherewithal to do what we needed and wanted to do at the baseball level, and that’s always huge,” Elias said.

“We were totally able to explore what we wanted to and needed to and everything up and down the spectrum from a financial perspective and take advantage of good opportunities and good investments for the team, and this is where we landed.”  

The last day of the deadline began with reports that the Orioles were “on the periphery” of Justin Verlander talks or actively engaged in them. Checked in with the Mets but little sign of progress or deep in the weeds. So, somewhere in that range.

I heard later in the morning that the Orioles were pushing to get a deal done, but the complications included the $14.444 million left on Verlander’s contract in 2023, the $43.333 million owed in 2024, the $35 million player option in 2025 that would vest if he threw 140 innings next season, and a no-trade clause.

The Orioles would have needed significant salary relief to get their No. 1 starter, like the agreement that sent Max Scherzer to the Rangers.

Verlander grew up in Virginia and attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Perhaps the no-trade clause wasn’t a roadblock. The world may never know, since he’s going back to Houston for minor league outfielders Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford, the organization’s No. 1 and 4 prospects, respectively. Clifford was moving up to No. 2 next week, per’s Jim Callis.

Obtaining Verlander would have stolen the Astros’ move in 2017, when Elias was an assistant in the front office and they made a late trade. But the Orioles stopped short.

The Dylan Cease saga got us nowhere.

The White Sox weren’t trading him. Until they reportedly were open to it. The Orioles were viewed as an extreme long shot. Until they reportedly became one of the favorites.

The number of prospects required to pry him away had to be outrageous. Just like trying to track what was happening in the last hour.

The Pirates held onto Mitch Keller. Manager Brandon Hyde raved about Keller in May after the right-hander shut out the Orioles over seven innings with no walks and 13 strikeouts. Circled back to Keller each time a reporter asked about another starter’s dominant performance.

Interest in Rich Hill was revealed by a Boston outlet, though the left-hander pitched for the Pirates. The Padres acquired him yesterday, along with first baseman Ji-Man Choi, for three minor leaguers – Hill’s 13th major league team.

This one really intrigued me because it would have been a reunion separated by 14 years.

It also would have been an unpopular move for fans wanting a more impactful starter. And one who isn’t as close to collecting his Social Security.

Hill was a hot Cubs prospect, rumored every year to be going to the Orioles before they actually got him in February 2009 for a player to be named later or cash. A low cost because the shine had worn off following Hill’s demotions and lack of command and confidence.

The Orioles couldn’t fix him, but he became a lot better later in his career. And a lot older.

The Tigers couldn’t trade left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez, who invoked his 10-team no-trade clause to avoid the torture of pitching in Los Angeles for a perennial playoff team.

It’s no Detroit.

A reunion between the Orioles and Rodríguez wouldn’t have been delayed nearly as long. They traded him to the Red Sox at the 2014 deadline for reliever Andrew Miller, elevating the bullpen to dominant status and keying a run to the American League Championship Series.

Rodríguez isn’t durable, a concern of the Orioles during his minor league days, especially the knee injury suffered at Double-A Bowie. He’s had a litany of ailments, including a ruptured A4 pulley in his finger this season - the first time I've ever written those words - that cost him the entire month of June. He also has an opt-out clause in his contract that makes him a potential, and likely, rental. Otherwise, he’s owed about $4.67 million this year and $49 million from 2024-26.

Another Tigers pitcher, Michael Lorenzen, was linked to the Orioles for weeks. An All-Star in 2023 who’s another rental. They definitely had interest in him.

The Phillies nabbed him for infielder Hao-Yu Lee, their No. 5 prospect.

Joey Ortiz is the Orioles’ No. 5 prospect. I'm not saying it’s the same trade if they were involved. Just ... saying.

Elias always prefers to acquire a player under team control beyond the season, but he read the market and saw the rentals outnumbering them.

“Other than a couple of these guys, there were one or two who were traded, there weren’t a ton of pitchers with tons of team control, so I kind of thought things might gravitate that way,” he said.

The outcome yesterday probably made an entire clubhouse happy. The Orioles strengthened the rotation, at least on paper, and kept the unit intact except for the pitcher who must step aside this week.

“Do we have needs? Sure. Are there players that can make our team better? Sure. But I think we have a really darn good baseball team. If we don’t make this massive splash or anything like that, then I think this team’s really good,” starter Kyle Gibson told the media earlier this week in Toronto.

“I think it’s easy to look around and see moves and to get anxious and get antsy and kind of wait and see where the dominoes are going to fall for us. But we’re really confident in what we have.”

"I think the roster and the chemistry on this team is revealing itself to kind of have the goods to make an October run," Elias said. "Obviously, there's some work involved in that, and health. But look, we're in probably the toughest division in baseball history that I can tell. We've got two months to go. These other teams are right behind us. They're all over .500, they all bought today, I think, and we've got to get through the next couple months and get into the playoffs.

"There's no harder road to the playoffs than what we're going through right now, so we'll worry about that when it's time to worry about that. We're obviously out of our rebuild, we're very competitive, but a step that we have yet to take is to make the playoffs. Our goal is to win the division, but we want to do that first and foremost before thinking about next steps."

The Orioles settled for Shintaro Fujinami as their only bullpen addition. Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano are All-Stars enduring heavy usage at the back end.

Asked for his concern level, Elias said, “Our whole team is in situations they haven’t been in before other than Gibson and Flaherty and James McCann and some of these guys. These guys are playing with their hair on fire, this is new to them. There’s only so much I can do about it. This is Major League Baseball and they’re in it and a lot of these guys are star players, and they want to play.

“We want to win the games, we’re doing our best to keep everybody healthy. I think Brandon does an excellent job. You notice the guys never pitch three days in a row. We give them extra days, have them on pitch counts. We’re trying to take care of our pitching. It’s obviously challenging in any situation, but in ours particularly with the types of dog fights were in every night with the American League East, and then the types of games that were in where it’s always close. It’s tough. So, that’s why bringing a starting pitcher in who’s got 100 innings under his belt this year and has had a couple seasons where he’s approached 200, we hope will help.”

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