There is a segment of Birdland that seems to get uncomfortable when the conversation turns to the possibility of the Orioles trading some of their prospects. No doubt there are good reasons for those feelings some fans may have on this topic.
For one they get attached to players, even players on the farm they have heard about even if they have yet to see them play in the majors. For two they are worried the organization may be trading away a future star. This is a valid concern when dealing any prospect and no doubt the front office doing the trading for any organization has some of the same concerns and feelings.
Yet they can’t be afraid to act, and prospects may have more value in the sport now than they have at any time. Young talent is coveted and a team with a fertile farm like the Orioles attracts attention. Many teams will have interest in their minor league players.
There are those in Birdland that want the Orioles to “see what they have” in such players before trading them. The only issue here is that a prospect on the rise, but not yet in the majors, can keep building value as they get closer to the majors. But if they get to MLB and don’t perform to expectations it doesn’t take long to lose some of that value. Before their MLB debut they are that shiny new toy and after, if they don’t look good initially, it’s on to the next for some.
Birdland knows all too well about a player losing value and, in this case, I will discuss a player with just one MLB at-bat. No, it’s not Moonlight Graham, but it is Cuban-born outfielder Yusniel Diaz. He was the center piece of the five-player package the Los Angeles Dodgers traded to Baltimore to get Manny Machado on July 18, 2018.
The deal signaled that Orioles were now in rebuilding mode and Diaz quickly became their top-ranked prospect by the 2019 season. When the O’s added him, he was that “shiny new toy” and was also a top 100 prospect coming off a two-homer day in the All-Star Futures Game. Stardom was up next some believed.
In Double-A before the trade to the Orioles, he produced an OPS of .905 in 59 games. But injuries and poor performance became the norm for Diaz. He had an OPS of .498 in 2021 and .721 on the farm last year.
Fast forward to last month and Diaz, who cost the Dodgers $31 million in bonuses and penalties to sign him, was outrighted by the Orioles off their 40-man roster. He then elected free agency. As of today, he’s available now to sign with any team.
But his availability comes after a couple of seasons as he fell from the Orioles No. 1 prospect to No. 6, then to No. 7, No. 23 and then was taken off the 40-man. Several outfielders on the Baltimore farm passed him by.
His value was once such that he seemed to be a strong prospect as the key piece in the Machado trade. What is his value today?
The point here for the Orioles as we speak today is that prospects can lose value. Sometimes the fall can be quick and vast. Until a player gets to the majors, scouts and front offices can just project what they believe that player will look like when his chance comes. After they get there, we begin to see a track record start to develop. And a small track record, if not great, can change the value of a prospect.
So, the Orioles can wait to see what they have with some of their players from the farm. But they run the risk of those players losing some of their peak value.
So, the question becomes one teams have pondered for years and years - when is the right time to deal a prospect?