The Orioles didn’t reach the serious stages of trade talks involving major league talent at yesterday’s deadline.
Not from a lack of effort or discussions. The right offer just eluded executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, who settled for trading Triple-A Norfolk pitcher Dan Straily to the Phillies for cash considerations.
“I think there were some moments where it looked like something might happen,” Elias said shortly before first pitch tonight at Camden Yards.
“We didn’t get close in the sense of exchanging medical files or anything like that. I’ve seen closer calls than what we had, but we were extremely active both in terms of our preparation but also the levels of communication, but just did not end up pulling the trigger on anything we felt was the right thing to do.”
The return didn’t meet the necessary requirements.
“As I’ve kind of said all along this year, our goal is to raise the talent level up and down the organization and that includes players who are on the major league team, and the trades that were available to us, I didn’t feel like they were going to do that,” Elias said.
“I thought they might actually lower the talent level because these are guys we have under control. There are no pending free agents left on this club other than (Mark) Trumbo, who’s injured. And it makes for a much different calculus when you’re talking about trading those guys then when you’re looking at a situation we had with Andrew Cashner, who was not going to be here next year.
“We didn’t have anything in front of us that we felt was right in terms of the right time to move players that we like or just not enough coming back for the guys we have.”
Elias wouldn’t mention any players by name, but someone like infielder Jonathan Villar, who’s under team control for one more winter before approaching free agency, can be dangled again in talks after the season.
Doors close, but they don’t lock.
“I don’t want to speak to any individual player situation because these guys have enough on their minds, reading and hearing about themselves, and I don’t want to feed into that, but just generally speaking, yeah, with any player you have to gauge the different junctures where it might make more sense, if you are to move a guy, when to do that, and the trade deadline is just one opportunity for that,” Elias said.
“And of course there’s also the option of keeping these players on the team and rolling with them and growing with them and helping us win games.”
The deadline didn’t have the same feel for Elias as during his tenure in the Astros front office. A team in contention after its painful rebuild and in full buyer mode.
“They’re always a little different,” he said. “There was definitely a little bit of a different feel. No. 1, with the waiver trades being gone in August, there were some teams looking to do some really minor things to kind of bolster their depth in case of injury. I think that was partly why we traded Dan Straily to the Phillies. That might have been something that would be more common in August in the past.
“But there’s a definite protection of organization’s young prospects and they’re a lot harder to pry away now. I think there’s more precise understanding of what you have with a young prospect now and so contending teams are less likely to relinquish them unless they really feel like they’re getting something they need, some impact back. It’s just not as easy to get those guys and it makes for a more competitive deadline and it’s just something that everybody’s adjusting to.”
Elias never felt pressured to make a deal yesterday - again based on the lack of pending free agents. He simply wasn’t going to settle.
“We’re rebuilding and we’re kind of at the beginning stage of that process, so any time that we can take present value and convert it to future value, especially if it is more future value, yeah, it’s going to be attractive to us,” Elias said. “And we just never felt like we go to that point in the equation.”
Does keeping certain players who ranked as attractive trade chips send a message in the clubhouse, in much the same way as striking deals in order to make a run at the postseason?
“I think so,” Elias replied. “We like these players. They’re here. They’re young, too. And having them around is great. I value these guys and we’re not going to just trade them just to trade them and say we traded guys and got a couple of names if we didn’t really believe in the names. If our scouting department didn’t believe in them.
“That can be kind of a quick high to get somebody who’s No 17 on the MLB.com list, but if you don’t really believe that it’s for real, it’s not the right move. So we’re going to value these guys properly and do the right thing by the organization.”
The value placed on prospects and the advanced techniques to evaluate them are complicating the trading process. And it’s becoming rarer for players to set the free agent market based on contracts.
“Just in general, it seems like the game is skewing a little younger and players are really productive now - good, young players in their cost-controlled early years - and teams are seeing that, so there’s a lot of value to that and they’re less reluctant to give up on the opportunity to have those guys,” Elias said.
“But I also I do think we’re gaining a really more precise evaluation of our own players in the minor leagues. Part of that is technology driven, but there’s just a little more certainty about what you have in a prospect than there was 10 or five years ago. But I think things will keep adjusting and the market will figure it out.”
In no way does a .500 month alter the rebuild plan. The process still can’t be rushed. Playing at a more competitive level of late isn’t pertinent to the big picture.
“I’m thrilled about the fact that we had a .500 July or better than .500, or whatever the exact win-loss was, and how well the team played on the West Coast trip and the whole month. That was great to see,” Elias said. “Do I think that means, ‘Hey, this is at least a .500 team going forward?’ No, I don’t think that we’re there. But it’s nice to see those flashes.
“I like it better when we win than when we lose. And we want the record to be as good as possible. But I can’t stand here and announce that because of one good month we’ve turned the corner and we’re ready to be on the up and up. But the good thing is the talent is showing up. That’s the main goal right now and to see an Anthony Santander maybe start to establish himself as he has been, to see some of these guys really cement themselves in the major leagues, that’s the important thing. And I think that the wins were flowing from that this month.”
Elias repeated how much he appreciates Trey Mancini’s presence and production, but extension talks are nonexistent.
“I don’t think anything has changed,” he said. “We kind of talked about this topic prior to the season and spoke to it a little bit in the media. We like him. I hope he’s here for a long time. I’ve said that for a while, and he’s more than you can ask for in the clubhouse. He’s having a terrific season and he’s our best player, so we like having him here.
“I still feel like this is my first year. As Brandon (Hyde) said, we’re in an inventory taking stage. I think we’re at the beginning part of a new era of baseball here. Looking at contract extensions is just not at the forefront of my plate right now, but certainly he’s an attractive guy to have here for a while.”
Which goes back to what I reported about teams sensing as the deadline approached that the Orioles weren’t really interested in trading him.
The roster expansion in September is a subject for another day.
“We haven’t sat down and had those planning discussions - the front office, Brandon Hyde, the staff. We haven’t had those discussions,” Elias said.
“I do imagine on the pitching side, having some extra arms around will certainly be a positive as you get that late into the season. Then we’ll look for areas to bolster, but everything is going to be a development decision, so if it’s the right thing to do for the kid, we’ll do it. If we feel like it’s not the right thing to do for him, we’ll wait.”
Elias also said Double-A Bowie outfielder Yusniel Diaz left last night’s game with a quadriceps injury, but he doesn’t seem alarmed.
“It didn’t sound major,” Elias said. “I don’t have details beyond that this morning, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything overly serious.”
Update: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a two-run homer off Asher Wojciechowski in the third for a 2-0 lead.
Update II: Bo Bichette’s RBI single with two outs in the fourth gave Toronto a 3-0 lead.
Update III: Randal Grichuk homered off Wojciechowski with two outs in the fifth for a 4-0 lead. Jimmy Yacabonis is pitching.
Update IV: Jonathan Villar’s RBI grounder in the fifth reduced the lead to 4-1, but Danny Jansen hit a three-run homer off Yacabonis in the sixth. Guerrero added an RBI double later in the inning for an 8-1 lead.
Update V: Guerrero homered again in the eighth, this time off Dillon Tate. Trey Mancini homered in the bottom half. And the Orioles trail 9-2.