Allegany Communications Sports
The Baltimore Orioles needed starting pitching and just moments under Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline they got it, acquiring Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor league infielder Cesár Prieto and pitchers Drew Rom and Zack Showalter.
Whether or not it will be enough to provide the club with the push it needs for a deep run into the postseason remains to be seen, and while the Orioles seemingly had legitimate shots to land more attractive pitchers on Tuesday’s market – Justin Verlander, Dylan Cease and former Oriole Eduardo Rodriguez – general manager Mike Elias was able to land a solid veteran presence for the team’s young rotation without having to part with any of the organization’s top 15 highly coveted prospects.
There was no way Elias was going to part with baseball’s No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday, who likely would have been required in any deal that would have involved Verlander or Cease. Rather, Prieto, Rom and Showalter (no relation to former O’s skipper Buck) were the Nos. 13, 15 and 16 prospects respectively as ranked by Baseball America, so the Orioles did give up value for a rental, making it the most aggressive move of Elias’ tenure leading the O’s.
Still, as one would imagine, the reactions of both Orioles fans and baseball analysts were mixed. Since Flaherty’s best season of 2019 when he pitched to a 2.75 ERA with 231 strikeouts in 196.1 innings, the 27-year-old free-agent has been hampered by injury and inconsistency, pitching to a 4.12 ERA in that time. Still, he’s been better of late, with a 3.45 ERA over his last dozen starts, including a 3.05 ERA in the month of July.
That Flaherty is basically pitching for a new contract should be a plus and that the Orioles have seemingly found a magical metric to help bring out the best in their pitchers provides some hope, because with essentially every pitcher on the young Baltimore staff approaching their career high-innings marks, the need to add more arms was real.
Elias had also hoped to get some bullpen help by the deadline but came up empty after acquiring the electric but erratic Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland last month. Instead, out of necessity, he will now bank on help from within from rehabbing pitchers who are getting closer to returning to add much-needed bullpen depth down the stretch.
If the Orioles fail to make the suddenly anticipated deep run into the postseason, Elias is likely to be grilled by critics for not being aggressive enough. At the same time, he may have been run out of town if he had traded Holliday.
It can be said that the first-place Orioles are at least a full year ahead of schedule with this wildly successful season and that the organization has invested too much into building its farm system to this lofty point to begin breaking it up.
Yet for years, it has also been a deeply held belief in baseball that when you have a chance to make a run at the whole ball of wax, you make it because great opportunities such as one the Orioles currently have are never guaranteed to happen again.
Take the 2014 Orioles, who won the American League East and looked as good as any team in baseball before they ran into the Kansas City Royals. Under general manager Dan Duquette, the Orioles chose to go for it and traded the only starting pitching prospect in its then shallow farm system, none other than Eduardo Rodriguez, to the Boston Red Sox for elite left handed reliever Andrew Miller.
Miller was everything and more for the Orioles down the stretch and, along with closer Zack Britton, provided an unhittable back end of the bullpen. Yet the Orioles ran into the red-hot Royals and were unceremoniously swept from the playoffs. Miller then left as a free agent for the New York Yankees and Rodriguez has gone on to have a fine career with the Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.
Now, had the Orioles reached or won the World Series in 2014, the Miller deal would have been a rousing success. If the Orioles had re-signed Miller, which was very doable given what they did spend on lesser players, the trade would also rate as a success regardless of the postseason outcome because the club would have retained value for the very valuable asset it traded. But the Orioles did neither. In fact, there were a lot of things they stupidly did not do after that season.
Therefore, I have always considered Duquette’s trade for Andrew Miller to have been an enormous bust because of the long-term damage it did to the trajectory the organization had been on for the previous three seasons.
The Orioles rebuild that is coming to fruition now? The process of necessitation for it very subtly began nine years ago when Duquette traded Rodriguez for Miller, because what prospects were left in the organization were then traded in an effort to keep the sinking big-league ship afloat, and in just three years an entire organizational rebuild was required.
When baseball executives such as Elias and his assistant general manager Sig Mejdal work five years to create “an elite talent pipeline,” they tend to become overprotective and possessive of prospects – all prospects. In fact, while holding the same position with the Houston Astros, Mejdal fought tooth and nail to keep prospects in the organization, Eduardo Perez saying Sunday night, “Sig seemed to prefer prospects over the proven commodity” when trade possibilities came up.
Every trade remains to be seen until there is no longer evidence that the trade was made to begin with. Dylan Cease would have been nice, but every baseball executive and analyst believes Jackson Holliday is going to be a whole lot nicer.
In this instance, given what Elias knows and feels about the Orioles organization, it feels smarter for him to have erred on the side of caution. If, in fact, that is what he has done.
Jack Flaherty will let us know. Beginning this afternoon.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT