“Anything I say here is going to be pablum you get from any baseball general manager,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Friday as he discussed the upcoming trade deadline in earnest.
And, yet, the longer he went on, the more clarity he added to the deadline plans of the American League’s best team. He called the season “awesome,” and said that whatever goal you ask him to set for this team — a deep playoff run, getting to the World Series, “whatever you want to call it, we want to do that.”
Then came the crux of the matter, the direct address to the question that will define how he supports the 2023 club’s ambitions to maintain the depth and talent he believes is required for a consistent, sustainable winner. Everything has changed in Baltimore on the field — this is a good team. But, to hear Elias tell it, the way this club was built will be the way it’s sustained.
“Unless we have information that the world is ending in November, a big part of my job is worrying about the overall health of the team over the next several years,” Elias said. “You just try to balance all those things. We have tested methodologies that we’ve used over, now, three organizations to help us make those decisions. We’re applying those to weigh the opportunities that come along. Those methods help us weigh the impact of an addition for the 2023 run, and expense of that going out the door, and then also how much we want to balance that against 2024 and 2025, 2026.”
Forget November: It may feel like the world is ending Tuesday night if the teams chasing the Orioles in the standings make upgrades via trade and the activity from the baseball operations department in the B&O Warehouse feels insufficient.
Elias spoke of the team’s plans on that front about as proactively as he ever has. He said the team is good enough in his estimation to make a deep playoff run as it is, but that efforts are focused on adding depth or upgrading the pitching staff. He said ownership has given “latitude” to add payroll, in some scenarios “significantly,” and that Orioles might go outside their typical deal framework to add to this club.
“We’re going to want to stretch a little bit and reach and try to help this really good 2023 team if we get within arm’s reach of something,” Elias said.
He used that language multiple times Friday — the second time while describing the calculus between the proverbial bird in hand of having a first-place team now and the belief that it can be in this position again in any of those aforementioned out years.
“I think everything we do, we look at sort of probabilistic, because we don’t know, and so we do our best to estimate what this season’s looking like, what the rest of the season’s looking like, what next season is looking like,” Elias said. “I think, with the position that our players have put us in right here and how well things are going so far and where we are, I think it’s fair to say, if we get within reach of something, we’re going to reach for it a little bit to help this team. We can’t set the minor league system on fire just because we’re in first place. It’s just our job to balance all that.”
Without having any evidence of the balance tipping toward a win-now move, it’s fair to assume the Orioles will place a lot of weight on the future years and add opportunistically where they can. Same as in past years, when they looked at players on their roster either a couple of months or years away from free agency and decided on a prospect return of multiple players who can help over the longer term, this is all about value. A number in, a number out.
“I think we’re making trades because we feel that the value we’re getting back in a different way shape and form is worth the value that we’re losing,” Elias said.
Their trade for Shintaro Fujinami for minor league left-hander Easton Lucas is that kind of deal. Fujinami is a free agent after this year, and he has a pretty high ceiling for what he can add to this edition of the team, but the Orioles were willing to give up a fringe top-30 prospect for him. That beat the rest of the offers on the market, and they got him.
That’s what it’s going to take for any more deals to come together: The Orioles will offer what they see fit, maybe stretching a little beyond what they see as good value, but probably not engaging in bidding wars. And, as Elias pointed out, these are “two-party transactions.” Not only do the Orioles have to contend with the requests of other teams but the prices other teams pay in setting the market.
They have the prospect capital to trade for any rental on the market — starter or reliever — and in all likelihood not materially impact their farm system. It might hurt, but we’re talking a surface wound, nothing substantial. Elias noted that their own evaluations of the prospects they “rate really, really highly” are the same ones the public does. So would, by extension, other teams.
And reading between the lines, the Orioles probably wouldn’t want to trade someone they rate that highly. That leaves trades of their third- and fourth-tier prospects on the table, and while they compare well to other teams’ top prospects in some cases, no selling team will appreciate the optics of acquiring the Orioles’ 12th-best prospect.
I believe the Orioles are “wide open,” as Elias said, in their approach at the deadline and are in the process of finding out the prices on the limited pool of players who can help them. I also believe the threshold for acquiring a player who can really help — and paying the price required — is going to be a high one.
The methodology that helped the Orioles get to this point was sound. For better or worse, they probably won’t be deviating too much from it this deadline.