Hindsight always leaves a different perspective on a transaction than comes at first blush. For instance, after the Orioles traded closer Jorge López in 2022, the emergence of right-hander Yennier Canó as a high-level reliever was an unknown happenstance that pushed the deal even further in Baltimore’s favor.
Prior to and throughout the 2023 season, general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias ventured into the free agency market and completed his first trade in which he dealt prospects for major leaguers. He’ll likely do the same this winter.
As baseball’s offseason approaches, Elias could use the glut in Baltimore’s top-ranked farm system to supplement a team that won 101 games in 2023. The Orioles have seen how their starting pitching in October left something to be desired, or they could opt to find a replacement for closer Félix Bautista, who will miss the 2024 campaign as he recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
How did Elias do this season with such endeavors?
Now we have the benefit of hindsight, and we’ll use it to grade Baltimore’s front office on each major league trade acquisition before and during the 2023 season.
Acquired Aug. 1: Right-hander Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals
Parted with: Infielder César Prieto, left-hander Drew Rom and right-hander Zack Showalter
Andy Kostka, Orioles reporter: Baltimore waited until just before the trade deadline to complete this deal, watching as other candidates such as Jordan Montgomery and Aaron Civale went elsewhere. It didn’t lead to the desired result. Flaherty fell out of the rotation with just one start lasting into the sixth inning. Grade: D-
Danielle Allentuck, Orioles reporter: Look, I commend the Orioles for trying. But this trade simply did not work. I would give this trade an F, but it did allow the team to move to a six-man rotation for a month, which may have saved some of its overworked arms. Grade: D
Paul Mancano, audience engagement editor: Three weeks after this trade, Rom made his big league debut with St. Louis, and on Sept. 13 he twirled 5 1/3 scoreless against his old club in Baltimore. The Orioles didn’t have major league opportunities available for Rom, Prieto and Showalter. But they got next to nothing for the trio. Grade: D
Jon Meoli, Orioles columnist: They say the trades you don’t make are sometimes the best trades. Given some of the other players who could have gone to St. Louis in other iterations of this deal, this one could have been worse, which is what prevents it from getting an F here. As mentioned, it was worth having another body for the six-man rotation, but Flaherty and the Orioles just never clicked. Grade: D-
Acquired July 19: Right-hander Shintaro Fujinami from the Oakland Athletics
Parted with: Left-hander Easton Lucas
Kostka: This was a low-risk acquisition weeks before the trade deadline with the aim of adding another key bullpen arm to a group that would be under pressure come October. At his best, Fujinami was unhittable. He wasn’t always at his best, though. Baltimore sought, but didn’t acquire, another reliever at the trade deadline. The exclusion of Fujinami from the ALDS roster (however second-guessed) punctuated the missed opportunity. Grade: D
Allentuck: I’m probably in the minority here, but I feel like the Orioles mishandled this one. Fujinami is the type of pitcher you take a risk on, but when he’s on, he’s on. He should have been on the playoff roster over Bryan Baker or Jacob Webb. I would have given Fujinami a short leash and taken him out at the first sign of trouble, but he showed in his limited time with the Orioles that he could rise to the moment. Grade: D-
Mancano: The price the Orioles paid for Fujinami was minimal. Lucas, a 26-year-old reliever, was not even close to the team’s top 30 prospects list. This trade should have been inconsequential. Instead, Baltimore kept trying to turn Fujinami into the high-leverage weapon it failed to add at the deadline. The acquisition made sense. The plan for the player did not. Grade: C-
Meoli: Are we talking about the same guy who didn’t allow an earned run in 21 of his 30 outings with the team, allowed just two of six inherited runners to score and didn’t lose a game? There are bigger Fujinami fans than me and we are still owed an explanation as to why he wasn’t on the playoff roster, but neither Easton Lucas nor anyone else who came up from the Norfolk bullpen not named DL Hall had the potential to do what Fujinami could have and sometimes did for this team. He was fine. Grade: C
Acquired March 27: Left-hander Danny Coulombe from the Minnesota Twins
Parted with: Cash
Kostka: Coulombe came in right before spring training concluded and quickly established himself as a go-to lefty in the bullpen, and in the postseason Coulombe inherited some of the most challenging situations with runners in scoring position. Coulombe finished the season with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.110 WHIP. Plus, Coulombe is under team control for next year. Grade: A
Allentuck: Coulombe was an excellent pickup. He was a true veteran presence inside and outside the clubhouse. He was trusted in a variety of situations, coming on with inherited runners, working as a setup man and even making a few ninth-inning appearances. Grade: A+
Mancano: Most of these cash-for-player swaps end up being insignificant. The Orioles also purchased the contracts of Lewin Díaz and Darwinzon Hernández last winter. This one paid for itself. In zero appearances for the Twins in 2023, cash posted an impressive 0.00 ERA. Still, I’d rather have Coulombe. Grade: A
Meoli: Shoutout to pro scouting director Mike Snyder and his team for sitting through spring training games and identifying a contributor who was going to be a surplus player elsewhere. This grade is for them. Grade: A
Acquired Jan. 26: Left-hander Cole Irvin from the Oakland Athletics (and minor league right-hander Kyle Virbitsky)
Parted with: Infielder Darell Hernaiz
Kostka: Irvin lost his place in the rotation and didn’t feature on the postseason roster, either. Irvin wound up as a long man in the bullpen or as a spot starter. He’s under team control, however, leaving room for Irvin to still produce in Baltimore. Grade: C
Allentuck: Irvin was brought in to be a fifth starter but lost his spot early on and never quite found his footing in Baltimore. He still brought value, returning to the rotation at times while also serving as a spot starter, but he ended up just being a body to fill a spot, not an impact player. Grade: C-
Mancano: Baseball America named Hernaiz the A’s Minor League Player of the Year after the 21-year-old hit .321 and finished the season in Triple-A. Was Hernaiz going to factor into the Orioles’ infield plans for 2024 and beyond? Probably not. But Elias still dealt a prospect of value for a pedestrian big leaguer. Grade: D+
Meoli: The Orioles took the opportunity to acquire a starter with four years of club control for a prospect who, while talented, was going to struggle to find a path to the majors here and was about to be Rule 5 eligible. Irvin just didn’t hold up his end of the bargain and, you know, stay a starter. With Irvin out of options next year, it’s at least possible the view on this could get even more unfavorable if they can’t keep him on the roster. Grade: C
Acquired Jan. 3: Infielder Ryan O’Hearn from the Kansas City Royals
Parted with: Cash
Kostka: O’Hearn was worth every penny. He broke out for the best year of his major league career, finishing with an .801 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Seldom used in Kansas City, O’Hearn found greater success when he learned to let go of baseball as the be-all, end-all of his life. Grade: A
Allentuck: Easily one of the best moves of the offseason. O’Hearn took off in Baltimore and had the best year of his career. The slugger was especially impactful in late innings when the Orioles needed a boost. Grade: A+
Mancano: Instead of paying top dollar for a left-handed-hitting first baseman/corner outfielder last offseason, Elias took several fliers, hoping just one would stand out. During spring training, it appeared as if Franchy Cordero would be the guy. Instead, it was O’Hearn, who didn’t even break camp with the team. The strategy worked to perfection. Grade: A
Meoli: Not a lot to this one. The Orioles’ hitting program works, and the fact that they were willing to take a chance on a player making seven figures as a reclamation project speaks to what they thought could happen. It largely played out. Grade: A-
Acquired Dec. 21, 2022: Catcher James McCann from the New York Mets (along with cash to pay down his contract)
Parted with: Infielder/outfielder Luis De La Cruz
Kostka: McCann served as a strong veteran presence in a young clubhouse and was a solid backup for Adley Rutschman. McCann’s arm, especially, was on display when he was behind the plate. He threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal second base, tied for the third-best rate in the majors. Grade: A
Allentuck: This was an underrated move. McCann didn’t do anything flashy, but he didn’t need to either. The Orioles simply needed a veteran backup catcher who could hold his own and also perform at the plate when called upon. He did that. Grade: A
Mancano: New York gave Baltimore $19 million to take McCann off its hands, then inked veteran backstop Omar Narváez to a two-year, $15 million deal. McCann proceeded to outplay Narváez and collect four hits off the Mets when these two teams met in August. And where is De La Cruz? He didn’t post any statistics in the Mets’ minor league system in 2023. Grade: A+
Meoli: There are a lot of bad backup catchers out there. McCann is not one of them, though he is a backup catcher, and the Orioles paid around $2.5 million for 0.5 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. It could have been worse. Grade: B