In the end, it didn’t even require a stretch.
Orioles general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias said last week the team would potentially exceed its valuation structure if a deal to add a pitcher (to a club that felt it needed one more with each passing day) came within reach.
Its value-driven decision-making and high opinion of its top prospects’ future worth always meant it was only going to go as far as a rental. And, as rental starting pitchers go, adding Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals for prospects César Prieto, Drew Rom and Zack Showalter is a good outcome — especially relative to the prices paid for pitching by other clubs.
Elias called the players dealt away future major leaguers, if they stay healthy, and that may be true, but their loss does not change either the immediate or future picture for the Orioles. They are a really good team, and probably will be even better in the years to come. Elias was able to help the 2023 team, both in this deal and the July 19 acquisition of reliever Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland, without losing much from a stocked farm system (with eight players in the top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline).
“I am pleased that we got a reliever that’s looking good and a starter that’s going to help, and we were prepared to and were processing some trade discussions that included some of our top-100 type of guys, but I think it is a nice outcome that we’re still sitting on a very special and perhaps historic group of Orioles talent right now,” Elias said. “These guys are all still with us.”
The team Flaherty is joining is proving to be a special one as well — so special, in fact, that the Orioles decided not to trade from it, even as there was interest around the league in players who are currently on the periphery. Their house view is that the deadline always favors sellers, and this year proved no different in Elias’ estimation.
Others might have improved more than the Orioles did in the last week, but they also gave up more.
“You look at the trades this year, these were huge returns, even for the rentals,” Elias said. “I think that this landed at an appropriate spot for both teams. I’m sure these players will go on to have very fruitful careers, but we’re here — 2023 is a priority. I’ve spoken before about how my job is balancing that priority against the future, and not doing an exchange that we will overly regret or be unwise, and I think this landed in the right spot in that regard.”
There were bigger names left on the table — Detroit didn’t move Eduardo Rodriguez, and the White Sox held on to controllable starter Dylan Cease. Whether they’re among the larger swings Elias said the Orioles would make, or the deals where they were going to give up a top prospect, remains unclear.
What the Orioles did execute ahead of this deadline was basically in line with everything else they’ve done under Elias: They bet on themselves. They bet their plan to guide all the pitchers who have never experienced a major league season of this intensity wouldn’t require more than Flaherty in the rotation or Fujinami in the bullpen. They bet, in the case of those two acquisitions, they can get a little more out of the players’ talent than their previous stops did.
They bet that an offense that seems to be improving by the day will win them games when the pitching doesn’t hold up. And they continued to bet that this 2023 team is the beginning of a run of great Orioles teams, potentially even better ones given the collection of hitting prowess in the high minors.
Flaherty, a known commodity who in the last month or so has pitched to better results by de-emphasizing his cutter, can help the Orioles pursue that title this year in modest measure. If the Orioles reach that pinnacle this year, it will probably have a lot more to do with star turns from Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, the sheer talent and presence of Félix Bautista, or a dominant October from Grayson Rodriguez, than anything Flaherty will do.
The same can probably be said for any rental on the market this year. Everything the Orioles do is informed by a statistical model and boiled down to value in or value out. Trading three prospects in the middle tier of their top-30 list for a rental is the kind of move that fits that framework. Yes, it’s a choice to operate in that framework with a first-place club when so much of the reasoning for it — the small-market, low-budget mentality — is frustrating, but that’s also what got the Orioles to this point.
They might come to regret moving Showalter, a 19-year-old with an impressive fastball who is off to a good start in pro ball. Rom and Prieto are valuable as well, but they probably weren’t going to get a chance to show that with the Orioles.
The Orioles’ valuation model, in theory, serves as guardrails against that regret. It also probably limits the upside they can find in the trade market, where outsize impact is only yielded by outsize return. The Orioles aren’t in that business, and now, after the first deadline as buyers, we know that for sure.