With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, expect Brian Cashman to work the phones and gauge opportunities to improve the Yankees. With a cluster of teams in the hunt for expanded postseason positions, he should have plenty of competition. On the flip side, a few teams will capitalize on a seller’s market and bow out of the race early. We’ll preview a few of those potential teams over the course of the week, starting with a familiar face in the division.
The Baltimore Orioles have no business being in the conversation for October baseball. Yet, here they are, at 12-9 and leading the Wild Card race. Most teams would consider that an opportunity to arrive early, to roll the dice on making the playoffs, to get into the dance and see what happens.
Just don’t count on the O’s to do that.
Mike Elias, the Orioles’ general manager, studied under Jeff Luhnow in Houston. He’s a Practitioner of The Process, a Disciple of the Draft, a True Believer of Tear it Down and Start from Scratch. He wants the Orioles to succeed, of course, but not like this. Sneaking into the Wild Card race during the early phases of the rebuild goes against the strategically crafted, five-year plan he sold to Peter Angelos.
When asked if he would adjust the plan after the results of the 2019 season, Elias dismissed the idea rather quickly. “I don’t think so,” he told Jon Meoli. “I think that we’re staying the course of what I would have expected it would look like a year ago today. I think the first year met those expectations, and in some ways, we feel — especially on the minor league [side] — good about what we’ve got cooking in the farm system with the success that a lot of our teams and players had this year.”
Does that sound like a GM willing to pass on opportunities to unload contracts and drop to the the top of the the draft line? I don’t think so either.
The next question, then, is do the Orioles have players who interest the Yankees? Reliever Mychal Givens stands out as a likely candidate, because the Bombers reportedly tried to reel him in at the trade deadline last summer. The 30-year-old has pitched eight innings in 2020 and has yet to allow a run. His 12.38 K/9 is a bit higher than his career average, and even if he regresses to the 10-11 K/9 range, that’s still pretty good. A fastball-slider pitcher with big spin rates, he fits the Yankees’ modus operandi. The right-hander would remain under control next season as well.
On the starting pitching side of the equation, the team might look to get out from underneath Alex Cobb’s contract. Cobb, 32, got off to a great start in 2020, pitching to a 2.75 ERA (4.76 FIP) over 19.2 innings. While always a specialist at inducing grounders, he’s enjoyed an absurdly high 64.9% groundball rate so far this season. Cobb works primarily with three pitches: a middling fourseam fastball, a splitter, and curveball with a big spin-rate. If you squint your eyes, you have an interesting project for Matt Blake and Sam Briend, with the idea of transforming Cobb into a Charlie Morton type of pitcher. Landing the right-hander would also help fill out the rotation next year, as he remains under contract for 2021 at $15 million.
If the Yankees need a backup infielder, José Iglesias should come on the cheap. The shortstop is riding a hilariously high .458 BABIP to a .400/.414/.564 triple-slash (165 wRC+). He’s hitting the ball a little harder than usual, but he doesn’t have anywhere close to average exit velocity. I wouldn’t count on him pulling a Gio Urshela or anything.
Miguel Castro offers another option out of the bullpen, and while the O’s may want to hang on to him as a younger core player, teams don’t rebuild around relievers. He probably will cost a good deal, as he isn’t even arbitration eligible yet. Castro has decent numbers, pitching to a 3.72 ERA (3.96 FIP) with a healthy dose of strikeouts (13.97 K/9). The right-hander’s a sinker-slider guy who gives up more hard contact than you would like in a bullpen arm.
The Orioles and Yankees connected on a significant trade in 2018, brining Zack Britton to New York, so a deal between the two isn’t out of the question. Elias also figures to take the best offer, regardless of division rivalries. He’s singular-focused in his objective.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of kicking the tires on Cobb. The Yankees likely have three holes opening in the rotation at season’s end, and he would give them upside and insurance.