Not every top prospect is an Adley Rutschman or Gunnar Henderson, soaring to the majors and immediately boosting his organization’s playoff chances.
Some are like Yusniel Diaz, who was outrighted off the Orioles’ 40-man roster before electing free agency Thursday after each of the other 29 teams passed on him when he was made available on waivers. Four years ago, the 26-year-old outfielder was the Orioles’ top prospect after being acquired as part of the deal that sent superstar infielder Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. To date, his only major league plate appearance has resulted in a strikeout.
The Machado trade and the subsequent deals in the summer of 2018 yielded little for the Orioles. With Diaz becoming a free agent, right-handed starter Dean Kremer is the only remaining member of the five players acquired from the Dodgers. Right-handed reliever Dillon Tate, like Kremer, established himself as a major league piece in 2022, but they are the only products of the trades that sent Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, and Darren O’Day elsewhere who are doing so in Baltimore.
The circumstances demonstrate why the Orioles should not be afraid to part with prospects this winter if they have the chance to add established major leaguers who will boost their playoff chances in 2023 and beyond. Mike Elias, who took over for Dan Duquette months after the 2018 trade deadline, has yet to acquire a tenured major league player through a trade, with his deals mostly sending them away from Baltimore to bring in young talent. The result, when combined with the organization’s drafting efforts during his tenure as general manager, is one of the sport’s deepest farm systems.
The Dodgers reaped the benefits of both types of wealth in 2018, trading five prospects led by Diaz for half a season of Machado and barely feeling it. The Orioles’ system is possibly at a similar point, though the recent state of the major league team has led to fan attachment to some of the prospects the club may trade this offseason. With so much emphasis and marketing devoted to a bright future, Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, and others have emerged as players who fans believe can contribute to it.
However, there isn’t enough room for all of them, and those contributions could be part of a trade package for a top-of-the-rotation starter or impact bat. Diaz had hoped to develop into the latter, but a string of lower-body injuries has prevented him from reaching his full potential. He hit.210 with a.608 OPS at Triple-A over the last two seasons, falling off top prospect lists and being surpassed on the organizational outfield depth chart by Elias draftees Kyle Stowers and Colton Cowser.
Not all of the Orioles’ prospects have underperformed. Kremer and Kyle Bradish, two of four right-handers acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for starter Dylan Bundy in December 2019, are expected to compete for rotation spots in the coming spring. Tate, who was part of the Yankees’ package for Britton, will most likely return to the bullpen. Terrin Vavra demonstrated his versatility and plate discipline in the majors two years after being traded by the Colorado Rockies with two others for reliever Mychal Givens. But each of those trades also included prospects who have amounted to little thus far or are out of the organization.
The Orioles also reinstated left-hander John Means from the 60-day injured list, a procedural move that does not change his status for the start of the 2023 season as he recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. It leaves the Orioles with six open roster spots to protect Rule 5 draft eligible prospects like Rodriguez and Ortiz. Diaz was one of six prospects protected from the 2020 lockout, and right-hander Mike Baumann is the only one of them still on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
Such is the nature of prospects, which is why, if the right deal comes along this offseason, the Orioles should be unafraid of parting with some.