Major League Baseball won’t host the 2021 amateur draft for another month, but some fan bases can’t be blamed for already looking ahead to next year’s class. (Here’s a tip: go to YouTube and search for “Elijah Green baseball.”) Two such fan bases are those belonging to the Baltimore Orioles and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Coming into play on Sunday, the Orioles and the Diamondbacks possessed the worst records in their respective leagues. The Orioles are on pace for merely 53 wins, which would be the second-lowest total since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954. The Diamondbacks aren’t much better: if Arizona continues down this road, it’ll finish with 55 victories, also the second-worst mark in franchise history (albeit over a shorter timeline than the Orioles’).
The only competitiveness either team has shown lately is in their race to the bottom: the Diamondbacks have dropped 13 games in a row, while the Orioles have lost each of their last 12. For more insight into what’s going on with both teams, let’s examine the tale of the tank.
The vitals: 17-35, minus-65 run differential, 12 consecutive losses
What’s gone wrong? It may come as a shock that the team who had late-career Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey in its rotation plans has a bad pitching staff. Were it not for John Means and/or the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore would rank 30th in the majors in ERA. The Orioles have had eight pitchers throw at least 20 innings, and only one of them (Means) has an ERA below 3.00. The other Baltimore starters don’t tend to carry leads late into games, but the Orioles’ bullpen has also been atrocious — to the extent that it leads the majors in “meltdowns,” a counting stat based on win probability added (or, in cases like this one, subtracted).
Has anything gone right? By way of comparison, Baltimore’s offense looks great. The Orioles rank 19th in FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric, a rate measure that adjusts for ballpark (among other wonky things). Trey Mancini is the odds-on favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, and is hitting like he didn’t miss an entire season undergoing cancer treatment. Cedric Mullins has reemerged as a potential long-term piece. Freddy Galvis is making Orioles fans forget about José Iglesias. There are some negatives to point too with the lineup as well — the Orioles have gotten pitiful production from second and third base; Ryan Mountcastle‘s strikeout and walk rates have veered the wrong way after a solid first impression last year — but, on the whole, it’s a silver lining. Oh, and yeah, Means is still here and shoving every fifth day.
Whom might they trade? Surely, the Orioles will get pestered about Means, who won’t even qualify for arbitration until after this season. Baltimore discussed trading Mancini the offseason before last, and his free agency date (after next season) is close enough that they might revisit those negotiations. Galvis seems like a layup to be on a contender’s roster come Aug. 1. The Orioles could also examine the markets for their most reliable relievers, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser, since a team doesn’t get to where they want to get by holding onto pesky leads.
Reason to watch: If you’re tempted to watch an Orioles game that isn’t started by Means, do yourself a favor and invest in an MiLB TV subscription and tune into the Bowie Baysox instead. There, with the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate, you’ll find the likes of catcher Adley Rutschman, righty Grayson Rodriguez, and lefty DL Hall, or three of Baltimore’s future building blocks.
The vitals: 18-35; minus-56 run differential; 13 consecutive losses
What’s gone wrong? You can’t blame everything that has gone south with the Diamondbacks on injuries, but you can blame a fair amount of it on them. Arizona is currently operating without three starting pitchers (including ace Zac Gallen), three relievers, and a pair of starting position players. Per Baseball Prospectus’ calculations, the only teams to lose more value to the IL this season are the Padres, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Mets (duh). This Diamondbacks team had modest aspirations entering the spring, and whenever a middle-of-the-road team has to do without their best players for extended stretches, it runs the risk of cratering. (It doesn’t impact the big-league roster, but the general vibes around Arizona are impacted by Corbin Carroll being out for the season and Kristian Robinson not yet playing this season because of personal reasons. Those two are widely considered to be the organization’s best prospects.)
Has anything gone right? Carson Kelly is single-handedly making the Paul Goldschmidt trade look worth it again. Josh Rojas is doing his part to lift the opinion of the Zack Greinke deal. Pavin Smith is holding his own. David Peralta and Eduardo Escobar are positioning themselves for a midseason trade. Caleb Smith has made a beautiful transition to the bullpen after being yanked after one start. And it’s worth reiterating that Gallen and Ketel Marte are high-quality players who have produced when they’ve been able to stay on the field.
Whom might they trade? The aforementioned combination of Peralta and Escobar seem like the most obvious candidates to go. A contender might take a long look at Caleb Smith, Joakim Soria, and Merrill Kelly, too. Christian Walker seems like the type who would appeal to a team seeking competence. It probably wouldn’t hurt the Diamondbacks to examine Kelly’s trade market, either. He’s having a fantastic season, of course, but if Arizona thinks its timeline has been pushed back a year or so by this season, then they should at least listen.
Reason to watch: Marte and Gallen, mostly. Otherwise, the best-case scenario for the rest of the season is that Arizona hands over the reins to Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, and some other younger players who have the potential to stick around for a few years.