TORONTO -- As Orioles general manager Mike Elias worked the phones in the days leading up to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline -- and especially in the final hours before it -- he encountered exactly what he had expected: a seller’s market.
If Baltimore was going to bring in the pitching help it needed, it may have to pay up a bit in the form of multiple prospects. So that’s exactly what the O’s did in order to acquire a front-line starting pitcher who will upgrade their rotation amid their push for the postseason.
Orioles receive: RHP Jack Flaherty
Cardinals receive: INF César Prieto (Orioles' No. 16 prospect), LHP Drew Rom (Orioles' No. 18 prospect), RHP Zack Showalter
It was the first time the O’s -- who entered Tuesday atop the American League East with an AL-best 65-41 record -- made a major move as buyers since Elias was hired in November 2018. And it was the right time to do so from his point of view.
“A very accomplished, a very talented starting pitcher that bolsters our rotation and our pitching staff as a whole down the stretch,” Elias said of Flaherty. “We’re very pleased that this is where we landed -- a player that we were targeting, a deal that we liked that made sense for both teams.”
Flaherty, 27, had spent his entire seven-year big league career in St. Louis to this point. He has a 4.43 ERA through 20 starts this season, although he pitched well in July, recording a 3.03 ERA over five outings.
But Flaherty has a lengthy track record, having pitched to a 3.58 ERA in 122 career big league games (118 starts).
The finest season of Flaherty’s career came in 2019, when he had a 2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 196 1/3 innings. He got off to a strong start in ‘21 before sustaining oblique and shoulder injuries that bothered him for two years.
“The big takeaway for me is that Jack’s got a lot of good experience in a great organization,” Elias said. “He’s a very athletic pitcher with four really quality pitches, up to 97, works in the mid-90s. All of his pitches grade above average from the scouting perspective.”
The Cardinals had made several previous trades as sellers leading up to the Deadline, and Flaherty was on the market because he’s set to hit free agency after the season. That’s also why St. Louis’ asking price was not too high for the O’s to match. That’s also why the O’s didn’t have to part with any of their top 15 prospects (per MLB Pipeline), a group the club preferred to hold onto unless the perfect scenario presented itself.
“It took a long time to get people off of that part of the list,” Elias said. “I think people look at our system, and we've got some depth and some guys playing the same positions and all that. I think people wanted to tap into that.”
Prieto, who signed with Baltimore as an international free agent in January 2022, slashed .349/.393/.475 over 85 games between Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie this season. However, the 24-year-old was blocked in a stacked Orioles farm system filled with middle-infield talent.
Rom (a fourth-round Draft pick in 2018) and Showalter (an 11th-rounder in ‘22) have also never played in the big leagues. Rom was called up by Baltimore on May 9, but he went back to the Minors two days later without making his MLB debut.
“I’ve spoken before about how my job is balancing that priority [to win now] against the future and not doing an exchange that we will overly regret or be unwise, but I think this landed in the right spot in that regard,” Elias said of the negotiations. “They asked for the right names.”
The Orioles needed a short-term boost to their starting rotation as they look to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016 and win their first AL East title since ‘14. The team’s 4.48 rotation ERA entering Tuesday was tied for 16th in MLB and eighth in the AL.
Plus, several Baltimore hurlers are nearing their career highs in innings pitched, including right-hander Tyler Wells, who struggled in three second-half starts before getting optioned to Double-A Bowie on Sunday to try to reset and get back on track.
Flaherty will take over the empty spot in the Orioles’ rotation created by Wells’ demotion. Flaherty hasn’t pitched since last Wednesday, so he could presumably start Thursday’s series finale in Toronto, should he arrive in time to do so, but Elias wasn’t yet sure if that was a possibility.
Once Flaherty joins Baltimore’s squad, though, Elias is confident the righty will be a positive addition who will increase the team’s odds for a deep October run.
“Right now, we've got more than five guys with Flaherty in the fold,” Elias said. “We've got an above-average bullpen, we have a filled-to-the-brim position-player roster. This is a good team, and I don't think there's a ton of hierarchy in this rotation, and I think that he goes in right with the best in our group.”