Inbox: Who will the O's protect in Rule 5 Draft?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers questions from Baltimore fans

November 15th, 2019

Orioles general manager Mike Elias is on record saying he plans to protect four or five prospects before next Wednesday’s deadline. Now with five 40-man spots cleared with Aaron Brooks’ departure to Korea, Elias will have the bandwidth required to operate on the higher end of that spectrum. Assuming the O's protect five players, the question is who will get the final two spots.

The first three are locks -- Baltimore's No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Ryan Mountcastle, No. 8 prospect Dean Kremer and No. 11 prospect Keegan Akin are shoo-ins to be protected come next week. The Orioles have four Rule 5 Draft-eligible prospects fighting for the next two: outfielder Ryan McKenna (No. 13 prospect), catcher Brett Cumberland (No. 29) and right-handers Cody Sedlock (No. 17) and Gray Fenter (No. 30).

The fact that none of the aforementioned players sport even a game of Triple-A experience probably means the Orioles don’t need to protect them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t given the flexibility their roster situation provides.

McKenna might be the best athlete in the organization, but his uneven 2019 (.232/.321/.365 with 25 steals in 135 games at Bowie) makes it uncertain whether another team will want to devote a Major League roster spot to him for a full year. Cumberland showed considerable on-base skills over 41 games at Bowie last year -- maybe another team will target him given the dearth of catching depth around the league. But adding him will give the Orioles four catchers on their 40-man roster. Fenter, who’ll be 24 in January, enjoyed his best professional season in 2019, but he is yet to pitch above A ball.

My gut says the Orioles will protect McKenna and Sedlock, the former 2016 first-round pick who turned his career around last summer. Sedlock bought into the new regime’s data-driven approach and the results were plain to see. He could pitch his way onto the MLB radar with another strong season at Bowie.

The Orioles have not addressed this publicly, but sources have characterized it as a function of the massive organizational restructuring happening at the moment. The idea is: during this rebuild, the O's are going to reimagine and redetermine the way they do business across the board. That includes engagement and community initiatives, which the club hopes to continue on more frequent, but smaller scales throughout the winter.

Besides for , presumably? Givens was in demand despite not being moved at last year’s Trade Deadline, with the New York Post’s Joel Sherman recently reporting the Yankees “tried hard” to pry Givens away. The Phillies, Nationals and other clubs also had interest, but ultimately Elias did not make the move. Why exactly is unclear, other than the obvious: The Orioles felt they could reap a better haul for Givens this winter or next summer, should he rebound in 2020.

The fact that there was a market means teams were already somewhat looking past the career-worst numbers Givens posted across the board in 2019 -- eying more his still-electric arm and his track record of success in the middle innings. Teams aren’t going to target Givens as a closer, but he has value to a club looking to fortify an already established ‘pen (perhaps with an eye toward the postseason, a la Yankees). My guess is Givens will be dealt at some point before next July’s Deadline.

As for others, the reality is, anyone who emerges as a useful piece for a rebuilding club like the Orioles qualifies as a potential trade chip. That means and might be, though I think they probably have more value to the O's at this point than the type of prospects they’d bring back. I could potentially see on the trade block if his numbers improve a bit next spring.

could also become a trade chip if he rebounds from hip and knee surgery, but the $29 million he’s owed through 2021 will make him harder to move.