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Law: Orioles boost rotation with Jack Flaherty without surrendering any top prospects


The Orioles are in outstanding shape for the rest of this season, but their rotation is clearly the team’s weak spot, so using some of their prospect depth to acquire a starter – just as they did in the winter, trading Darell Hernaiz to Oakland for Cole Irvin – was the obvious move at the deadline. They dealt two prospects from their second or third tier to St. Louis on Tuesday to land right-hander Jack Flaherty, who, even in a down year, is an upgrade for the Orioles’ staff.

Flaherty was an ace back in 2019, but since the injuries started to pile up, he’s lost some stuff and a lot of command while making just 23 starts over the last two years. He’s been mostly healthy this year, taking 20 turns in the rotation for the Cardinals, with mixed results, from his career-worst 11 percent walk rate (outside of 36 innings in 2022) to his surrender of more hard contact than ever. He’s down about 1.5 mph from that 2019 season on the fastball, comparably down on the curveball and his pitches must be getting old because they sure don’t move like they used to. He has deprecated the four-seamer this year, throwing more sliders and a lot more cutters, although the cutter isn’t more than an average pitch either – it’s just more effective than the fastball.

Flaherty’s a solid athlete who had an outstanding delivery as a high schooler, which is how he got to that 2019 peak even without huge pure stuff – he repeated his delivery for plus command, and he got great extension out front for added deception. The extension’s there, but the command isn’t, and the stuff is down as well. That could be an opportunity for the Orioles, who’ve had success with helping pitchers get more out of their arms in the last two years, but adds some risk. Even as is, he’s probably the Orioles’ second-best starter right now, though, and definitely sets them up better for a playoff series.

Cesar Prieto (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

The Cardinals didn’t land any of the Orioles’ top prospects in the deal, even though Baltimore has a hilarious surplus of position players at multiple positions. Baltimore signed Cuban infielder Cesar Prieto before the 2022 season, and he spent the bulk of that year in Double-A Bowie, hitting .255/.296/.348 as a 23-year-old. He’s been much better this year, returning to Bowie and hitting .364/.406/.476 there and then .317/.365/.471 in 27 games for Triple-A Norfolk. He can put the bat on the ball, with just 27 strikeouts in 85 games this entire year, but does so at the expense of power, with below-average exit velocities and an ISO of just .100 in his 148 games in Double A. He can’t play short on more than an emergency basis but he’s fine at second or third. Most likely he’s a utility infielder who’s a very useful bench bat due to his contact skills, but I could see him becoming a regular at second as well just because he’ll have some years where he hits close to .300 with all that contact.

Lefty Drew Rom has close to a year in Triple A now with a 5.09 ERA. He works with an arsenal of fringy stuff, sitting 90-92 mph this year without great spin or movement on either of his breaking balls, so he has to try to induce chases and work outside of the strike zone. That approach has particularly hurt him this year with the automated system in Triple A, as he’s walked 11.5 percent of batters, the worst rate of his career to date. I just don’t see how he can be a starter with the current quality of his pitches, but he could be a solid reliever whose slider makes him particularly effective against left-handed batters.

Right-hander Zach Showalter has a funky, hard-to-repeat arm action with a low slot that helps his low-90s fastball play up. He’s got a fringy changeup and below-average slider, working primarily with the fastball so far. He’s a ways off but this is a very relieverish look.

The surprising part to me is that the O’s didn’t part with any of their top 10 or so prospects. Joey Ortiz is blocked eight ways to Sunday, but the shortstop is still in Baltimore’s system. Connor Norby isn’t in much better shape. They can’t play all of Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle and Colton Cowser and soon Heston Kjerstad and at some point Coby Mayo, but they’re all still there. I’m not saying they should give those guys away for fifty cents on the dollar, but this is their window, where they’re going to the playoffs this year and these guys are all in the majors or ready to make the leap. I suppose the silver lining is that the O’s added a starter who’ll help their rotation and still have all of those players to make a big trade in the winter.

(Top photo of Jack Flaherty: Joe Nicholson / USA Today)



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