ARLINGTON, Texas — Jorge Lopez woke up Tuesday morning to his phone ringing, and with Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias on the other end, he had an idea.
“I hope this is not the call,” Lopez said.
It was on the morning of the Major League Baseball trade deadline that Elias informed Baltimore’s All-Star closer that he was being traded to the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles, one game over .500 and only a handful of games out of a playoff spot, included cash in the deal and received four pitching prospects. .
It’s the second straight day the Orioles have traded a major league contributor at a time when their rebuild appears to finally be paying off at the major league level. On Monday, Baltimore traded first baseman Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros for two pitching prospects as part of a three-team trade that included the Tampa Bay Rays.
The only addition the Orioles made Tuesday was the acquisition of outfielder Brett Phillips, designated for assignment by the Rays as part of the Mancini trade, for cash. Outfielder Anthony Santander, starting pitcher Jordan Lyles and other potential candidates remained with Baltimore until the deadline.
In exchange for López and cash considerations, Baltimore received four more pitchers from Minnesota, getting lefties Cade Povich and Juan Rojas and righties Yennier Canó and Juan Núñez. The Orioles called up left-handed reliever Nick Vespi to fill Lopez’s vacant roster spot.
Cano, 28, is the only player in the comeback package who has already made it to the majors, pitching 13 2/3 innings for the Twins this year. The 22-year-old Povich was ranked Minnesota’s No. 21 prospect, according to Baseball America, and has struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings as a starter at High-A. Both Rojas, 18, and Nunez, 21, posted impressive strikeout-to-walk ratios in the Florida Complex League.
Lopez has been with the Orioles since 2020, arriving as a waiver claim from the Kansas City Royals; he and Phillips were traded to Kansas City from Milwaukee for third baseman Mike Moustakas in 2018. After struggling in the middle innings as a starter, Lopez moved to the back of Baltimore’s bullpen and found immediate success, thriving as a closer and agent for the manager Brandon Hyde. the Orioles at last month’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. His average fastball speed increased by more than 2 mph since last season and by 4 mph since he joined Baltimore, and his sinker hit 100.6 mph late last month.
“There’s definitely a different atmosphere in the ninth inning in a save situation, and I think Lopey just accepted it,” Hyde said. “Lopey, for some reason, loved that part, and that’s what you need in a closer.”
Unlike Mancini, who was in the final guaranteed year of his contract, Lopez won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. The 29-year-old right-hander has a 1.68 ERA and 19 saves in 23 attempts. Half of his wasted saves came in back-to-back appearances against his new club in early July.
“It was crazy to be 29 years old and be the oldest in the bullpen,” Lopez told Minnesota reporters after the trade. “I felt that responsibility on me to show guys how to deal with things on the field.”
Hyde said right-handers Felix Bautista and Dillon Tate and left-hander Cionel Perez will be closing options depending on matchups. Bautista, a 6-foot-8 rookie with a 1.66 ERA who has most often managed the ninth when Lopez was unavailable, said through team interpreter Brandon Quiñones that the opportunity to be Baltimore’s closer would be “a dream.” came true”. The Orioles’ bullpen, packed with relievers left out by other teams, entered fourth in the majors on Tuesday with a 3.05 ERA, with Lopez playing a vital role in their success.
“Obviously he’s one of our brothers,” reliever Joey Krehbiel said. “I wouldn’t say there is a bigger piece to the puzzle, but if there was, he would be the biggest piece.
“Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. But…I’m pretty sure Bautista’s feet are big enough to fill any shoe.”
The Orioles followed up those back-to-back losses at Minnesota with a 10 game winning streak, propelling them to .500 and within reach of a playoff spot. A win Monday night made them a winning club at 52-51 and put them 2 1/2 games out of an AL wild-card spot.
In explaining the Mancini trade on MondayElias cited “this year’s outlook and odds” regarding the Orioles making the playoffs. They’re in the toughest division in baseball, with the other four AL East playoff teams also fighting for postseason spots.
For that reason, Elias, who was unavailable Tuesday but will discuss the move with reporters Wednesday morning, has prioritized the future in trades, hoping to maximize what he called a “championship window.” Lopez, under the team’s control for two years beyond this one, apparently could have been a part of it.
Instead, he’s headed to a Twins team contending for the AL Central title, and Baltimore’s only addition at the deadline is Phillips, a 28-year-old who hit .147 with an OPS .475 this year for the Rays and is listed for a bench spot. .
“It’s hard to see Jorge go,” Hyde said. “Someone we’ve been with for a few years, and we love the way he turned the corner this year with his new role, he made the All-Star team. It was one of the reasons we won a lot of games because of what he could do in the backend there, at the end of the game. Just like Trey yesterday, wishing nothing but great success for Lopey.”
In a relief corps filled with cast-offs from other organizations, Lopez had perhaps the most endearing backstory. Her 9-year-old son, Mikael, has battled chronic autoimmune diseases throughout his life. Calling Mancini “an inspiration” after Monday’s exchange, Lopez noted how his former teammate’s experience with colon cancer ties in with what he and his son have been through.
“This team was very different from the previous two,” López said. “These guys really take care of business, and that really taught me a lot. I feel like the way they did things with me and the treatment, all of that, it’s just a family. It became more than a family. It’s a lot of tears because we worked so hard to get to this point, but we were never afraid to get to this new chapter.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this report.