Jorge López 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 one thought.
“I hope this is not the call,” López said.
On the morning of Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, it was, with Elias informing Baltimore’s All-Star closer that he was being traded to the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles, a 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 traded away a major league contributor at a time their rebuild seems to be finally coming to fruition 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 swap that included the Tampa Bay Rays.
The only addition the Orioles made Tuesday was acquiring 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 through the deadline.
In return for López and cash considerations, Baltimore received four more pitchers from Minnesota, getting left-handers Cade Povich and Juan Rojas and right-handers Yennier Canó and Juan Nuñez. The Orioles recalled left-handed reliever Nick Vespi to fill López’s vacated roster spot.
Cano, 28, is the only player in the return package to have already reached the majors, pitching 13 2/3 innings for the Twins this year. Povich, 22, ranked as Minnesota’s No. 21 prospect, according to Baseball America, and has struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings as a starter in High-A. Both Rojas, 18, and Nuñez, 21, posted impressive strikeout-to-walk ratios in the Florida Complex League.
López has been with the Orioles since 2020, arriving as a waiver claim from the Kansas City Royals; he and Phillips were both traded to Kansas City from Milwaukee for third baseman Mike Moustakas in 2018. After struggling in the middle innings as a starter, López moved to the back of Baltimore’s bullpen and had immediate success, thriving as manager Brandon Hyde’s closer and representing the Orioles in last month’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. His average fastball velocity increased by more than 2 mph from last season and by 4 mph since he first joined Baltimore, with his sinker reaching 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 embraced it,” Hyde said. “Lopey, for whatever reason, loved that part of it, and that’s what it takes in a closer.”
Unlike Mancini, who was in the final guaranteed year of his contract, López 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 tries. Half of his blown saves came in consecutive appearances against his new club in early July.
“It was crazy to be 29 and just to be the oldest in the bullpen,” López told Minnesota reporters after the trade. “I felt that responsibility on me to show the guys how to treat things on the field.”
Hyde said right-handers Félix Bautista and Dillon Tate and left-hander Cionel Pérez will be options to close depending on matchups. Bautista, a 6-foot-8 rookie with a 1.66 ERA who has most frequently handled the ninth when López was unavailable, said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones the opportunity to be Baltimore’s closer would be “a dream come true.” The Orioles’ bullpen, filled with relievers cast aside by other teams, entered Tuesday ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.05 ERA, with López playing a vital role in its success.
“He’s obviously one of our brothers,” reliever Joey Krehbiel said. “I wouldn’t say there’s 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 shoes.”
The Orioles followed those back-to-back walk-off losses in Minnesota with a 10-game winning streak, propelling them to .500 and in reach of a playoff spot. A win Monday night made them a winning club at 52-51 and brought them within 2 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot.
In explaining trading away Mancini on Monday, Elias cited “the outlook and the probabilities of this year” in regards to the Orioles reaching the playoffs. They are in the toughest division in baseball, with all of the AL East’s four other playoff team’s also fighting for postseason berths.
For that reason, Elias, who was not made available 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.” López, under team control for two years beyond this one, seemingly could have been a part of that.
Instead, he heads to a Twins team battling for the AL Central title, with Baltimore’s lone deadline addition being Phillips, a 28-year-old who hit .147 with a .475 OPS this year for the Rays and figures to fill a bench role.
“Difficult to see Jorge go,” Hyde said. “Somebody we’ve been with for a few years, and love the way he turned the corner this year with his new role, made the All-Star team. He was a reason why we won a lot of games for what he could do in the backend there, late in the game. Just like Trey yesterday, wishing nothing but great success for Lopey.”
In a relief corps filled with castoffs from other organizations, López had perhaps the most endearing backstory. His 9-year-old son, Mikael, has battled chronic autoimmune illnesses throughout his life. In calling Mancini “an inspiration” after Monday’s trade, López noted how his former teammate’s experience with colon cancer was relatable to what he and his son have gone through.
“This team, it was a lot different than the last two,” López said. “These guys really take care of business, and that really taught me a lot. I feel like the way they did stuff 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 never afraid to get to this new chapter.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this report.
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