A rebuild is an imperfect science, regardless of all the scouting and analytics that dictate modern-day baseball transactions. There can still be misses, or injuries that derail a player once thought to be a centerpiece, and three moves in recent months from the Orioles show as much.
The latest came Saturday, when second baseman Jahmai Jones cleared unconditional waivers and was released — potentially ending the former top 100 prospect’s time with the Orioles. He could always re-sign, particularly as he rehabilitates from the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery he underwent last week.
But the release of Jones is the most recent reminder yet of the imperfect process of trading for unproven yet promising young players. And with another trade deadline approaching at the beginning of August in which the Orioles will likely be sellers, there could be more deals made without any guarantees they’ll get major league contributors in return for the ones they give up.
And Jones, who the Orioles acquired in a deal that sent right-hander Alex Cobb — as well as about $10 million to cover much of the last year of Cobb’s contract — to the Los Angeles Angels in February 2021, could be the primary example, with an injury and his release within a week.
“He’s still a young guy,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Hopefully he’s got a long career ahead of him. Just one of those — that’s a tough injury that puts you out for a year or so. Like I said, he’s still young, and hopefully he can have a good career ahead of him.”
There are other recent examples of prospects the Orioles appeared high on before circumstances required their removal from the 40-man roster or they be placed on waivers.
Left-hander Kevin Smith and a low-level prospect were acquired from the New York Mets in exchange for right-hander Miguel Castro, but Smith passed through waivers this offseason, removing him from the 40-man roster as his results at the minor league level left much to be desired.
Right-hander Isaac Mattson joined Baltimore alongside right-handers Zach Peek, Kyle Bradish and Kyle Brnovich from the Angels in exchange for right-hander Dylan Bundy in December 2019. Mattson made his major league debut last season but was removed from the 40-man roster in April, a major regression for another trade piece.
Both Mattson and Smith passed through waivers unclaimed, unwanted on another team’s 40-man roster not long after Baltimore sought them out in trades. Jones did the same, a sign the Orioles were moving on — at least for the moment — from all three.
When the Orioles traded for Jones, it seemed to signal a change in organizational direction. For much of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ tenure in Baltimore, the organization targeted younger talent in the lower reaches of the farm system.
The Orioles diverged from that in trading Cobb for Jones in a one-for-one deal. Jones had already made his major league debut with the Angels, seemingly accelerating his time to reach the big leagues in Baltimore.
But after 72 plate appearances in 2021 with a .149 batting average, Jones was sent back to the minors. He might return in the future, but it was another reminder that trades — for current major leaguers or those viewed as future major leaguers — is an uncertain business with no guarantees.