Alex Rychwalski | Are the Orioles buyers or sellers?

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Jul. 15—Two weeks ago, Baltimore Orioles General Manager Mike Elias was headed for a trade deadline that closely resembled the club's previous four.

Baltimore was sitting at 35-44 after back-to-back walk-off losses to the Minnesota Twins. Even at nine games below .500, it still felt like this Orioles team was overachieving in the sport's toughest division.

They have the lowest payroll of all 30 Major League clubs after all, and the vast majority of the Orioles' top prospects are still a year away from making an impact on the big league club.

Obviously, the Orioles were headed to another trade deadline of selling assets to build for the future.

Yet, overnight, Baltimore became the hottest team in the Major Leagues by winning 10 consecutive games — the team's longest win streak since the O's won 13 in a row in 1999.

What once seemed like an impossibility — a playoff run — now seems plausible. Entering the Orioles' off day on Thursday, Baltimore is just 2.0 games out of the postseason.

Baseball has a new playoff format in which three Wild Card teams in each league make the postseason. The worst Wild Card team plays the worst division winner in a best-of-three series, and the best Wild Card squad faces the next best.

The two teams that win Wild Card series advance to the division round.

What does this mean for the Orioles? They actually have a chance of making the playoffs, even in a log-jammed American League East.

Tampa Bay entered Thursday with the best record among non-division leaders at 48-40. Boston, Toronto and Seattle are tied for the second spot at 47-42. And then there's Baltimore, just outside a playoff position at 45-44.

One person isn't celebrating. Not too long ago, Elias was surely planning to deal veterans Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander, who are really the Orioles' only attractive assets other than All-Star closer Jorge López.

It would seem cruel to trade Mancini now.

He's endured three 100-loss seasons as the only everyday starter to outlast each futile campaign. Those teams were designed to lose to acquire draft capital, and Mancini was the only hitter showing up and performing on what was essentially a Triple-A club.

And that's ignoring the obvious, that he survived Stage 3 colon cancer, which kept him out during the 2020 season while he received chemotherapy.

I know the "real" window for competing for a championship doesn't likely begin for two more years, but are we really going to trade a man who defeated cancer and weathered horrendous rosters at the first sign of winning baseball?

It may be the correct decision for the future of the team, assuming that Mancini would decline his option this offseason and demand a higher salary. But why not just give the man his money?

Mancini is batting a team-high .280 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. His power numbers are down. However, he's lost half-a-dozen big flies as a result of Camden Yards' new spacious left field.

I could part with Santander for a prospect. López too if we get the right return. But we won't get a haul for Mancini that warrants ripping him out of the clubhouse.

This group is playing better than anyone thought was possible. Mancini, his teammates and Orioles fans deserve to see just how far they can take this.

With that said, the Orioles also shouldn't be buyers. Any scenario that involves trading Minor League assets should be off the table. Even if Baltimore plays well down the stretch and gets to 88-90 wins, it's very possible that still won't be good enough.

Don't mortgage the future for winning in the present. Who knows how long this string of good form can be sustained?

The Orioles' rag-tag pitching staff of waiver claims has the second-best ERA in the American League during the winning streak (3.17), and the offense is hitting .366 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

The Orioles also won three consecutive games despite trailing in the ninth inning or later for the first time since 1979.

If the Orioles can continue to punch above their weight, then I'll be ecstatic, but don't bet on it. Stay the course and see how this storybook tale comes to a close.

Sometimes making no moves is the best move.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.