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Orioles trade All-Star closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins for 4 pitching prospects

A game over .500 and only a handful of games out of a playoff spot, the Orioles traded All-Star closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins for 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. Tuesday at 6 p.m. marks MLB’s trade 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-hander Yennier Cano 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. 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.

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.

The Orioles followed those back-to-back walk-off losses 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, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike 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 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, while the Orioles will turn to other members of a breakout bullpen, most likely right-handers Félix Bautista and Dillon Tate, to handle the ninth inning. 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.

“From the bottom of my heart, it’s something I feel like is close to what I’ve been through, not only me, my son,” López said. “Just respect the inspiration he brings to the game and the battle he went through.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this report. This story will be updated.

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