While much of the baseball fan world gets swept up in glee over the increasing likelihood of Vernon Wells getting dumped on the Yankees, some smoke for trade rumors has finally appeared in Birdland. According to a report by Dan Connolly at the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles are telling teams that reliever Luis Ayala is available in a trade.
At this point, there is nothing linking the O's to any specific team for a swap. So it's possible that this is your standard much-ado-about-nothing trade rumor, like any number of stories last summer saying things like a rival executive thinks blah blah blah or the Orioles were "going hard" after a player like Zach Greinke, which ultimately became interest in Jason Vargas, which then turned into the Orioles trading Matt Lindstrom for Joe Saunders, who started two playoff games that the Orioles won. Man, last year was weird and awesome.
A number of teams might possibly like a veteran right-handed reliever who is signed for $1 million and is coming off of back-to-back seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. With a near-50% ground ball rate in his career and a low walk rate, he's a good guy to have coming out of a bullpen, provided that you have him come in for a fresh inning, because it turns out that last year he allowed 44% of inherited runners to score. Being that major league front offices aren't stupid, you can be sure they are aware of that already, so even a low-priced Ayala won't fetch too much, probably. If there's even a team out there that can use a 35 year old reliever with playoff experience (a whole 1.2 innings with a 3 WHIP), catching-home-run-balls-hit-into-the-Camden Yards-bullpen experience, and Montreal Expos experience.
Connolly reports that the Orioles are looking for "players with minor league options that don't necessarily have to be added to the 40-man roster". You never really know who might be dangled at the end of spring training. Maybe one of Dan Duquette's guys sees something improving in a player another team is ready to give up on. That's how we came to get Jason Hammel in Baltimore, after all.
As for why Ayala, the Orioles have been looking to move a right-handed reliever and it seems that they like Tommy Hunter better than Ayala. I also like Hunter better than Ayala, not that anyone asked me. He is younger and hurls hotter flames.
Aside from adding a little possible depth to the organization, the Orioles may want to clear a roster space to hold on to Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, according to Connolly. Given that most of their existing relievers can't be optioned - or the Orioles don't want to option them - then a trade of a guy like Ayala might be the best way to do that.
I would not shed any tears if they sent Brian Matusz to Norfolk, put him in the bullpen (or better yet, keep trying to have Rick Peterson salvage him as a starter), and kept him there until someone got hurt or started to suck. Admittedly, I am annoyed at Matusz right now, so don't think of me as a beacon of rationality. Which you probably didn't in the first place, if we're all being honest with one another here.
However, based on Connolly's report, it seems Matusz is ticketed for the major league bullpen at this time. If he wants to go ahead and pitch like he did out of the bullpen last season, that's plenty fine with me. The O's will find a way to keep McFarland if they really want to keep McFarland, and if they don't really want to keep him then they'll offer him back to Cleveland. We will know within the week. Now we won't be surprised if the way they make room for McFarland is by trading Ayala.
I'm not going to pack his bags for him the way I might have wanted to for Kevin Gregg, but he did lead the team in losses out of the bullpen last year with five, so between that and the inherited runners shenanigans, if he happens to get shipped out of town, I'll make sure he's got plenty of Sharpies just in case.
If I've learned one thing about trade rumors in my time as a blogger, it's this: probably, nothing is going to happen. So I don't think the Orioles are going to trade Ayala. But man, it's fun to think about what if something happened. Perhaps this trade rumor will evolve into the next stage, where particular team names and players are attached. Probably nothing is going to happen.