There is always some method behind the madness of the labyrinthine roster moves made by the Orioles under GM Dan Duquette. Sometimes the rationale is more readily apparent than others. Tuesday's move that saw Wei-Yin Chen optioned to Frederick in order to create space on the roster for Chris Parmelee was one of the more eye-opening moves that Duquette has made, even considering some of his past capers.
What kind of madman would voluntarily send his best starting pitcher to the minor leagues for any length of time? Could any abstract benefit possibly be worth taking this step? After all, the Orioles are going to have to make a decision sooner or later on which outfielder they don't want to keep any longer. They should have seen enough of these guys to make up their minds by now.
If he took the way that made the most sense to everyone, he wouldn't be Duquette. Most of the time you can shrug and move on, because the move doesn't involve someone who really matters. When a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher who was coming off a fantastic eight inning start gets optioned, that stands out.
There are a few different angles at play here. Some make more sense than others.
A couple of hours after Chen was optioned, two tweets appeared on Chen's Twitter account in which he expressed that he's in "excellent physical shape" and that he was "disappointed (his) routine is being interrupted." What makes these particular things stand out, other than the fact that they were made at all, is that Chen's Twitter account has only made 38 tweets since being created in May of 2013, and these two tweets were the only ones in complete English sentences.
In the post-game press conference with manager Buck Showalter, a reporter asked Showalter about the tweets. Showalter inquired whether it was Chen who sent them or whether it was his agent. Chen is represented by Scott Boras, who also represents Parmelee. Boras told The Baltimore Sun the situation is "grossly irregular" and that he's "never seen anything like it in my 30 years doing this."
MASN's Roch Kubatko wrote that he heard Chen "seemed receptive to the move" when he had a meeting with Showalter. It's possible he became frustrated in the hours afterwards when he'd thought about it some more, but Showalter's query about who made the tweet is fair to wonder.
If it wasn't actually Chen, this whole thing is less of a big deal. A sporadically-used Twitter account of a Taiwanese player who has an interpreter in interviews is suddenly typing in flawless English?
Verdict: I'll buy that the tweets were more agent than player.
Chen's "overall body fatigue"
This particular justification would have probably flown a little better if it wasn't made the day after Chen just threw eight innings and looked very good doing so. If the Orioles were really so concerned about Chen and fatigue, why didn't they pull him out of the game earlier than they did on Monday night?
That said, Kubatko noted that Chen dealt with oblique soreness earlier in the season that almost caused him to miss a start, and Showalter spoke about how Chen exhibited fatigue during his June 10 outing against the Red Sox. So is that enough to be buying what they're selling here?
In Chen's first year in the majors back in 2012, he had his worst month in September and looked to be fatiguing down the stretch. In 2013, he missed some time due to an oblique injury, so that kept him from piling up the innings. Last year, September was his best month rather than his worst.
That could have been a factor of the O's trying to manage his innings when they could, which this brief sojourn to Frederick, expected to have a 3-4 inning start on Saturday before Chen returns as soon as possible on June 26, could represent. But is that really worth throwing the whole starting rotation out of whack for a week and a half?
Verdict: This line of reasoning does not withstand scrutiny, so if there is agent or player frustration, I understand.
Avoid the Blue Jays
Chen's regular turn in the rotation, Saturday, will come up against the Blue Jays. No team in baseball has scored more runs than the Jays. They have scored 361 runs. No other MLB team is above 300 at this point in time. The Jays are 10-4 against left-handed starters and 24-28 against right-handed starters.
That's probably because the Jays, as a team, have hit LHP to the tune of an .876 OPS whereas they're "only" hitting righties at a clip of .752 OPS. I put "only" in quotes because they still have the highest team OPS against right-handed pitchers of any American League team.
Chen has only faced the Blue Jays four times in his career. That's actually kind of remarkable for a guy who's spent four seasons in this division. He has faced the Yankees 11 times, the Red Sox 14 times, and the Rays 16 times. Is that coincidence, or have the Orioles been making sure Chen ducks pitching against the Jays in more subtle ways up until now?
Against specific Jays batters, Chen hasn't got much of a track record. Should there be this kind of panic because Justin Smoak has a 4-9 with two doubles against Chen? Do they need to run for the hills because each of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are 3-9 with a home run against Chen?
Verdict: An argument can't stand solely on this pillar, but there may be something here.
So... Kevin Gausman?
The pitcher who will be starting in Chen's spot is expected to be Gausman. Having just detailed everything above about the dangerous Jays, you can imagine why I'm raising an eyebrow that the Orioles have gone out of their way to make Gausman's triumphant return to the big league rotation be against that hard-hitting Jays team, especially given that Gausman has been homer-prone in his career to date.
This is reminiscent of when the Orioles went out of their way to bring him up last year for his first big league start after his bout of pneumonia, only they decided to bring him up to face the Tigers on short rest, which went poorly, five runs in four innings.
Getting Gausman in the rotation is something the Orioles should probably have done before now, but after waiting this long to do it, why throw him right to the wolves like this? And are they going to keep him in the rotation for long, given that Chen will be back on the 26th and Miguel Gonzalez will probably return from the disabled list on June 25th?
Verdict: Maybe the Orioles will surprise me and put Gausman into the rotation for good. If not, the verdict is (fart noise).
This is hardly the first time that Chen has gotten a weird, paper demotion. Duquette is fond also of the move where he options Chen to the Gulf Coast League at the end of August, knowing the GCL season will shortly end and he can bring Chen back before the minimum 10 days. However, this is the first time they've made one of these moves and thrown the rotation out of whack in the process.
I'm sure I'd be at least a little frustrated with this if I was Chen, but there shouldn't be any lingering consequences here. Let's be real, Chen probably wasn't coming back as a free agent even before this happened.
In the end it doesn't make a whole lot of sense and it also probably won't end up being a big deal. All that said, it is rather ridiculous, and really, the Orioles should have just go ahead and DFA whichever person they like the least at this point in time. Constant tinkering at the margins is one thing. Even a temporary demotion of the season's best starting pitcher is silly.