Yesterday, the Orioles had the International League (Triple-A) leader in ERA in the organization. Today, without even a pitch being thrown, that is no longer true. Michael Bowden, a minor-league All-Star for the Norfolk Tides, exercised an opt-out in his contract and is now a free agent.
That's not a surprising outcome, given the current state of the Orioles bullpen and for that matter, the rotation as well. There's no one they can option, and there's no one they are willing to jettison from the roster. They recently activated reliever Wesley Wright from the 60-day disabled list only to designate him for assignment. Letting Bowden exercise his opt-out without calling him up is more of the same. Absent an injury, there's just no room for him.
Bowden, 28, was originally drafted by the Red Sox all the way back in 2005. He pitched for the Red Sox and Cubs over parts of six major league seasons, accumulating a 4.51 ERA over 133.2 innings of work, mostly as a reliever. He did not pitch in 2014 and actually didn't start out this season in the O's organization; they acquired him from the Reds for cash considerations.
While pitching for the Tides, Bowden bounced between the bullpen and the rotation, appearing in 24 games, nine of which were starts. He tossed 75.1 innings with a 1.91 ERA. Not bad at all. Batters were only hitting .219 against him and he had a WHIP of 1.06. That's also very good.
So why not call him up? The likely reason is that the O's organization isn't convinced Bowden could actually help the big league team. A 1.91 ERA is certainly impressive, but maybe there's something about Bowden's arsenal that has him playing very well against the collection of veteran retreads and not-quite prospects that make up the average Triple-A lineup, which success he would not be able to replicate at the MLB level. Or so they think.
If the O's had called up Bowden, it would hardly be the first time this year the O's made space on the roster for a player who was about to opt out from Norfolk. Chris Parmelee, Nolan Reimold, and Chaz Roe were all added in similar circumstances. Who might they have chucked for Bowden? Well, pending free agent Tommy Hunter, sitting on a 4.19 ERA at the All-Star Break, does look like one candidate who's not exactly earning his keep.
The O's didn't see enough from Bowden to want to displace an existing bullpen member, and so Bowden is a free agent. Maybe if the last guy in the bullpen had options, they'd have optioned a guy. Maybe if someone had gotten hurt for a month or two, Bowden would have been the replacement. None of those things have turned out to happen.
This story repeats itself all across baseball every season. Teams are wrong sometimes and right much more often. Most of the time, there's a reason why these guys were minor league signings in the first place. If everyone was sure they'd be good, they'd be big leaguers somewhere.
Bowden is now free to try to catch on with another team, and if some other team is willing to give him a spot on the roster, he can try to prove himself there. Best of luck to him. It's too bad it didn't work out here.