When the Orioles made the curious choice back in April to sell off a draft pick in order to free themselves of the burden of Ryan Webb's modest $2.75 million salary, they received a couple of minor leaguers as throw-ins. One of these guys was Ben Rowen, a reliever who was interesting by virtue of being a side-armer. He was recalled on Wednesday ... by the Chicago Cubs.
At the time the trade took place, Orioles GM Dan Duquette deployed his typical platitudes, offering a comment to the effect that he believed the players he acquired - the O's also got a catcher, Chris O'Brien, who's hurt at Bowie - would have more value to the Orioles than the #74 overall pick this year might. The draft being what it is, that's not an outrageous thing to say. No #74 pick is a surefire big leaguer, but there are probably a fair few Double-A players who a savvy team could identify as fitting into some role on a big league club.
To me, it looked like they were trying to pick up a Darren O'Day-esque replacement to stash for the 2016 season. One side-armer probably out in free agency, another comes up from the minor leagues. It's the circle of life.
If you're going to say something like that, though, you probably want to make sure you at least have those players stick around. Rowen, who was pitching excellently out of Bowie's bullpen, with a 2.28 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 20 games piched, had an opt-out in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he had not been added to the 40-man roster by July 1. The Orioles did not find space for Rowen and so he left for greener pastures, which turned out to be the Cubs organization. He was right, and now he's on a big league roster.
The Cubs are not some bad team that can afford to take fliers on players that the Orioles don't have time to waste on. Chicago is 52-47, although their division being what it is, they're far out of first place even with a record several games better than the Orioles.
With O'Day still around, you can understand why the O's wouldn't have wanted Rowen in the big leagues this year. Two side-armers in a bullpen seems like it's probably not the ideal use of resources. However, they only had to add him to the 40-man roster to keep him. But to put a new player on the 40-man, that means taking someone off the 40-man, and the Orioles weren't willing to find that space.
Unlike some dark years of the not too distant past, you can peruse the 40-man roster and at least discern some reason for why all of the non-big leaguers are hanging around on there. The lone name you've probably never thought of and may never think of again is Jorge Rondon, a reliever claimed from the Rockies in May who's posted a 2.06 ERA in 23 games since joining the Tides. He's racked up 35 strikeouts against nine walks in 39.1 innings.
And as for the side-armer demographic, it seems like the Orioles might have Mychal Givens pegged for that role in next year's bullpen. We got a brief glimpse of him in the big leagues earlier this year. The O's had to add Givens to the 40-man roster in order to call him up on June 20. They could have added Rowen at that time instead, knowing his opt-out was approaching, and made the choice to add Givens for a little taste of the big leagues.
It might not end up mattering. Rowen could get blasted in Chicago and quickly move along to another destination. But if he does end up turning into a useful piece for the Cubs, even if his use is just to decently eat some 6th/7th innings at or near the MLB minimum, the O's should take a look at how to keep players like that from getting away.