When the Orioles traded Tommy Hunter almost right at the closing bell for the non-waiver trading deadline, my first reaction was, "Huh?" On Thursday, the O's reinstated Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia from the disabled list, bringing the trade of Hunter into much more clear focus. One could hardly happen without the other.
Since May 13, the Orioles had Garcia hidden on the disabled list. He did not look like a guy who was ready for major league action. This is not surprising when you remember that he had never pitched above High-A before this year. Of course he wasn't ready for the bigs!
In spite of that, the Orioles, for whatever reason, are stubbornly determined to keep Garcia in the organization, even though he didn't exactly inspire confidence in his recent rehab at Double-A Bowie, either. Garcia threw 15 innings over nine games with the Baysox, and although he struck out 14 batters, he walked nine, and ended up with a 4.20 ERA there. Had the Orioles not pilfered him in the Rule 5, he might be at that level for Boston, or even still in High-A.
How to keep a reliever in 90 days
Garcia has to be on the active roster, meaning not on the disabled list, for 90 days. In what I am sure is a complete and total coincidence, by activating Garcia on Thursday, the Orioles have ensured that he was on the disabled list for almost exactly the maximum time that he could be on the disabled list without them losing their rights on him.
By my count, Garcia was on the roster for 37 days before hitting the DL. The Orioles dragged out his rehab assignment - he was said to have right shoulder tendinitis, and maybe he really did at one time - to the full 30 days allowed. Activating him on August 6 gives another 25 days in August (37 + 25 = 62), and then when you add in the 30 days of September, he's over the 90. Then, in 2016, the Orioles can and probably will option him wherever they want and the only thing it'll cost them is a 40-man roster spot.
The way the bullpen worked out early on in the season, they were essentially playing a man short despite having seven pitchers in the bullpen, and because the players they had in the Opening Day bullpen mostly consisted of guys who couldn't be optioned, there was no flexibility to constantly stream the last available bullpen spot and always have a fresh reliever. This kind of thing probably made Dan Duquette break out into cold sweats at night.
Everybody needs somebody to option
With the trade of Hunter, that Duquette nightmare can finally end. There is once again space for a surplus reliever who's able to be optioned. At this moment, that reliever is T.J. McFarland. Should McFarland's arm grow tired between now and the end of August, he will undoubtedly find himself riding the Norfolk shuttle, replaced by a convenient, fresh 40-man reliever.
The entire rest of the Orioles bullpen consists of players who are either performing very well, able to be controlled beyond this season, or both. The only odd one out was Hunter. He was good last year, but this season he had lost his late-inning space to Brad Brach, who is actually a few months older than Hunter yet has three years of service time remaining beyond this season. Time doesn't stand still. It couldn't be 2014 forever, not to say that I won't miss his personality around here. But personality isn't getting many outs.
Could the Orioles have kept Hunter if they wanted to? I'm sure that they could have. They could have held onto him, rode out the next three and a half weeks until rosters expand with a little extra strain on the bullpen - assuming Garcia is still fit only for garbage time, and sometimes not even that - and that would have been that.
Instead of doing that, though, they swung a deal for Hunter, freeing up a little money to help offset the extra salary they took on in trading for Gerardo Parra, and grabbing an outfielder, Junior Lake, in the process. Lake can be thrown into the competition for the 2016 version of the 2014 Steve Pearce, "Where the hell did THAT guy come from?"
Maybe they'll hit on that ticket, but even if not, they're not likely to miss Hunter for the final two months of the season. If they're really lucky, all of the contortions they're going through to keep hold of Garcia will end up paying off some day.
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