Brian Matusz is no longer an Oriole. He went to the Atlanta Braves, along with a competitive balance pick, in exchange for two minor league pitchers (righty Brandon Barker and lefty Trevor Belicek) on Monday night. The Braves then promptly designated him for assignment, so maybe the O's get him back and put him in Triple-A or something dumb like that.
Either way, he is not in Baltimore. Someone will have to take his place, because the Birds don't have any left-handed relievers except for Zach Britton and it's tough to have your closer be the lone southpaw in the bullpen.
The first crack
It's going to be Ashur Tolliver from the Baysox who gets the first chance to stick in Baltimore. He is a 28-year-old who was drafted way back in 2009. From everything you can find online, he seems to be a good dude who has battled arm injuries and paid his dues down in the minors, pitching in 155 games with a career 3.11 ERA.
In 2016, he has been really good for Bowie. Over 18 appearances, he has tossed 26.0 innings, struck out 25 and walked eight to get a 2.42 ERA. According to the Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli, he has a power arm:
Ashur Tolliver is joining the #Orioles in Houston. 93-95 from the left side, with a slider and change. Quick, compact delivery.— Jon Meoli (@JonMeoli) May 24, 2016
And we can't ignore the fact that he did this last week:
At 28, he is old to be making his major league debut and he may never turn into much of anything. But lefties are hitting just .212 against him in the Eastern League this year and he has the makings of a feel-good story. He can't help but be better than Matusz, right?
The Orioles decision makers, including manager Buck Showalter and vice president of baseball operation of Dan Duquette, understand that the team's lack of a middle relief lefty is a real problem. Triple-A Norfolk is stuffed to the rafters with guys that could step up, but few of them are making a real press for the big league job.
T.J. McFarland has shown he is capable of getting MLB hitters out, but is no dominant reliever. His career 3.95 ERA and 103 ERA+ shows that he is pretty much bang average. Plus, he has no real good splits as righties hit .302 against him and lefties get by with a .271 average.
Zach Phillips has had a cup of coffee with the O's before, but he has an opponent batting average of .342 in the International League so far this year. Lefties hit .292 against Edgar Olmos. They do even better against Andy Oliver (.333). Even Ariel Miranda has trouble with same-side hitters (.289). Let's look elsewhere.
Down in Bowie, things are a little brighter with the biggest shine coming from 23-year-old Chris Lee. According to MLB.com, he is the O's 7th-best prospect and he shows why in the numbers. Lefties are hitting .143 against him, but the team has him eyed as starter. A relief role may make sense to ease him into MLB competition, but is it too soon?
Another logical in-house option may be Donnie Hart, a 27th round pick for the O's back in 2013 out of Texas State. The longshot is now 25 years old and has had a nice 2016 for the Baysox. Over 16 games, he has a 1.42 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 19.0 innings and has issued just two walks. Most importantly, left-handed hitters are batting just .138 against him. But it may be a big jump to make. Last year he was pitching in Low-A Delmarva and high-A Frederick. Heading to Baltimore after only a few months in double-A would be tough.
In just a few paragraphs, you can see that the Baltimore organization in its present state is not prepared to bring a capable left-handed reliever to the bigs. In steps veteran Brian Duensing, whom the Orioles signed Monday to a minor league deal.
Duensing is 33 years old and has made 354 MLB appearances, all with the Minnesota Twins. In that time, he has a 3.95 ERA, a 4.07 FIP, 99 ERA+, and left-handers have hit just .238 against him in his career. He's not perfect. It seems clear now that the thinking was, first: get the Duensing signing taken care of, then: finalize the Matusz trade. In a matter of hours, the O's gained about $3 million, two minor leaguers and a major league quality pitcher that is better than the guy they gave up. Of course, losing the draft pick is pretty crappy.
The free agent pool
Dipping your toes into the free agency pool at this juncture of the MLB season is a dirty affair. Few teams have completely given up on the season at hand. Worthwhile veterans are holding out hope in Triple-A that they may still get a shot with their current big league squad. All that's left are the forgotten souls of a Spring Training gone by. Here are the five best options I could find using MLB.com's list of available free agents.
1. Jeremy Affeldt - 36 years old
2. Joe Beimel - 39 years old
3. Everett Teaford - 32 years old
4. Eric Stults - 36 years old
5. Eric Hagadone - 30 years old
Seriously, that is ALL there is. Believe it or not. Matusz is about the become the BEST free agent left-hander reliever on the market.
After some digging, I found that Troy Patton is available. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2014 and that was when he was popped for PED use and suspended 80 games. Since then, he has signed a minor league deal with the Marlins but was released this winter.
The Orioles are a special case in that they have three pitchers: Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O'Day who can all get left-handed hitters out with great success. The minor league deal with Duensing was a good decision that will see him in Baltimore sooner rather than later. Maybe Tolliver even makes an impact right away.
Not that you were worried, but losing Matusz is not a loss at all. He couldn't find his way with the Orioles anymore and needed to go. The trade makes the current team that much stronger.