The Orioles have spent February stockpiling lefty arms and optionable arms. They added another one of these in acquiring Richard Bleier from the Yankees on Tuesday afternoon. The O’s committed to send a player to be named later to New York as part of the trade. Presumably, it won’t be anyone who matters.
To make room on the roster for Bleier, the Orioles designated Christian Walker for assignment. That’s sad news for the contingent of Walker fans on Camden Chat and not very sad news for anyone else.
After being passed on the first base prospect depth chart by Trey Mancini, there wasn’t much of a place for Walker. That’s even more true with the multi-year contracts given to Chris Davis last offseason and Mark Trumbo this offseason. The Orioles didn’t even call Walker up last September.
If Walker turns out to be a late-blooming useful MLBer - he’ll be 26 in March - more power to him. For now, he’s a guy who posted a .757 OPS at age 25 in Triple-A. Not exactly forcing himself into the big league picture.
As for Bleier, he was on the market after having been DFA’d by the Yankees on February 16 when they signed Chris Carter. The lefty will be 30 shortly after Opening Day, so he’s not exactly some young arm with potential. After being drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round in the 2008 draft, he’s also been through the Blue Jays and Nationals organizations.
Bleier had some modest success last season out of the Yankees bullpen, his first ever taste of big league action. In 23 games, Bleier had a 1.96 ERA while holding lefties to a .409 OPS. It’s a small sample size, and possibly one where he was lucky: He only struck out 13 batters in 23 innings and did not give up any home runs.
That low strikeout rate is in line with Bleier’s minor league performance. In the 2015 season, when Bleier was still used mostly as a starting pitcher at Double-A, he pitched 171.2 innings and struck out only 65 batters. That kind of strikeout rate worked for a pitcher like Scott McGregor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but there aren’t many pitchers today who can succeed with so few strikeouts.
Working in Bleier’s favor is that he got the ball on the ground 54% of the time. If that’s not a fluke, that might help him find some success even without many strikeouts. The Orioles track record of developing starting pitching may be poor, but their track record of developing relievers with funky arm actions into successful big leaguers has been good lately. They may think Bleier can be a part of that tribe.
With Bleier getting his first ever call-up last offseason, he’s got the full complement of minor league options. The Orioles can stash him in Norfolk in case somebody gets hurt, or in case he pitches so well that there’s no ignoring him. Or they might DFA him before the end of spring training. You never know with Dan Duquette.