The Orioles pulled a surprise trade on Friday night, acquiring starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies. Why are the Orioles buying anyone? That's an unsolved mystery at the moment. In the deal, which also sent cash from Philly to Baltimore, the Orioles dealt Hyun Soo Kim to the Phillies, as well as international bonus slot money and minor league pitcher Garrett Cleavinger.
Kim's inclusion in the deal may be as much of a surprise as the deal itself. When rumors started dripping out towards the end of the Orioles Friday night loss to the Rangers, there was nothing indicating that any big leaguer would be headed to Philly.
Once that piece of information popped out, though, Kim seemed like one of the most likely names. In addition to the O's sending him because they feel he's expendable with their current roster, it's also probably to offset some of the salary that the Orioles are taking on in acquiring Hellickson. The pending free agent starting pitcher is making $17.2 million this season after accepting a qualifying offer from Philly.
I'm sad the Orioles have traded Kim. It just felt like they never gave him a fair shake. From the drama last spring training that led some Orioles fans to boo him on Opening Day last season to being buried on the bench for a lot of this year despite showing good on-base skills last year, it's just never come together here and I don't know why.
Kim seemed like a nice guy and a great teammate. I'll miss him and his cool theme music. I hope that the Phillies actually give him a chance to play over the next couple of months. If he does well, that would make me happy for him.
The question of how much cash the Phillies are sending to the Orioles is what should really influence opinions about this trade. If they're paying most of the remaining freight, then there's not much to get worked up about. If the Orioles are eating $3-4 million in Hellickson's salary, that's more annoying. That's money they could put aside for next year.
I mean, there seems to be no point in acquiring Hellickson, let's be clear - he's not been great in the National League this year, with a 4.73 ERA and a 5.50 FIP. But if the Orioles don't have to pay much to have him pitch here, then it doesn't matter all that much.
GM Dan Duquette, required by tradition to string together a series of words that sound baseball-y and could, if generously interpreted, be considered to resemble truth, blessed the acquisition to Orioles reporters like so:
Jeremy Hellickson is a solid, dependable, veteran major league starter who knows how to win in the American League. He should provide some quality innings for the Orioles.
Hellickson, 30, last had a good season in the American League in 2012, but forget it - he's rolling.
Whose spot in the rotation will Hellickson take? That's going to be an interesting question too. As of yet, no idea. I can't stress enough that the Orioles rotation has been so bad that even an underwhelming acquisition like Hellickson has the potential to incrementally improve it. It's just, what's that incremental improvement really worth?
The Phillies are now the third different team to whom the Orioles have traded some international bonus slot money since July 2. The contempt with which Orioles ownership apparently treats the idea of these international signings continues to harm the franchise, but as far as this transaction is concerned, giving up something the O's wouldn't have used anyway to help gain a player is a plus.
Cleavinger, the minor league pitcher, is a 23-year-old lefty reliever who was drafted out of the University of Oregon in the third round of the 2015 draft. He was rated the #27 prospect in the system in MLB.com's recently-updated rankings. Even the teams with the best farm system aren't very likely to miss their #27 prospect, and the Orioles system isn't the best.
At a quick glance, what's interesting about Cleavinger is that he struck out 102 batters in 76.1 innings across two levels last season. However, those innings were at Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick as a 22-year-old, so success there wasn't guaranteed to carry up the ladder. Indeed, despite the gaudy strikeout totals, Cleavinger has also battled command problems, and he was much worse at Frederick than Delmarva.
This year for Double-A Bowie, Cleavinger still has a nice (but far less gaudy) strikeout total of 42 in 38.2 innings, but he's also walked 23 batters in that time and has posted a 6.28 ERA.
Now, if you're reading this article, you surely know some instances where players have been traded out of the Orioles system and suddenly they got a lot better. As a guy who is just a reliever and is already on the old side, without a lot of success from a results standpoint and command problems to boot, the potential for Cleavinger to burn the O's is lessened.
But, if Cleavinger miraculously starts to throw strikes and ends up succeeding in Philly's bullpen next season, that might be another thing to make a person start to wonder whether everyone in the Orioles development department should be fired, as well as all of the people who were responsible for not firing those people sooner. That said, I won't be losing any sleep over this possibility tonight.
What, really, was the point of it all? This question can be asked of a lot of things in life. It doesn't always have a satisfactory answer. This may be one of those times.