The non-waiver trade deadline came and went. The Orioles weren’t exactly all-in buyers, and they certainly weren’t sellers. If the club accomplished one thing, it was providing a plan for the rotation to survive the rest of the summer, and possibly setting the wheels in motion to an early Dylan Bundy shutdown.
Two pitchers were added, Jeremy Hellickson and Yefry Ramirez. Hellickson is a proven major league hurler that has experience in the AL East and will slot immediately into the Orioles rotation. Ramirez is yet to make it to The Show, but he’s done well (10-3, 3.41 ERA) with double-A Trenton in the Yankees system this season, provides young depth in the upper minors and could even be a part of the “Norfolk shuttle” before long.
The struggles of the Orioles rotation are well-documented at this point. The unit stinks. We know it. They know it. Everyone knows it. Their 5.11 group ERA remains the worst in the American League by quite a distance. Both Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman, especially, have been consistently dreadful, yet they continue to trot out to the bump every fifth day.
Why? There are no better options. Triple-A Norfolk’s pitching river has run dry. No matter who gets called up, they inevitably struggle, forcing the bullpen into a massive workload and tasking management with shuffling the big league roster. Hellickson should help stabilize that a tad. He’s expected to make his O’s debut on Wednesday.
For now, the team has six starting pitchers in Baltimore. Mark Trumbo went on the 10-day disabled list on Monday to make room for Hellickson, but another decision will need to be made. Buck Showalter won’t want to go with a short bench for too long.
Splitting the workload
Based on worst performances, Tillman (7.65 ERA) and Jimenez (6.93 ERA) should be first on the chopping block. Tilly, who missed the first month of the season with an injury, has a -1.4 WAR. Jimenez has a -1.0 WAR. But cutting them would be the mindset of a team hoping to compete down the stretch. The Orioles moves at the deadline signaled that they have their sights set on 2018.
Tillman, Jimenez, Hellickson and Wade Miley will all be free agents at the end of the summer. At this moment, it seems unlikely that any of them, apart from Tillman on a possible one-year deal, will be back in Baltimore next year. And with the O’s having little chance to make the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt to have them soak up innings while they are here.
Bundy, meanwhile, doesn’t hit free agency until 2022. The right-hander has struggled recently. His ERA was 1.65 at the end of April. Now, after three consecutive months of trouble, including an 8.41 ERA in July, he boasts a 4.53 ERA for the season. The 119.1 innings he has thrown are the most of his professional career and it would seem plausible that he is starting to tire.
It’s already begun
Given Bundy’s checkered health past, it makes sense for the Orioles to take precautions in what feels like a lost season. The 24-year-old had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and then had some shoulder trouble in 2015. Last year, the O’s handled him with kid gloves a bit as he was used sparingly out of the bullpen early in the season before being given a full-time starter’s job in July.
He is set to take the mound against the Royals on Tuesday, eight days since his last start, July 23rd against the Astros. It’s quite possible that the O’s could use their sudden “abundance” of starting pitching to their advantage by skipping Bundy when possible, and pushing his shutdown date later into the season, if it comes at all.
If the Birds can get through August with Bundy healthy, don’t be surprised if he disappears come September. The rosters expand then, meaning less juggling is needed in order to bring in Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa, and the like into the fold on a regular basis. One of the “September call-ups” will almost certainly be a part of the 2018 Orioles rotation as the team will need to fill three spots next to Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Make or break
When looked at with the right perspective, the Orioles 2017 trade deadline deals made some sense. Buck Showalter, Dan Duquette and a slew of important Orioles players are headed into the final season of their contracts.
This is their chance at one last “Hurrah!” If they are going to make the most of it, Dylan Bundy needs to be at his best. Adding a veteran arm and support in the high minors protects Bundy and the team’s immediate future.
Sure, it would have been exciting to bring in a huge haul of prospects. But it is starting to be quite clear that the Orioles, including ownership, aren’t interested in a rebuild. Expect to hear a lot of buzz surround Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Manny Machado this offseason, but the Birds want to win now-ish. As flawed as the logic is, at leasts it’s a clear strategy.