When the Orioles traded Kevin Gausman to the Braves last July, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who imagined Gausman quickly finding himself on the Jake Arrieta path of Cy Young contention almost immediately after being traded away from the tire fire that was O’s pitching development.
Things never quite worked out that way for Gausman with his new team, and now, after a brutal 2019, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Gausman was placed on waivers by the Braves and claimed by the Reds. This appears to be a salary dump by the Braves, as they will now save close to $3 million dollars with the Reds now paying the remainder of Gausman’s 2019 salary.
With Gausman having a 6.19 ERA through 16 starts in the 2019 season, it’s not hard to see why the Braves had enough of waiting around for him to get better. Although Gausman has the highest K/9 of his career, a comparable home run rate to the rest of his career, and only a slight increase in his walk rate, adding up to a 4.20 prediction from Fielding Independent Pitching, he’s just been... bad.
It’s one of those times where Fangraphs WAR and Baseball Reference WAR are in different worlds. By fWAR, Gausman is an acceptable 1.2. By bWAR, he sits at -1.3. That’s a big gap. Sometimes guys are not just having bad luck when this happens.
This is a familiar mystery for Orioles fans with Gausman. “Why isn’t he better?” is a question fans might have wondered a lot for the former #4 overall pick. Why has his BABIP spiked to .345? Why has his ground ball rate plummeted from 46% last year to 37% this year? Atlanta decided that answering those questions wasn’t worth it any more, and now they’re Cincinnati’s problem.
The fact that Gausman was dumped onto waivers by the Braves barely a year after they acquired him does cast the Orioles return from that trade into a bit of a new light. They were not, after all, giving up a guy who became an immediate Cy Young contender for his new team.
The trade return for the Orioles in that deal may still end up being of minimal future impact. There’s no guarantee, and probably not even a 50/50 chance, that any of Brett Cumberland, JC Encarnacion, Evan Phillips, or Bruce Zimmermann will ever be useful big leaguers. The international slots acquired in that deal already amounted to very little, if not nothing at all.
That the Orioles were saved from having to pay Gausman’s 2019 salary, saved from the tough choice about whether to tender Gausman in 2020, and from having to pay Darren O’Day’s 2019 salary since they dumped that into the deal as well, is a real benefit, if not an exciting one. Perhaps it’s this saved money that’s really let Mike Elias have free reign to try to build up some infrastructure, including international scouting and signing, since joining the organization.
Better luck to Gausman with his new team. It’s even easier to root for him to succeed elsewhere now that it would be clear that any success he finds doesn’t just amount to, “LOL Orioles.”