The Orioles shook up their expected Opening Day bullpen with a trade on Sunday night. Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser are both headed to the Marlins in a deal that, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, will bring prospects Antonio Velez and Kevin Guerrero, a player to be named later, and the #67 pick in the 2022 draft back to the Orioles.
One immediate reaction to this trade is: Who the heck is going to pitch the late innings of any game where the Orioles starting pitcher hands them a lead? With Scott and Sulser traded and Tyler Wells beginning the season in a piggyback starter role, that’s a lot of late-inning appearances that suddenly opened up. It’s also two 40-man roster spots opened up, one of which will go to the backup catcher. Maybe the other will go to a non-40-man pitcher or non-roster infielder Chris Owings.
An optimist might suppose this is a sign of faith in guys like Dillon Tate and Paul Fry, or even yet-to-debut 40-man hurlers like Logan Gillaspie or Felix Bautista. A pessimist might prepare now for blown saves on those occasions where the team has a late lead.
Orioles GM Mike Elias has reached deep into the system to pluck the players he’s chosen here. Velez, a lefty who just turned 25 last week, was an undrafted free agent out of Florida State following the truncated five-round 2020 draft. He spent most of the 2021 season at the High-A level and for the year had a 0.859 WHIP and 2.55 ERA over 99 innings. Most of his appearances were starts.
Guerrero might be the quintessential sort of Elias acquisition, as a very young recent signee from the Dominican Republic. He’s a 17-year-old (turning 18 later this month) outfielder who signed with the Marlins in January 2021 for a bonus of $600,000. He played in 40 games in the Dominican Summer League last year, batting .260/.373/.298. The power is clearly a project to develop later (or not) as he’s yet to hit a professional home run, but that’s impressive plate discipline for a young guy: 23 walks in 159 plate appearances. I hope we hear some more about him in two or three years.
The draft pick is interesting just because the Orioles traded for a draft pick, rather than flushing away one of the competitive balance picks in a salary dump trade like they did more than once in the Dan Duquette era. The O’s now pick at #1, #34, #42, and #67 in the draft. They will have chances to find some good players, and thanks to this trade, about another million dollars worth of slot money to pay those players. Maybe one good player will even be their player to be named later, although by its nature we won’t know anything about that until the player is named.
In trading Scott, Elias has moved on from one more Duquette-era experiment. The strength of Scott is apparent in his career 12.0 K/9 as a big leaguer. In his big league career to date, though, the strikeouts haven’t helped Scott get good results, because along with them has come a boatload of walks - a 5.5 BB/9. It’s awful. He’s 27 now, not a young guy to keep waiting around for. His 4.73 career ERA has no business near high-leverage innings.
Perhaps Scott will become one more guy who blossoms after leaving the Orioles, but I’m not currently anticipating missing him. I would have packed his bags for him if someone had given me the chance. Scott has this season plus two more before he becomes a free agent, something that would have been valuable if he had been any good up to this point in his career.
I already miss Sulser a little more than that, if only because he was actually good last year, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.121 WHIP over 63.1 innings last year. He had a respectable strikeout total, livable walk rate, and was not prone to giving up home runs. You can’t ask for much more for a late-inning reliever than that. At 32 with only one full-length season of big league experience under his belt, this is the O’s selling high on Sulser. I don’t hate it.
Sulser and Scott will join former Oriole Richard Bleier in the Marlins bullpen, as well as former Orioles prospect Zach Pop. We’ll see how loading up on former Orioles pitchers works out for them.