How he arrived: Signed free agent contract 12/21/22
Who left: Lewin Díaz designated for assignment 12/21/22
The Mike Elias era of the Orioles has not been one marked by sentimental reunions with players who were here before he was around. To free agents and veteran players he traded alike, the message has more or less been thanks and good luck but we’re going in a different direction now. That trend was interrupted just before Christmas with the signing of reliever Mychal Givens, a familiar name and face from the last good era of Orioles baseball.
Those who were closely following Orioles prospects even back then have had Givens on their mind since 2009, when he was drafted in the second round. He was a shortstop then, as you likely remember hearing on a MASN telecast any time Givens pounced from the mound to make a slick play on fielding a ball. Now 32, Givens has been pitching professionally as a reliever for more than a decade, including the last eight seasons in MLB. Yeah, we’re all old. And he’s back.
It’s been a journey for Givens since he last donned an Orioles uniform. The Rockies, who acquired him from the O’s in 2020 for Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra, and Mishael Deson, traded Givens in turn ahead of the deadline in 2021, getting two players back from the Reds. Givens went on to sign with the Cubs for the 2022 season, then the Cubs decided to trade him to the Mets before last year’s deadline. For a couple of months, this put Givens back with former Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
We can all recall Givens fondly for his contributions to the Buck era. Although he was only on an O’s playoff team in 2016, he had a strong three-year stretch starting with his debut in 2015 that was a part of why those Orioles teams could overachieve their weak starting rotations. That stuff also doesn’t matter much now, because now the question is how much Givens will be able to contribute as fans hope a new period of quality Orioles baseball is beginning.
The past three seasons have been fairly consistent for Givens. He has finished each with an ERA from 3.35 to 3.63. Each season has been marked by performance in the first half or so of the season in excess of peripheral stats like Fielding Independent Pitching, only to see Givens be traded midseason and regress towards more expected numbers after those trades.
Last year’s numbers provide a good example. Givens was sitting on a 2.66 ERA when the Cubs traded him, with a 3.83 FIP. His batted ball luck was close to in line with his career total - a .289 BABIP. The trade to the Mets went down and suddenly more balls were falling in for hits, and on top of this, Givens saw his strikeout rate fall. Givens had less margin for error as well, because the 2022 season saw his velocity down by about 1.5mph on average from where it was in his previous Orioles success.
Givens has been a solid late-inning reliever over his career, as long as that late inning isn’t the ninth inning. He’s got a 2.72 ERA and .660 OPS allowed in the seventh inning, 3.10 ERA and .653 OPS in the eighth, and 4.62 ERA and .698 OPS in the ninth. The ninth inning challenge was even more pronounced in 2022, as he gave up seven earned runs in nine outings that touched the ninth inning.
Had Givens been signed to be “the guy” in the bullpen, the velocity drop and the ninth inning stuff might be more concerning. He’s only been signed to be the veteran guy, on a contract that only commits the Orioles to this season at $5 million guaranteed. There are still a lot of relatively inexperienced MLB pitchers in the Orioles bullpen mix. A guy who’s been through some stuff in his career will be a good resource out there. Hopefully he plays better than last year’s veteran leadership signings.
The Orioles could well have other plans, but looking at it right now, I think Givens slots in the bullpen behind Félix Bautista, Tate, and Cionel Pérez, and ahead of guys like Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, and Joey Krehbiel. I don’t know what they’re going to do with DL Hall. The eight names in this paragraph could potentially constitute the Opening Day bullpen, with Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi also in the mix.
That crew of pitchers could see Givens pitching in spots like: The sixth inning after a starter goes only five, the seventh inning when a few righties are due up, the eighth inning if the Orioles are trailing narrowly, and the eighth inning if the O’s have a lead of 1-3 runs and Tate pitched the last two days. If there’s an injury to someone in the Bautista/Perez/Tate trio, or any of them regress seriously compared to last year’s success, Givens can bump up a rung on the ladder and we shouldn’t feel too bad about it.
Though Givens did have a number of 3+ outings in his previous O’s tenure, he hasn’t done that very much for the last two years and doesn’t seem to be a good candidate to absorb multiple innings often this year. Get three outs and then go for the next guy.
Givens missed about three weeks towards the end of last season with what seemed to be a COVID list trip. The year before that, he missed about three weeks with a lower back strain. If the Orioles are lucky, he will not end up on the injured list for much longer than that, if at all, this season. He hasn’t pitched in more than 60 games in a season since 2018 due to these IL trips, though he’s also always pitched in at least 50, except in 2020 when everything was weird.
This was a surprise signing to me. I didn’t figure the Orioles needed help in the bullpen. It is nice that they could bring back a familiar face to fans in Givens, who has a track record that is better than some of the lesser returning bullpen candidates were. The signing doesn’t add a lot of upside to the bullpen but should hopefully add some stability.
Still to come: James McCann