How he arrived: Acquired from Minnesota Twins for cash considerations, 3/27/23, contract purchased 3/28
Who left: Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi designated for assignment 3/28/23
The basic question that I have always tried to answer in this series is: Why is this guy here? When the Orioles were bad and not expected to be good any time soon, this was usually an easy enough question to answer. Some fringe acquisition or another had just enough potential to make it worth bringing him around to see if he could be polished into something. Most of the time, this did not happen. There were periodic successes, like Cionel Pérez.
Now that the Orioles were good last year and we expect that they should be able to be good again this year, it’s a different question. How does this guy help right now? The Orioles have not really made an acquisition - signing, trade, or whatever - with a slam dunk case for this ever since the “liftoff from here” declaration, which fuels recurring frustrations. Veteran lefty Danny Coulombe, whose minor league contract was grabbed from the Twins at the very end of spring training, fits into this pattern.
Coulombe, 33, is a reliever with a long MLB career that’s now in its ninth season who nonetheless doesn’t have much of a track record of overall quality or longevity. Drafted by the Dodgers in the 25th round in 2012, a round that no longer exists, he worked his way into their MLB bullpen by 2014. He has thrown more than 50 innings just one time in that near-decade and only has two seasons where he both pitched more than a trivial amount of games and could be said to have been a good pitcher overall. His 2022 season was cut short after only ten games pitched due to an injury that required surgery on his left hip labrum.
For Coulombe’s career, he has a 3.90 ERA, which is not very good for a reliever. If a reliever is allowing that many runs, he can’t be trusted in too many key spots. Although he used to get a lot of ground balls, he also gave up a lot of home runs even with Oakland as his home park. So, yeah. Why this guy? Why now?
One thing Coulombe has done in his career, as you’d expect for a lefty specialist sort of reliever, is pitch well against lefty batters. He’s held lefties to a total batting line of .234/.299/.332, which is an OPS of just .632. That’s fine, although not exactly elite. The aforementioned Pérez held lefties to a .536 OPS last season and was much better than Coulombe’s career mark against righties as well. The value of the lefty-only or lefty-mostly specialist has been much less since the three batter minimum rule arrived in MLB.
The timing of when the Orioles brought Coulombe on board is notable. This was only after they knew that Mychal Givens, who had been signed presumably with the aim of occupying some kind of veteran role within the bullpen, would be beginning the season on the injured list. If they had really liked Coulombe that much, they could have signed him as a minor league free agent over the past offseason. That’s the contract he had with the Twins before the Orioles sent a little cash to acquire him. They did not do this, because Givens was their chosen veteran.
It seems like the Orioles, for whatever reason, find some kind of value in this sort of veteran presence, which also explains this year’s signings of Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier, the trade for James McCann, and last year’s signings of Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos. What I am looking forward to is the day where the Orioles sign or trade for a veteran who actually has a strong career track record of performance rather than just one who is kind of a clubhouse mascot or whose value is in being some kind of font of wisdom. That day has not yet happened in the Mike Elias tenure.
Now that he’s here, maybe Coulombe can pitch his way into sticking around for more than just the duration of Givens’s injured list stint. He’s pitched twice and is still sporting a 0.00 ERA, including last night when he was pressed into some emergency relief duty for for outs after Kyle Bradish was struck by a line drive. He has also hit two batters in 1.2 innings of work, also including last night when he lost control of a pitch that hit Rangers outfielder Josh Smith in the face.
If the bullpen results suggested by the first series in Boston end up carrying forward much beyond that, there are other players who will be first in line to be sent to the minors or designated for assignment rather than the late-arriving Coulombe. The veteran lefty will have to pitch well to stick, especially once Givens returns, because without the ability to be freely optioned to the minors for a fresh arm, he could just get that DFA instead.
I don’t have high hopes for Coulombe based on his career track record, but you never know. A few solid outings to begin his Orioles career and we might start wishing for him to pitch instead of Keegan Akin.
Still to come: That’s all, for now