The “most stressful” trade deadline of Mike Elias’ 40 years of existence has come and gone, and for the most part, Birdland’s reaction to the Orioles’ moves is, “Meh.” The on-field product is, likely, a teeny bit better. The biggish-ticket name the Orioles traded for, Jack Flaherty (7-6, 4.43 ERA) looks like he’ll slot right in where Tyler Wells, optioned this week to Double-A to begin a course of recovery, left off. Here’s the current rotation in order of ERA+: Kyle Bradish (126), Tyler Wells (110), Flaherty (97), Kyle Gibson (92), Dean Kremer (90), Grayson Rodriguez (68). Flaherty says he “ironed some things out” in July, and it seems to have worked: he posted a 3.03 ERA over his final five starts. So that’s good.
More concerning, however, is the trade the Orioles didn’t make: a reliable bullpen arm. With all due respect, Shintaro Fujinami has a high ceiling but he’s walking six hitters a game. A .500 club (like the O’s were last year) can afford to take a gamble on a player like that. But now, as they’re trying to compete? I don’t particularly enjoy making close, late-innings games more stressful than they need to be, and I’m certain Brandon Hyde doesn’t, either.
Having admitted failure to reel in a seasoned reliever, Elias spelled out the best-case scenario like this: “We’ve got some guys getting healthy, we’ve got some players coming up through the system,” Elias said. “Bringing in an extra starter, you can always spill over into the bullpen to help with those innings.”
We’re rolling the dice with what we’ve got, in other words. So here are the candidates to eat the missing innings.
Guys Getting Healthy
DL Hall, Austin Voth, Mychal Givens, Keegan Akin, John Means, Dillon Tate (listed in what I believe to be the likely date of return to the Orioles).
OK, so this is actually a long list.
After putting up a 4.94 ERA in 23 games this year and looking generally unreliable, Austin Voth got sent down in June with elbow discomfort to rehab with the FCL Orioles. Tests on his elbow came back clean. He returned to Norfolk on July 27, and has pitched in just one game, allowing three runs (two earned) in 0.2 innings. He’s slated to return in August, but hopefully not before the results get better.
DL Hall has had a weird year. He hurt his back in spring training, got called up for one game in April and then sent down again. Then his velocity started to drop, and the team decided his workload needed to be reduced and sent him to Sarasota in mid-June to work on his strength and conditioning. He didn’t pitch in a game until late July, but when he did his velocity was back in the mid-90s. A day ago, he returned to Triple-A Norfolk. Mike Elias says, “I think he’s in a better spot than where he started. He’s very healthy and he’s also very fresh for the second half.” For now, his performance at Triple-A will dictate how soon he’ll be back in Baltimore.
Mychal Givens has had great moments in his career with Baltimore (3.41 ERA, 408 K’s in 340 IP). But this season he has a 11.25 ERA in four innings and hasn’t seen game action since June 22, having suffered inflammation in his left knee and right shoulder. Keegan Akin has looked off this season, too (a 6.85 ERA in 24 appearances) and he was put on the IL in June with lower back discomfort. On July 31, both pitchers began rehab assignments at the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. Givens threw one scoreless inning with one hit allowed and two strikeouts, and Akin one inning where he allowed four hits and three runs. Both are expected to return in August (I’m guessing mid-to-late August).
It’s been a long slog for John Means since he got shut down for Tommy John surgery in April 2022. Expected to return to game action this July, he strained his left teres major while working out with a medicine ball, setting his return back further. Now Mike Elias is saying that the 30-year-old left hander could start pitching in the FCL in early August, which would put him on track to return to Baltimore by early September.
A lost season, too, for Dillon Tate, who was shut down with a right elbow flexor strain in March 2023, and suffered an unrelated stress reaction in his elbow in May. Between June 15-21, Tate has made three rehab appearances for Triple-A Norfolk, two good and one bad. The bad one involved four walks. Mike Elias says Tate might be big league-ready in September, potentially.
Players Coming Up Through the System/Org Depth
Bryan Baker, Nick Vespi, Joey Krehbiel, Bruce Zimmermann, T.J. McFarland, Justin Armbruester, Chayce McDermott, Garrett Stallings
First of all, Bryan Baker, optioned to Triple-A on August 2 to make room for Jack Flaherty (and to work on stranding inherited runners), will definitely be back with the team at some point. He’s actually been one of Baltimore’s better relievers from a sheer numbers standpoint (3.64 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 116 ERA+). Brandon Hyde says he’s hoping Baker can “get a little bit of a reset.”
Then there are guys like Bruce Zimmermann, Joey Krehbiel (now on the 26-man), and Nick Vespi, pitchers who have been on the fringes of the roster for most of the year and who are largely known quantities, for better or worse. That said, all have been valuable to this team for stretches. For instance, Vespi pitched in 25 games in 2022, and tossed a clunker exactly once. T.J. McFarland might fall into this category, too. Back with the Orioles org for the first time since 2016, the 34-year-old left-hander has had one good season in the last three years, in 2021, when he went 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 28 games for St. Louis. Could we see him again on the 26-man? Crazier things have happened.
With more intriguing upside are Norfolk pitching prospects Chayce McDermott (O’s #16 prospect, 3-0, 1.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP), Justin Armbruester (#29 prospect, 2.96 ERA, 1.26 WHIP between Norfolk and Bowie), and Garrett Stallings (3.93 ERA, 1.31 ERA). None has pitched more than seven games at Triple-A, but each is showing interesting results so far and could be brought up late in the year for a postseason run.
(By the way, several other Norfolk prospects will have to show real improvement before they’re on the shortlist: Noah Denoyer (#26, 5.19 ERA, 1.61 WHIP in 23 games), Kyle Dowdy (5.67 ERA, 1.83 WHIP in 28 games), Ofreidy Gómez (5.84 ERA, 1.74 WHIP in 19 games), Morgan McSweeney (7.88 ERA, 1.67 WHIP in 22 games), Cade Povich (#11, 15.43 ERA in 2.1 IP with the Tides), Ryan Watson (#20, 5.01 ERA, 1.58 WHIP in 21 games).)
Cole Irvin, Tyler Wells
And there are these guys. An offseason trade, Cole Irvin was surprisingly bad in April (10.66 ERA, 1.974 WHIP), was optioned to Norfolk to the surprise of many, and now has a 4.06 ERA in June/July as a swingman. The O’s could get creative with his usage, say, by incorporating Irvin into a six-man rotation or, more likely, slotting him in for an occasional start or two.
It’s worth considering, too, that we haven’t heard of anything being mechanically wrong with Tyler Wells (fingers crossed), an anchor of the rotation in the first half. Best case scenario, he returns refreshed, possibly this time as a swingman, to help stabilize this team in a postseason run down the stretch.
Sixteen names total. Would you rather have Josh Hader? Yes, so would I. But almost all of these pitchers are capable of flashes, even sustained periods of competent pitching. Hopefully, out of this list of arms emerges a batch who will contribute to team wins in September.