07 September 2017

With A Couple Of Recent Moves, O's Show They're Desperate (updated)

Sometimes, you have to push all of your chips (or a whole lot of your chips) to the middle of the table and just go for it. For the Orioles, that rarely means pulling off a huge trade or making a big signing. It means going for things in their own kind of way, and with a couple of recent moves, the O's showed that they're not afraid to push the limit a little bit with one of their young starting pitchers (Dylan Bundy) and one who has yet to appear in a major league game (Austin Hays).

On Tuesday, the Orioles made the seemingly difficult decision to bump Ubaldo Jimenez from the starting rotation. I don't say difficult because he's been good, because he hasn't. Since the Orioles inked Jimenez to his team-record contract (for a pitcher) in 2014, he's been moved to the bullpen a few times and has somehow stuck around and not been traded or released.

There's never really a bad time to remove Jimenez from the rotation, but doing so now seems at least somewhat curious. While Jimenez has been far from good this season, with a 6.80 ERA and 5.54 FIP in about 130 innings pitched, Chris Tillman (7.85 ERA, 6.77 FIP in 83 2/3 innings) will continue to make starts. Even Jeremy Hellickson, who wasn't having a good year when he joined the Orioles near the trade deadline, has been pretty awful since then, with a 6.87 ERA and 5.86 FIP in seven starts and 36 2/3 innings.

Clearly the Orioles have starting rotation issues; that's nothing new. But removing Jimenez from the equation still seems puzzling. Not only is he not the worst-performing pitcher in the rotation, but the move back to using five starting pitchers adds a little extra stress to Bundy's workload.

There's no question the O's are a better team with Bundy on the mound. But the O's have also been relatively cautious with Bundy in the second half and will now be asking for more out of him while he inches closer to the "around 180" innings mark Showalter discussed in July. Currently, Bundy has thrown 159 1/3 innings, and with the benefit of some days off on the schedule, figures to have about four starts left:

- Sept. 10 at Cleveland (extra day of rest)
- Sept. 15 at New York (normal rest)
- Sept. 20 vs. Boston (normal rest)
- Sept. 26 at Pittsburgh (extra day of rest)

It's also not inconceivable that the Orioles could use Bundy against Tampa Bay on October 1st, the team's last game of the season, if it's a must-win game.

For most pitchers, that proposed schedule is not really an issue. But many pitchers do not have Bundy's injury history and limited workload, and the Orioles have already backed off using him too heavily in the second half (to great success). He's pitched on normal rest only two times since the all-star break (July 18/23 and Aug. 7/12), and now it seems like the O's want him to do that in consecutive starts.

Maybe things will change, or the Orioles have some other alignment in mind to give Bundy more rest. As demonstrated over the last few years, you can't ever really close the door on another start by Jimenez. Or maybe this is truly the schedule in mind, and they're looking to push Bundy a little harder than intended because a playoff spot is still in reach (as of today, they have about a 14% chance at a wild card slot). That doesn't sound like the best way to exercise caution with a young player who's still building up his arm, but this is also what can happen when a team paints itself into a corner and doesn't have another worthwhile option.

On Tuesday, the Orioles also made the decision to promote Austin Hays (and designate Jayson Aquino for assignment). Hays, 22, has moved quickly through the O's system - Low-A Delmarva last season, and High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie this year - and excelled at every level. Hays was listed at the end of MLB.com and Baseball America's top 100 prospects lists this summer, and he was also recently named among the "10 Biggest Breakout Prospects of 2017" on Minor League Ball.

Still, the move to bring up Hays was surprising, for a number of reasons. At 3:42 on Tuesday, the Bowie Baysox tweeted out the following:
Then just a couple hours later, Hays's promotion was announced. That's awkward! Things change and sudden moves are made, but that doesn't mean those with Bowie are thrilled to see Hays promoted... for him to sit on the bench. Hays apparently wasn't added in enough time to play on Tuesday night, and his name wasn't in Wednesday's lineup before the series finale against the Yankees was rained out and postponed to today.

You get why the O's would want to add Hays, period. He's an enticing player. Craig Gentry also recently broke a finger and was placed on the disabled list. And while the O's like Joey Rickard's speed and outfield defense, he's been pretty miserable with the bat lately (52 wRC+ in the second half). So Hays will seemingly fill the right-handed part of the right field platoon with Seth Smith. But, at least for now, the Orioles are not scheduled to face a left-handed starter until CC Sabathia next Friday. Yes, that means he can still pinch-hit, pinch-run, and play defense. But is it worth it to start his service time clock for such a limited role? For what it's worth, Keith Law doesn't think so.

Hays is the favorite to earn a starting corner outfield spot when the Orioles break camp next spring (the other going to Trey Mancini), so maybe this is a whole lot of worry over nothing. Filling the needs of the major league club is always the top priority, but in this case, it seems like a very small need. Plus, things like service time and moving a player even a little closer to arbitration matter for the Orioles, who are reluctant to negotiate extensions and buy out arbitration years. Just ask Jonathan Schoop, let alone Manny Machado.

The Orioles have a bunch of young players to get excited about. Obviously there's Machado and Schoop, but there's also Mancini, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, and now youngsters like Hays and Chance Sisco who could earn serious playing time next season. With Chris Davis around and important financial decisions to make on Machado, Zach Britton, and now Schoop, the O's need all of the cost-controlled talent they can get. You can't ever fully protect players, but you can plan and maneuver to the best of your abilities. Hopefully the O's know what they're doing, but at least when it comes to young pitching, that hasn't been the case for a while.


Update: Buck Showalter has already thrown a curveball. Contrary to the report above about Ubaldo Jimenez's move to the bullpen and an apparent five-man rotation, it appears Chris Tillman is the one headed to the bullpen. Wade Miley, Gabriel Ynoa (surprise), and Jeremy Hellickson will start the O's next three games this weekend, followed by Jimenez, then probably Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (or vice versa; we'll see). If that's the case, Bundy will indeed get even more rest before his next start.

That could mean the O's plan to keep Bundy on extra rest throughout the remainder of the season, which is probably best for him. Or things could again change. Perhaps things depend on how Ynoa and Jimenez perform in their next starts. The O's still seem desperate to find any kind of starting rotation help, but maybe they won't be pushing Bundy too hard after all. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Seems like they did something similar with Machado at 19 years old.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I keep seeing this comparison, but I'm not sure why. Machado was much younger, sure, but he was a top 10 prospect and came up and played every day. Hays may very well end up being a good or great player, but they're not that comparable in terms of prospect status.

Jon Shepherd said...

From what I have heard from staff on other minor league clubs (not Orioles) is how they feel bad for the Bowie staff. The parent club is king and their concerns are paramount, but it is hard on lower level employees who have local goals. These moves are also something that show up as a phone call instead of sitting down and going over organization goals.

This leaves staff and players in the dark about what the plan is and where things are headed. One thing you hear over and over and over again is the club's lack of communication, mixed signals, and undermining any attempts at an organizational culture. It is often described as a breath of fresh air for players and staff leaving the minor league organization.

Hays appears to be one of those confusing moves. He will not be used meaningfully while Bowie plays in the playoffs. End effect is that, being in the dark, Bowie personnel and perhaps some of the players will feel jerked around by the parent club. That kind of animosity happens when the plan is not communicated or, maybe, when there actually is no plan and people are searching for meaning from observing a collection of spit balling attempts.

Pip said...

One thing I'm pretty sure that Dan is, is unconcerned about what other people think. I'll never forget how callously he dumped Mark Reynolds, calling him less than 15 minutes before the deadline to tell him he was being nontendered.
And then there is the Dom Chiti Story. Dan makes no apologies to anybody.