10 April 2015

Orioles Pull Off a Confusing Trade With the Dodgers

As I sat down to write an article yesterday discussing some of the more curious roster moves the Orioles have made in this young season, the following tweet appeared across my timeline.
After reading it, my initial thought wasn’t very profound and basically consisted of, “hmm…interesting”. As I continued writing, another tweet about the trade surfaced across my screen.
With each additional tweet and piece of breaking news regarding what I will now refer to as “The Ryan Webb Trade”, it became more and more clear that my original article idea would not be the one that would be posted, at least not today.

The details of the trade continued to trickle in, and each new piece of information led to additional confusion. Here’s the final tally on yesterday’s transaction:

Orioles Receive 
Orioles Give Up 
  • RHP Ryan Webb 
  • C Brian Ward 
  • 2015 Competitive Balance Draft Pick (Overall Pick #74)

It’s not a surprise that Webb was dealt. Despite being one of the team’s better relievers prior to being sent to AAA after the acquisition of Andrew Miller at the 2014 trade deadline, the Baltimore bullpen (in part because of the congested starting rotation) had become crowded and inflexible due to a combination of Rule 5 Draftees and players without options. Webb, who passed through waivers unclaimed last week, was the odd-man out and was designated for assignment before Monday’s opener. Ward’s inclusion in the deal doesn’t really amount to much. The Orioles catching situation at AAA was very crowded itself, and while he’s an excellent defender, he’s a career .237/.339/.318 hitter in more than 1,400 minor league plate appearances. He’s also 29 years old, so he can't be counted on to produce anything with the stick (including upside).

In return, the Orioles got a right-handed reliever in Rowen and a (MAYBE if you squint) 24-year-old catching prospect in O’Brien. O’Brien has a career .251/.316/.403 career line in 1,200 career minor league plate appearances, including a decent line of .266/.341/.438 in 407 PA’s last year in AA. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, O’Brien was the Dodgers 26th best prospect and profiles as a potential MLB backup. Rowen is a 26-year-old sub-mariner whose fastball tops out in the low 80’s, but limits home runs (only 7 in 262 minor league innings!) and induces a ton of groundballs. He has impressive numbers in the minors (1.72 ERA), but you don’t have to feel bad if you’re skeptical about his ability to produce at the major league level. Rowen is signed to a minor league deal and has two options remaining, which the Orioles front office places a lot of value on, but his best-case scenario is likely a (VERY) poor man’s Darren O’Day.

While the Dodgers agreed to take on all of Webb’s $2.75 million salary (which is nice), the most surprising part of the deal is Baltimore’s inclusion of the 2015 Competitive Balance Draft pick, which is pick #74 in this year’s draft. For a team that doesn’t have a very strong minor league system (Baseball Prospectus ranked them 22nd prior to the 2015 season), giving up a draft pick is a curious move. Sure, it’s been successfully argued that the likelihood of the 74th pick ever contributing to the major leagues is small, but there’s still a chance of getting a very valuable player at that spot (Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher and van enthusiast Daniel Norris was the 74th overall pick in the 2011 draft). What may be even more important to the Orioles is the loss of the $827,000 of draft pool money that came with that pick. It’s extra funding that goes a long way to helping them have a productive draft, regardless of who they specifically would have picked at number 74.

In the end, the Dodgers come out with the best player in the trade, the 74th overall draft pick in 2015 and an extra $827K in draft pool money, while the Orioles get (minimal) payroll and roster relief, along with some additional flexibility as a result of Rowen’s 2 remaining options. Through a very pessimistic set of eyes, this deal looks like the Orioles traded the 74th pick in the draft to save $2.75 million. The Orioles backed themselves into a bullpen roster crunch (and to a lesser extent, a AAA catching roster crunch), leaving them with very little leverage, resulting in a less than optimal trade. If saving $2.75 million was needed in order to get a better return on an upcoming deal for Brian Matusz (by eating most or all of his salary), then this trade becomes slightly more defensible. If not, then it doesn’t look like there will be much room to make additions at the trade deadline if the Orioles find themselves in contention.


Anonymous said...

When you add in the draft pick...the team saved 3.5 million. Orioles are not cheap, but they surely have a budget and are maxing it out...future be damned.

Unknown said...

Usually a team will want to keep draft pool money to give them flexibility (I don't believe they HAVE to spend all of it), so that's why I didn't include it at the end of the article. But if they actually are THAT strapped for cash, maybe I should have.

Unknown said...

If they are that strapped for cash....well they're in serious trouble. Is Angelos seriously worried about TV $$?

I cant imagine the O's are anywhere near a losing venture, so this is incredibly perplexing.

You see moves like this from the Marlins...not the Orioles. I find it incredibly discouraging.

As you noted, the O's didnt have to spend the draft pool cash, but it helps with leverage in signing an "above slot" draftee....terrible

Anonymous said...

The money ($2.75 Million)for Webb was about to spent anyway when he reached the end of his 10 Day DFA Limbo. The draft pool money was somewhat added to with the loss of Cruz and the pick garnered from that.

I see this move as the precursor to another which may or may not involve Clevenger/Matusz. If not than it did nothing to help the Forty Man Roster situation and lack of players that can be "Optioned".

Anonymous said...

I read in a lot of places how the draft pick is a player who likely will not amount to much. This is probable. However, this does not mean that draft picks are without value. The players moving around mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. A minor league free agent and a guy who barely fits on an organization's top 30 list are just organization filler. This all comes down to the Orioles dumping 3.5 million. It is about money flexibility now and sacrificing a lottery ticket that might help in a couple years in a trade or in several more years on the team. That has value. Money dump. Plain and simple.

Philip said...

Doesn't this trade render all the more inexplicable the decision to tender Matusz to a contract?
He was lousy before arbitration and now he's lousy and expensive, and the Orioles already had signed Wesley Wright( I think)

Anonymous said...

Matusz was a shutdown reliever in the second half. Perhaps the better question is why they signed Wright at all.

BJ Rassam said...

This trade will have little to no impact on what happens this season, and maybe beyond.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It is like the Morse Avery deal. The chance for a future impact was very slight.

Statistics Don't Lie said...

That's $2.75 m more payroll we can absorb in July.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It's interesting to me how many fans are fine with the O's giving up a top 75 draft pick for a couple million dollars.

Unknown said...

This deal is about roster flexibility. Duquette puts a premium on it. He traded a RHP for a younger RHP with options. He traded a AAA catcher for a younger catcher with options. It cost the 74th pick and pool money to increase his ability to juggle the roster throughout this season. A task he has proven to be a master of these last few years.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

They could have rectified the roster flexibility concern by getting rid of Webb and keeping the draft pick. The money involved mattered in this deal. Perhaps the Orioles really like the two players they acquired. Maybe there's some master plan with another trade or two down the road. But just because players are younger and have options doesn't mean they'll be able to help the major league team.

It's most likely this deal won't amount to much. But I find it perplexing.

Tim said...

I agree it is about getting rid of the money. They got a pitcher who was DFA'd and released. They got a dime a dozen organizational catcher. Those are not assets of much meaning regardless of options. Team already has in-house options for players like that. Is Rowen really in front of guys like Mike Wright and the rest in Norfolk? Is O'Brien really in front of the options in Norfolk and with Wieters eventually coming back.

People need to stop rationalizing Duquette and believing every word he says. They sold a draft pick for 2.75 million.

Unknown said...

I agree that this trade is really minor and probably won't change much, but the worst part to me isn't necessarily even the loss of pick #74. It's the loss of the money associated with pick #74, which decreases the team's flexibility in the draft.

Anonymous said...

The "best player in the trade" was immediately waived by the Dodgers, so I'm not sure how many would agree with that statement in this article.

Tim said...

Webb is the best player in the deal...that is why it is so obviously the Orioles selling their draft pick for 2.75 million.