12 December 2017

Trade the Pen: Rusty Trucks Do Not Need Shiny Rims

Let us get one thing quickly out of the way: the Orioles have a few interesting bullpen arms, but they no longer have an elite bullpen.  That good, but not great, pen backs up a starting rotation that currently is filled with craters, whispers, and tissue paper.  The club has announced they are looking for starting pitcher, two to be exact with one being left handed, and could not secure either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Fiers.  Yes, if we take things at face value, Mike Fiers was expected to be half of the starting rotation overhaul.  And, yes, it appears the solution to the fifth slot is internal. Somehow.

And that leads us to this: trade potentially extra weight in the bullpen for starting pitching elsewhere.  That really just boils down to once and potentially still great Zach Britton and once and still potentially very good Brad Brach.  Both can slide into a closer role or a set up job.  Darren O'Day last year effectively pitched to his contract after being a bit subpar in 2016.  With two years and 18 MM coming to him, it seems unlikely that he could bring back much.  Mychal Givens is someone who would be highly desirable to other clubs, but the Orioles still are trying to compete somewhat and that means to me that he remains and takes over the closer position.  Then again, Buck and Duquette are in their final contract years, so maybe they go for broke choosing Britton over Givens.  In this post though, we will assume that the Orioles are acting somewhat rational.

The suitors for Britton and Brach would be as follows.  The Cubs, Dodgers, and Rockies are known to have pinged the Orioles about Zach Britton.  The Mets are known to have inquired on Brad Brach.  The Cardinals are actively looking for late inning help.  The Diamondbacks and Astros are also looking for suitable pairings in their respective pens.  I think we can safely ignore the Nationals as a trading partner even though they are still looking for relief help.  So, who can the Orioles pry from each club?

The Britton Market
Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are said to be looking for another starting pitcher, which would make one think they would not have a player available in a trade.  Though it may also suggest that the club is willing to deal out someone like Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery.  Both have shown promise at times and both are likely strong components of a 2018 bullpen that provide backup options in case they have trouble with a member of their starting rotation.  That said, adding Zach Britton may be a cause worth going after.  The team is often thought to be made of money, but often try to be rather prudent at times.  Britton's salary, along with his uneven 2017, might give some pause.  Brad Brach might be of interest, but the club would likely have to tack something on.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles has eight starting pitchers and a few in their pen capable of starting.  The obvious arms to be dangled would be Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and even Julio Urias who is not held as tightly as he was before the season.  The Dodgers were one of the finalist last summer for Britton before the Orioles ghosted them and they turned their sites on Yu Darvish.  They still have a need for relief arm and have comparable salary ballast to exchange.  Pitchers like Kazmir and McCarthy have injury and physical concerns, so the Orioles might focus on Urias but then settle for Ryu.  Maeda would be a pie in the sky option who has pitched well despite having some potential shoulder concerns when he initially signed.

Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have called to check in with the Orioles and have been aggressively contacting closer arms in the market.  The two arms the Orioles would likely target are Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman, the pitcher who the Orioles tried to get from the Blue Jays when the Jays wanted Dan Duquette.  Of those two, the rumblings are that the Rockies have considerable doubts about Hoffman, so that could present him as a potential get.  The Rockies have the payroll space to acquire Britton's 12 MM salary, but would probably want the Orioles to buy down on it or to include someone else in the mix like Hunter Harvey or Tanner Scoot but more likely Cody Sedlock or Keegan Akin.

The Brach Market
New York Mets
The Mets seem to always be calling the Orioles about Brad Brach.  The really like him, but do not exactly love him.  So, the market is there, but the market may be somewhat limited in interest.  The Orioles, at this point, are also known to be inquiring on Matt Harvey.  Harvey, the once insanely promising starting pitcher, has fallen in the Mets doghouse on several occasions for reasons often not related to how dreadful he has been the past couple years.  The Mets value him, but seem to prefer to be in someone else's clubhouse while also getting something of similar value without the headaches.  A Brach for Harvey deal straight up seems to be a decent match between the two, but I imagine that the Mets also really like Givens and would try to pry him from the team.

St. Louis Cardinals
The front office seems to think that Oh's troubles last year spelled post season issues for the club, so they have been active in the closer market.  Looking at their starting pitching situation, they are not really filled with options.  The only one I see that could fit is the 23 year old Jack Flaherty, but I think that is a stretch.  He is a hard throwing righthander who has glided through the minors.  His ceiling is limited, but that is a good sixth or seventh option to have.  I figured you would need to see a Brach plus a prospect trade to pry him from the Cardinals and they would have to really want Brach, which is something I have not heard at all.

Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are also looking to create an intimidating bullpen and have some cost concerns, so a pitcher like Brach fits right into their wheelhouse.  That said, there are not any easy matches here for the Orioles needs.  One interesting name would be Shelby Miller.  He had Tommy John surgery last May, but has experienced an accelerated rehabilitation and is already throwing well off flat ground.  It might be difficult for him to make opening day, but he may be an option for May.  Miller will make about the same as Brach in arbitration this year and has one more team controlled year for 2019.  This might make a lot of sense.

Houston Astros
Last summer, after a great deal of hemming and hawing over whether Zach Britton was really worth his deal, the Astros were in on him and were waiting for the deal to be finalized.  But, it was not.  In the aftermath, the portion of the front office that was against the move felt pretty vindicated yet they still recognize that the pen was a weakness that needs to be addressed.  Without copious amounts of money at their disposal, Brad Brach may look like a good match for them.  A piece supposedly in the deal was Francis Martes, who is a decent prospect who lost a bit of luster last season.  I could see a potential one for one deal on this or the Orioles would have to hand over an additional low minors lottery ticket.

What Happens?
I have no idea.  However, I think you could see a number of ways the Orioles could deplete their bullpen while securing starting pitching.  Doing so would likely decrease their payroll by an additional 10 MM or so, perhaps opening up space to sign one more starting pitcher or to find a few veteran arms in the pen.

Rolling the dice, let us say the Orioles were able to deal Zach Britton and maybe some international bonus pool money to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Julio Urias.  People will be shocked that Urias, who was recently a highly touted pitching prospect, would be gotten for only one year of Zach Britton.  However, the Dodgers figured Urias was not a major piece moving forward and that Britton would bring them closer to the World Series.  The Orioles then press their luck with Urias and hopes he is more than the frustrating late inning relievers some scouts are beginning to think he is.  He also ticks the box for a left hander.  On the Brach market, the Orioles trade contract for contract and acquire Matt Harvey from the Mets for a one year rental.  They see a lot to like, such as the low cost for a potentially useful starter, and figure he is worth the performance and injury concern for just one year.

Now, the club has a bullpen problem having dealt out two of their four best relievers.  However, they have an additional 12 MM from dealing Britton and a lot more from not having to sign a free agent starter.  What do they do?  To replace Brach, they sign Brandon Kinstler to a three year, 21 MM deal.  To replace Britton, they sign Tony Watson for two years and 15 MM.  At that point, they probably have enough money to sign someone like Andrew Cashner or Jaime Garcia.

OK, Duquette.  Do that.  Convert your potentially elite bullpen into a potentially decent starting rotation with some dependable arms.


Unknown said...

I think if I could get Shelby Miller for Brad Brach I'd jump on that in a real hurry. Harvey wouldn't look bad either, but he feels to me more like a guy who's never going to find it again. I wouldn't be surprised either way, he just definitely seems like he could be one of those guys who hangs around 5 or 6 more years because of his perceived upside but never really pitches at even a league-average level for more than a few weeks at a time. Just tantalizing enough to keep getting 1- or 2-year deals for a while but never really re-establishing any kind of consistency.

Jon Shepherd said...

Harvey is sort of a wear some blinders, squint, and dream kind of pitcher. I would prefer something else, but I would have more faith in Harvey as a fifth slot pitcher than much of what already the club has lying around.

Unknown said...

The more I think about it, the more I think I'd rather have Ynoa in the rotation and still have Brach in the bullpen than have Harvey projected in the rotation. I'm not sure who I like better between Harvey and Ynoa. Harvey probably has a higher ceiling, but we've seen he can have a pretty ugly floor. If you're looking at a guy for the last spot in the rotation, I'm ok with the "solid" guy I feel fairly confident can be consistently below-average to average (as opposed to a high probability of dipping into "awful" territory). If I can't decide between the two, I guess I'd take the one that comes with a very good bullpen arm. Of course, life is rarely that straightforward and if you put your best backup plan in AAA into the rotation you start being in trouble when the injuries and/or ineffectiveness set in. But it's just something to think about.