04 April 2018

The Orioles' Rule 5 Strategy Has Already Backfired

For reasons that have never adequately been explained, the Orioles decided to begin the 2018 season with three Rule 5 picks on the active roster. Those players are Anthony Santander, Pedro Araujo, and Nestor Cortes Jr.

Santander, a pick from the previous season, needs just 44 days on the active roster this season to fulfill his Rule 5 status. Afterward, the O's can keep him, and he can be optioned to the minor leagues. Santander isn't really a problem. He played well in the spring, and for a team that's desperate for help at the plate from the left side, he's an intriguing option. That the O's would like to keep him around makes sense. 

With the two pitchers, though, the questions start to mount. Of the two, it's a little easier to make the case for Araujo. Before this year, he'd only thrown two innings above Single-A, but he's posted high strikeout rates through all his stops. He has some control issues, but his pitches have good movement, and it's not hard to see him as a late-inning arm. With Zach Britton out until at least June, the O's needed one of those. 

Cortes is tougher to defend. He's a crafty lefty type who's found success in the minors, and he's thrown about 110 innings in Double- and Triple-A. That makes him more experienced than Araujo, and he can also start and pitch in long relief. But with a fastball that tops out in the upper-80s, he relies on pinpoint control. Not having watched Cortes much, I also expected to see a little more deception in his delivery. Instead, the first time I watched him, he reminded me of Vidal Nuno.

I'm not a scout and I'm simplifying things above, but it still baffles me that the Orioles started the season with both Araujo and Cortes on the roster. There's also the minor question of whether the Orioles would have even tried to keep Cortes if he weren't left-handed. The O's are obsessed with having a left-handed option in long relief to back up the team's right-handed rotation.

When Britton is on his game, he transforms this bullpen, but there's still plenty of work to go around for relievers not named Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, and Mychal Givens. That's especially true when, one time through the rotation, Dylan Bundy is the only starter to pitch more than five innings. 

With one of Araujo and Cortes, it's possible to try and hide that player, Jason Garcia style, and attempt to use him in mainly low-leverage situations. But there's no way to do that with two Rule 5 options without exhausting the rest of the bullpen. They're going to have to pitch at inopportune times, like on the road in a close game against the defending World Series champions. Maybe that's what Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette wanted. That's scary.

It's also easy to criticize bullpen decisions from game to game. Showalter's bullpen mastery has taken a hit ever since the dreaded Britton/wild card debacle a couple years ago in Toronto, but he's still excellent at spreading the workload around and getting the most out of his relievers.

Here's one question I've seen: Why did Miguel Castro pitch in Monday's 6-1 loss instead of Araujo and Cortes? Araujo pitched on Saturday and Sunday, so he wasn't a possibility. Castro also entered the game on Monday when the O's were only down 4-0. That's hardly unreasonable. Showalter could have decided to bring in O'Day or someone else after Givens, but, well, blame Givens for giving up the lead in the sixth. And again, it's not hard to see how this gets ridiculous and nitpicky in a hurry. There is such a fine line for success with this group of pitchers. The O's have only played five games and this is already a thing!

The Orioles are not cooperating, but they have a win-now roster. Next year, they could be in the position of (at the bare minimum) finding a new shortstop or third baseman, center fielder, and two late-game relievers. By all accounts, the Orioles are trying to win. And yet, not only has the team dropped payroll about 10%, but they are putting themselves in a position to use multiple players who aren't ready when every game counts. On a young, rebuilding team? Sure, put Araujo and Cortes on the roster and hope they show enough to stick. Maybe they'd find something when the stakes are lower. The timing for these decisions, though, never made sense, and the O's dropped payroll instead of adding a competent reliever to a group that could use one.

How long did the Orioles expect to get by while carrying two pitchers who have thrown about 112 combined innings above Single-A? Was the goal just to throw them into the fire early and see which one came out on top? They've each thrown 3 1/3 innings, and while Araujo and Cortes have had a nice moment or two, they've looked as inexperienced and unready as could be expected.

On a 1-4 team that's been outscored by 19 runs (worst in the majors), it's hardly fair to only point at Araujo and Cortes and get upset with their performances. But it's fair to question what the O's were thinking.


Unknown said...

Glad you pointed out the mismanagement of Castro. They burned him in two games they had little chance in winning. The fact he wasn't available in a late one run game was likely the difference. But still....how does Buck not opt to bring in Darren O'day after Givens? This is a three game losing streak; you'd think that you want to give yourself the best opportunity to break it.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If that's what you took away from that paragraph, then you kind of missed the point.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think the point is largely that Cortes does not belong and that whoever thought he did should really think long and hard about their process.

My bet is Cortes is gone when Cobb is ready.

Pip said...

If they want to keep these guys, it seems to make sense that they would use them and games that are already we're almost out of reach. It doesn't make sense to use our good relievers to attempt to keep a six to nothing game from getting farther out of reach.

Unknown said...

It would help to have these starters last until the 7th that would kinda mask the rule 5s sadly it hasn't happened and we will have a taxed bullpen by the all-star break if this keeps up

Anonymous said...

What Jon says is best, drop Cortes when Cobb comes back. I am betting they never really planned to keep two Rule 5 pitchers but Araujo surprised them with a good Spring and they fixated on Cortes as the #5 SP to be a lefty. That is why they're being used heavily and in high leverage situations - to sort out which one to keep. Also, you are fighting early season pre-routine decisions in that pitchers have to pitch to stay tuned-up so some guys get put into inappropriate situations (especially with the O's being non-competitive so far). If they win a couple of games and Cobb is promoted, things will start to settle. Nothing much is going right at the moment; you can't blame it all on the Rule 5s.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

No one is blaming just the Rule 5 guys.

Unknown said...

Another thing to consider - both the Yankees and the Cubs are out of the "penalty box" for international signings and thus are not limited to $300,000 bonuses for international players. I wonder if the Yankees and/or Cubs would take some of the Orioles' international bonus pool and let the Orioles keep Cortes and/or Araujo.

Unknown said...

I expected more from Cortes based on last year's numbers, his KATOH war and his mix of pitches. I'm fine with these guys getting a couple shots in the fire but both struggled with command on Tuesday night. It's hard to tell if that's a struggle that will continue or if they can fix it.

Every MLB bullpen has these issues out of the gate where relievers 5-7 are unknowns. The only thing different about Rule 5 guys is they lock up your roster if you like them long-term but they're not good enough yet. Araujo seems like he's in the long-term pile. His change-up is filthy. He has enough movement on his FB. Cortes, if you had asked me at the beginning of Spring Training, I would have said based on film/KATOH/AAA experience is already ready for an MLB bullpen swingman/5th rotation spot.

Cortes definitely seems destined to return to the yankees but I'm thinking maybe they are still considering bumping him into the #5 spot of the rotation. They know Wright isn't good enough and Chris Tillman doesn't have anything left (2 whiffs in 80something pitches).

I'm 100% on board with this roster experiment and I'm not gonna fuss over one (Tuesday) night's blowup or if they scrap it a week or two from now. Cortes has?/had a legitimate shot at the 5th spot and it was worth seeing if he could prove it. Araujo has nasty movement on his pitches and that's something you want in a late-inning arm.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see Araujo pitch last night?? That one's for real. He's gonna make it.

Unknown said...

Um...you were saying? What a difference 5 days makes. Arajuo was huge today. 5 Ks in 2.1 IP. Santander, huge today, 3-6 3 RBIs, and a nice catch in RF.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Read the article.