Latest trade another indication Orioles focused on future, to detriment of 2022 roster
Paul Fry fought back tears, thinking of the strangeness moments earlier when he walked into the Orioles’ clubhouse without Tanner Scott.
“That’s my best friend,” Fry said Monday morning. “He’s Uncle Tanner to my son, Forrest, for sure.”
Sunday night, the Orioles traded Scott and fellow reliever Cole Sulser to the Miami Marlins for a top-70 draft pick in this year’s draft and three prospects, a move that opened what Fry called “two big pairs of shoes to fill” in Baltimore’s bullpen and further minimalized the possibility of the Orioles’ contending in 2022.
It’s yet another future-focused move for an organization that has made them almost exclusively since Mike Elias became executive vice president and general manager in November 2018. The Orioles’ collection of young talent is pushing to the majors, but the roster they’ll soon join has continually been stripped.
Elias has often dealt from manager Brandon Hyde’s bullpen frequently, moving Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro within weeks of one another during the 2020 season. Asked about the message this trade sent to players with less than a week until the season begins, Fry acknowledged that he, as another relatively experienced reliever, could be traded soon.
“I think teams are looking for their pieces,” Fry said. “I think we are, too. There’s opportunity for a lot of guys here, and you never know where you could be tomorrow. I’m in that boat too. I’ve been in trade talks before, so I’ve just got to play every day where my feet are and go from there.”
Fry and Scott met in the Arizona Fall League in 2015, have been in the same organization since 2017 and have been Baltimore’s primary left-handed relievers the past two years. Now, Fry finds himself in a mix with right-handers Dillon Tate and Jorge López that will serve as Hyde’s late-inning relief options. They will likely be the only pitchers in Baltimore’s bullpen with more than two years of major league service time. None of them have reached four.
"Pursuing value" for Elias: Elias said the trade was about “pursuing value and strengthening the organization.” He described the draft pick, which will come either 66th or 67th this year, as the most “salient” piece in the return, giving Baltimore five of the top 75 or so selections in the draft and increasing their signing bonus pool by about $1 million. 2022 will likely be the first season any of the draftees from Elias’ first class in 2019 reach the majors, showing the distance between that pick and big league contributions.
“Anything’s possible with a high draft pick,” Elias said. “I like to think that we have a methodology and track record of drafting pretty well. And to get that opportunity, right at the end of the second round, it’s a big deal.”
The Orioles also received Antonio Velez, a 25-year-old left-handed starter who Elias said will report to Double-A Bowie, and Kevin Guerrero, a 17-year-old outfielder who signed for $600,000 out of the Dominican Republic in July, as well as a player to be named later.
Scott, 27, has always shown high potential, but struggles with his command meant he failed to capture it. He wasn’t set to reach free agency until after the 2024 season and was slated to make $1.05 million in 2022. Sulser came to the Orioles as a waiver claim after the 2019 season and was their top reliever last year. The 32-year-old was yet to reach arbitration, leaving him with four years of team control, including this season.
But that wasn’t enough to keep either in Baltimore.
“When [relievers] have multiple years remaining potentially with the club, you can be a little bit picky and wait for the right deal because you’re able to plan your future with some of these guys,” Elias said. “And we felt that we found that yesterday.”
Roster questions: Although Elias said he could put together a 28-man roster for Friday’s season-opener if needed, Hyde has expressed throughout camp the number of questions at various spots of the roster. Two more were added to his bullpen.
“We were already pretty inexperienced; now we’re even more,” Hyde said. “We’re going to go into the season matching up the best we can. I’m hoping that some guys really take advantage of opportunities. There’s going to be some guys that are going to pitch in high-leverage spots that really haven’t done so in the past or at least not done it very much, and I hope that they feel confident in it and succeed in it.”
The trade opened two 40-man roster spots, which the Orioles will likely devote to adding a backup catcher and potentially veteran infielder Chris Owings. Elias said the Orioles have “interesting arms” already on the roster who could benefit from the move — a group that includes Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker, Joey Krehbiel and Cionel Pérez. But when asked which relievers could take the additional openings, Hyde didn’t mention specific players, instead noting how other teams will be “making moves” as spring training winds down. Elias relatedly acknowledged that Baltimore will be active on the waiver wire and with players who opt out of minor league contracts with other organizations.
Another 100-loss season likely looms: Such activity, even as a wave of prospects from the Orioles’ top-ranked farm system gets closer to the majors, is the latest sign 2022 will likely be a fourth straight full season featuring 100 losses in Baltimore.
Elias said he’s “always concerned” about the message these moves send to the players in the clubhouse, who for their part acknowledged it’s simply a part of the business.
“Just look across the locker room, you see a couple empty lockers, and those lockers are gonna get filled,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “That’s the nature of the game.”