The Orioles’ main offseason focus, according to general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias, is to add pitching. After signing closer Craig Kimbrel during the winter meetings this month, Elias noted that the next big-ticket item is a starter.
He didn’t rule out depth moves, however, and the transaction Baltimore made Monday quantifies as such.
The Orioles acquired right-hander Jonathan Heasley from the Kansas City Royals, the team announced, in exchange for minor league right-hander Cesar Espinal.
Heasley struggled in the major leagues in 2023, pitching 15 innings in relief with a 7.20 ERA. The 26-year-old allowed five homers and 12 earned runs in those frames, derailing a somewhat encouraging first full season in the majors in 2022. That year, Heasley started 21 games with mixed efficiency. He held a 3.72 ERA through his first seven starts of 2022 before the league began to hit him around.
Still, Elias has an aptitude for redemption projects, with right-hander Yennier Cano a strong example of a trade afterthought who turned into an All-Star.
Heasley cut his sinker and slider from his pitch mix in 2023, opting to throw a four-seam fastball, curveball, sweeper and change-up. He found his most success with the curveball, holding opponents last season to a .167 average against it, according to Statcast. Late in the 2023 minor league season, Heasley began using his sweeper and curveball more regularly — and with greater success.
That’s an area the Orioles could exploit, along with his sinker. Several Orioles relievers have used a sinker with strong results in recent seasons.
His change-up, according to Prospects Live, forced whiffs on 32.5% of swings.
Heasley also has an option remaining, giving the Orioles more bullpen flexibility.
Espinal, meanwhile, wasn’t set to be included as part of Baseball America’s top-30 Orioles prospect rankings. He is an 18-year-old who pitched in Dominican Summer League last season, holding a 3.18 ERA. With the transaction, Baltimore’s 40-man roster has 38 players on it.