Trade season is officially in full swing, and one top reliever is already on the move.
The Rangers, seeking bullpen help, acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Royals on Friday. Whether the Orioles will be buyers or stick with their current reliever crop remains to be seen.
The numbers aren’t awful. The bullpen holds a 3.74 ERA, the 10th lowest in MLB. There are weak links, though, and things the team needs to address as it tries to barrel toward the playoffs.
A look at the state of the Orioles bullpen:
To get it out of the way: Dillion Tate, Austin Voth, Mychal Givens and Keegan Akin are all out.
Tate originally was out with a flexor forearm strain but suffered a stress reaction in his elbow during his rehab appearances. He’s getting a second opinion. Givens (right shoulder inflammation) was transferred to the 60-day injured list Saturday.
Tate and Givens were big losses. Both were expected to be late-inning arms, but Tate has yet to pitch in a game and Givens, signed for $5 million last offseason, has thrown only four innings.
Voth (right shoulder discomfort) is not expected to be out long. Akin is the latest to join the IL, going on it Friday with lower back discomfort. In his last outing Wednesday, he gave up four runs and blew the game in the 10th inning against the Reds.
Now on to the good. Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano should be in their own category, perhaps one that includes a little star and an American League jersey.
Bautista’s 1.7 WAR is the highest in baseball for a reliever, followed closely by Cano at 1.4. They hold 1.19 and 1.12 ERAs, respectively. They make the perfect late-inning duo, with Cano typically taking the eighth and Bautista following to close it out.
And then there’s Danny Coulombe, who was acquired from the Twins for cash late in spring training. It was a low-risk trade that has resulted in a high reward for the Orioles. Coulombe is not only in the midst of the best season of his career, but he’s put up numbers comparable to the best left-handed relievers in the game. He’s given up just seven earned runs in 22 innings, with a WHIP of 1.048 and 37 strikeouts.
Mike Baumann, in his first full year in the majors, has proved to be reliable, thanks in part to his upper-80 mph curveball. He still has his bad spots — like the two runs he gave up in Chicago this month — but he can be lethal when he has his fastball, slider and curveball all working.
“He’s had some really good moments this year,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I just hope he continues to build confidence and trust himself.”
In the middle
Bryan Baker had about as rough a start to the season as anyone in MLB. He got the ball on Opening Day but proceeded to give up three runs in only two-thirds of an inning. He followed that, though, with 15 straight scoreless innings.
Nick Vespi, recalled Friday when Akin went on the injured list, is getting his first look in the majors this season. His numbers in Triple-A, including his 1.71 ERA, were good. He showed well in his outing Friday, striking out three in three shutout innings against the Twins.
Bruce Zimmermann hasn’t gotten many opportunities in long relief, but when he has been given the ball he’s mostly done the job. There have been a few sour innings, as on Friday against a powerful Twins lineup. He inherited two runners, then gave up a three-run home run. Long relief is an important role, though, and at this point he’s the best option if the team doesn’t want to change the rotation.
The weak links
A playoff team can’t have weak links, and this crew currently has two. It’s an area the Orioles should address at the trade deadline.
Look, catch Cionel Pérez on a good night and he can hang just fine. Catch him on a bad night, and things can go sour really quickly. He has a -0.2 WAR, despite being used primarily in low-stress situations. When he inherits runners, he’s letting in runs nearly 40% of the time.
As for Akin, his 6.85 ERA is one of the highest on the team. The club doesn’t know if — or how much — the lower back discomfort has been impacting his pitching, but Hyde said he was healthy enough to pitch early this week when he gave up those four runs in the 10th against the Reds.
“I’m not sure,” Hyde said when asked if the injury was to blame. “It was obviously bothering him enough to report after the game. It was something that has been lingering for a little bit, but he felt fine going in. He didn’t feel good after.”