The Orioles didn’t make a blockbuster deal before Thursday’s nonwaiver trade deadline like some other American League contenders, but they picked up one of the fiercest left-handed relievers in the major leagues to further fortify a stout bullpen.
With about an hour to spare before the deadline expired, the Orioles acquired 29-year-old left-hander Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for minor league left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller, a free agent at the end of this season, is expected to be in uniform Friday and available to pitch out of the bullpen against the Seattle Mariners.
“He’s just another good piece. He goes with some other good pieces down there [in the bullpen],” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He gives us more depth down there, keep passing the load around.”
Miller, who was the sixth overall pick in 2006 by the Detroit Tigers out of the University of North Carolina, is a converted starter who has excelled since being moved to the bullpen full-time in 2012. The 6-foot-7 left-hander was 3-5 with a 2.34 ERA in 42 1/3 innings in 50 appearances for the Red Sox this year, allowing just 25 hits and 13 walks while striking out 69 batters. He has a 2.78 ERA and a strikeout rate of 13.3 per nine innings as a full-time reliever.
Miller, who almost exclusively throws two pitches — a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider — was highly coveted because he is effective against both right-handers and left-handers. This year, lefties were hitting .150 against him in 65 plate appearances and right-handers batted .180 in 105 plate appearances.
The Orioles’ bullpen already has the fifth-best ERA in the AL (3.36) despite throwing the fourth-most innings (340 1/3 heading into Thursday). And it already has three other left-handers in the bullpen: closer Zach Britton, long reliever T.J. McFarland, and middle reliever Brian Matusz, who has struggled against right-handers while maintaining his effectiveness versus lefties.
Matusz likely will be used more as a lefty specialist now, while Miller will set-up Britton along with right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter.
“Buck’s got a lot of toys to play with now,” O’Day said. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys down there.”
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said adding an effective left-handed reliever became his top priority, especially given what he felt was an exorbitant price for top-of-the-rotation starters.
“It’s been in the works for the last couple of weeks. It did start to pick up some steam in the last three or four days,” Duquette said. “We were involved in several other discussions to help the team in other areas. And we’ve got a good idea what the value of our young prospects were and what the value they can bring in trade. But this was the most impactful trade I thought we could make, given what we had to trade and what we were wiling to trade.”
Duquette said he was reluctant to deal away Rodriguez, 21, who was listed by Baseball America as the organization’s third-best prospect to start the year. Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA at Double-A Bowie this year and was sidelined for a while with a knee injury, but his upside is considerable.
“It wasn’t our first choice to trade him. The kid has talent and he has youth, but, again, our team is in the race,” Duquette said about Rodriguez. “We want to continue what we started, and we needed to add to our club to be competitive with the other clubs, not just in our division, but the other clubs in the American League in the playoff situation.”
While the defending World Series champion Red Sox dismantled their 2014 club Thursday — trading away starters Jon Lester and John Lackey outfielder Jonny Gomes and infielder Stephen Drew as well as Miller — two playoff contenders improved their pitching dramatically as the Oakland Athletics added Lester and the Detroit Tigers landed David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Duquette said he didn’t believe he could have dealt for an ace without giving up an important piece of the future, such as right-hander Kevin Gausman.
“There’s a lot of activity from the teams in the American League that want to win the pennant,” Duquette said. “They want to advance to the playoffs, and so when you get to this time of year, you have to take a look at how your team matches up against your competitors and where you can strengthen your club. I’m not sure we had the wherewithal to land a top starter. We have some other really attractive players, but some of them are helping our current club, right?”
For a deal to be made in August, a player must first pass through trade waivers — the original club can pull that player back once with no consequences — so it becomes a little more difficult now. However, Duquette acquired left-hander Joe Saunders in August 2012 and outfielder Mike Morse last August and said he’ll look at alternatives — including possible offensive upgrades — through that process.
“Some time in the next couple of weeks there will be some opportunities for us to address those needs,” Duquette said.
The Orioles will have to make room for Miller in the bullpen Friday. Both McFarland and right-handers Brad Brach and Ryan Webb have minor league options remaining, so one could be sent to Triple-A Norfolk until rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.
“What’s tough is now someone’s got to come out of there,” Showalter said. “If we do have to make a move they’re not going away. They’re going to Norfolk.”
The flip side, though, is that the Orioles have acquired another quality relief pitcher who can tie opposing hitters into knots.
“He’s a guy no one likes to face,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “Very uncomfortable at-bat. He’s a guy who can get an out when you really need it. I think he’s going to be great.”
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