To make 40-man roster space for Bleier, the Orioles designated first baseman/outfielder Christian Walker for assignment.
It marked the fourth straight day the Orioles have made a roster move. They signed outfielder Craig Gentry to a minor league deal Saturday, acquired lefty Vidal Nuno from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday and re-signed outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor league contract Monday.
“We’ve been trying to add to our pitching depth, which was on our offseason shopping list,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “We were trying to add to the depth of our pitching, starters and relief, and we were trying to add to our left-handed pitching. The last two guys we got [Nuno and Bleier] were lefties. And we picked up [Gabriel] Ynoa, which was a righty. We are trying to pick up a pitching staff with more depth, [one] that can pitch until October.”
Bleier, who was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Thursday, spent parts of nine seasons in the minors with the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals and Yankees organizations before receiving his first big league opportunity last year. He made two appearances against the Orioles in October last season, tossing a pair of scoreless innings.
Both Bleier and Nuno come to the Orioles with minor league options, which gives the club added roster flexibility.
“It’s important for the management of the team during the season,” Duquette said. “The way we utilize our pitching staff, we put all our resources into today’s game, and then we worry about tomorrow after the game, so it’s a lot easier when you have these players whose contracts are optionable. If you need to refresh your bullpen or replenish the number of outs that you need on your pitching staff, it’s a lot easier to send a player on option unilaterally to the minors when you have to make a couple of player moves."
Bleier, 29, posted a 1.96 ERA over 23 relief innings with the Yankees last season in his first major league stint. He held left-handers to a .150 batting average, but right-handers batted .304 against him.
He spent most of last season at Triple-A as a starter, going 2-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“He’s got a good sinker and he came up with a cutter last year which helped him get out righties more effectively,” Duquette said. “Our hope is with his sinker and cutter he’ll be able to establish himself as a solid major league pitcher. … We think he’ll help us, give us some more depth to our pitching staff and his sinkerball should play pretty well with our infield and our ballpark.”
Duquette said the Orioles’ decision to designate Walker for assignment was a depth-motivated move. Walker, an Orioles fourth-round pick in 2012 out of South Carolina, was at one point one of the top prospects in the organization. He spent last season playing in left field for the first time. But Walker fell deeper on the team’s depth chart when the team re-signed slugger Mark Trumbo this past offseason. The emergence of first baseman Trey Mancini as one of the club’s top prospects has also hurt Walker’s fortunes. Duquette pointed out that the Orioles also have Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez in the minors as well.
“Christian Walker’s a young player,” Duquette said. “That [all] limited the opportunity for Christian for the O’s. We like him, obviously. We expect him to develop into a major league player.”
Walker was the Orioles minor league Player of the Year in 2014 after hitting .288/.357/.489 with 26 homers and 96 RBIs between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. But his future with the organization, especially at first base, fell into question when Chris Davis signed a seven-year, $161 million deal before last season. The Orioles shifted Walker to the outfield last season, when he hit .264/.321/.437 with 18 homers and 64 RBIs, but his move remained a project heading into this year’s spring training.
Walker was initially in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s intrasquad game but was scratched for nonroster player David Washington. The Orioles now have 10 days to trade, release or pass Walker through waivers. If he clears waivers, he would remain in the organization and be outrighted to the minors.
“Who knows, in a few days he could be back with us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ll talk to him. It’s tough, but it’s got a chance to work out well for him. Until we get to that point, I’m not going to start acting like he’s gone, because he’s not yet.”