For those who wish the Orioles were a little better this year with more experienced starting pitching and another useful veteran infielder to help bridge the gap in another lean year at the major league level, the sight of Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, and José Iglesias in the colors of the Los Angeles Angels facing the Orioles this weekend might be a difficult one.
Those who hope it’s a long time before the team is ever in this position again, though, might look at the return from the three trades that sent them there and feel pretty good about how the Orioles fared in them.
There’s some overlap in those two groups, naturally, but examining the calculus of the three biggest trades executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has made in his 30 months in charge of the Orioles, his view of the deals is that there were no losers in the deals.
“I think overall, the trades made sense for both clubs,” Elias said. “That’s why the deals got done, and I think looking back, we’re happy that we made the transactions that we made. We made moves for our future, and in the case of every player that we traded, while they were good, productive players, we took a look at our expected playoff window and decided to send them out for younger players back who we expect to be a big part of that playoff window.
“So far, by and large, those players are performing very well in our system and showing a lot of promise.”
The December 2019 trade of Bundy for four right-handed pitchers — Kyle Bradish, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Brnovich, and Zach Peek — was the first such deal, followed a year later by Iglesias being traded for right-handers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto. Just weeks before spring training began in February, the Orioles dealt veteran starter Alex Cobb and paid $10 million of his salary for young infielder Jahmai Jones.
Cobb will start Saturday against the Orioles, while Bundy could pitch in relief to give a look at what manager Brandon Hyde could have at his disposal first-hand. Bundy, who fell ill due to heat exhaustion in his most recent start against the New York Yankees and threw up behind the mound, came back to pitch two innings in relief Wednesday. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he’d be in the bullpen going forward after a mixed bag of a season.
Bundy pitched into the sixth inning in eight of his 14 starts, and allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of those. He also has allowed five runs or more in four starts, and the aggregate is a 6.58 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 67 innings.
Cobb, too, has been streaky. He had a 7.16 ERA in April, went on the injured list in early May with a blister but allowed one earned run in three starts that month, then allowed five earned runs or more in three of his four starts in June to deliver him to this Orioles series with a 5.09 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP.
Iglesias, who hit a surprising .373 with a .956 OPS while limited with a lingering quadriceps injury in 2020 for the Orioles, is back closer to what he did every other year in his career in 2021. He entered Thursday batting .271 with a .683 OPS.
The Orioles got back a group of pitchers they liked and a potential everyday player in Jones for what was two years of club control for Bundy, and one remaining year before free agency for Cobb and Iglesias.
That meant the return for Bundy, a pitcher who seemed on the cusp of a breakout with a new mix to his pitches and ended up having a career-best 3.29 ERA in 2020, was the most significant. Bradish was a fourth-round pick in 2018 and spent all of 2019 at High-A Inland Empire but took a while to get his feel back after the Angels shut him down for the rest of his draft year, as they do with all of their college pitchers.
For Brnovich and Peek, two pitchers taken in 2019, that shutdown policy meant the Orioles had to go off amateur scouting reports for them. Elias said that the Orioles “felt we were really high on Kyle Bradish” relative to the rest of the industry, and the chance to “bulk up” on pitching from the 2019 draft class after their own strategy was to load up on hitters made the deal work for both sides.
“They’re in the middle of a playoff hunt this season, and [were] getting two years of a major league pitcher, and were willing to trade some future arms that have uncertain futures,” Elias said.
Bradish in particular has emerged this year as a potential rotation piece for the Orioles, with an uptick in velocity from a unique arm angle helping him impress at the secondary camp last summer and helping him shoot from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk after just three scoreless starts. It’s been a different story at Norfolk, but Bradish still has 60 strikeouts in 38 ⅔ innings with a 1.40 WHIP in eight combined starts.
Brnovich, too, moved up quickly from High-A Aberdeen to Bowie thanks to a low-90s fastball and a breaking ball that challenges hitters. In nine starts over the two levels, he has 54 strikeouts in 38 ⅓ innings with a 0.86 WHIP and a 2.35 ERA. Peek was the Opening Day starter for Low-A Delmarva and has a 2.96 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 33 ⅓ innings.
Mattson is with the major league club for the second time, though he’s struggled some at Triple-A Norfolk this year.
Now that the Florida Complex League has started, both pitchers from the Iglesias trade are on the mound as well. Stallings has been with Aberdeen all year showing great command, walking just five in 47 innings this year. But some struggles keeping the ball in the park has meant that even with a 1.19 WHIP and 44 strikeouts, his ERA is 5.36.
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Pinto started the first game for the FCL Orioles Black team, striking out six in four innings of one-run ball.
The biggest prize, however, and the one that could make the quickest impact on the major league team, is Jones. The 23-year-old infielder made his major league debut with the Angels in 2020 but is at Triple-A Norfolk for the Orioles, and while an oblique strain kept him out for a while, he’s batting .276 with an .890 OPS in 24 Triple-A games entering Thursday.
With the Orioles’ second base situation dire at times and at-best uninspiring, there’s been plenty attention paid to when Jones will be ready to fill that role at Camden Yards of late.
Elias was full of praise for Jones, and said he has a dynamic personality and athleticism to go along with the promise of being “very, very young” for Triple-A, even if that doesn’t make his Orioles debut imminent.
“[Jones] has an interesting toolset in that he makes contact, controls the strike zone very well, has some power and is a good runner,” Elias said. “Really, for him the question has been the profile of where he’s going to play, combined with sort of the power production, the overall power production. His most experienced position is left field, I think he can play some center but the Angels like many in the scouting community wanted to teach him second base and that’s still an ongoing process.
“That’s the main thing that we’re continuing to want to see polish for him with his work with the Tides and with our coaching staff in general, and that will continue to be an area of work even once he joins the big-league roster. It’s something he has the athleticism to continue to get better at, but his swing decisions, his plate discipline, his contact has shown a lot of polish and maturity for his age. It’s the defensive areas where he’s more still developing.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Bundy was moved to the Angels bullpen and is no longer in their starting rotation.