A lot has transpired in the year since the Orioles made a pair of trades with the Atlanta Braves — one sending Brad Brach south for international bonus slots, and a second dealing Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day for four players and another, larger chunk of bonus slots.
Perspective earned over that year, and the amount of hindsight taken to gain it, doesn’t do much to change the fundamental nature of those deals. They were and still are salary dumps. But considering the poor seasons those pitchers have had, there’s certainly room for reassessment.
On Saturday, Brach was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs after a difficult season there. Gausman was surprisingly placed on waivers and claimed by the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, ending what began as a great stint in Atlanta on a sour note.
Both Gausman and Brach pitched well down the stretch for Atlanta last year, but ERAs of 6.19 and 6.13, respectively, weren’t enough to keep them on contending teams this summer.
Considering those struggles, and that O’Day hasn’t pitched all season because of a forearm injury, even the Orioles’ modest returns on those trades that mostly served to save an estimated $30 million in future salary commitments seem more worthwhile. O’Day was due $9 million this season, while Gausman made $9.35 million this year with a presumed salary increase in his last year of arbitration if he’s tendered a contract by the Reds.
At the time, the additional $2.75 million in international bonus pool allotment for the 2018-19 signing period was interpreted as the Orioles’ entrée into the sweepstakes for Cuban outfielders Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr., plus Cuban right-hander Sandy Gaston.
That, obviously, did not work out in the Orioles’ favor. Ultimately, they spent $2.167 million on international amateurs between the old administration under executive vice president Dan Duquette and the new one under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
The trades gave the Orioles enough bonus pool money to both spend on the international talent that was available and trade the rest away, gleaning major league pieces such as Dwight Smith Jr., Tom Eshelman and Keon Broxton, plus Carolina League All-Star David Lebron and short-lived Rule 5 draft pick Drew Jackson.
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The best piece of the return might have been an unheralded one at the time, though. Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann (Loyola Blakefield) has been one of the best pitchers in the Orioles farm system this season. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk after pitching to a 2.58 ERA with a 1.204 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings for Double-A Bowie.
He’s elevated himself into the middle tier of Orioles’ pitching prospects in his age-24 season and has had the best season of the four players who came over in that deal. Infielder JC Encarnacion is back at Low-A Delmarva after he scuffled post-trade last summer, and despite his considerable tools, is batting .247 with a .677 OPS and 29 extra-base hits for the Shorebirds.
Catcher Brett Cumberland has dealt with injury this year and is batting .253 with a .785 OPS over three levels, currently at High-A Frederick. And right-hander Evan Phillips, who was summoned to the majors shortly after the trade last July, has been in the majors six different times this year as he’s shuffled between Baltimore and Norfolk.
He has a 4.91 ERA with a 1.33 WHIP for the Tides, but a 7.85 ERA with a 2.13 WHIP in 17 appearances for the big club.
Like most of the Orioles’ trades last year, the evaluation of the return depends mostly on the expectations. Of the 30 players ranked as the Orioles’ top prospects in the offseason, nine were acquired in the team’s July trades. The current midseason rankings feature five players from those trades.
It was a quantity-over-quality approach that was criticized at the time, and perhaps rightfully so. But that approach yielded pitching depth — Zimmermann included — that the organization didn’t have, and in the case of the Braves trades, sent out players whose best baseball might have been behind them.
Around the horn
The Orioles recalled right-hander Tayler Scott from Norfolk to fill out their roster Monday. Scott allowed five runs in two innings over his two major-league appearances for the Orioles, but has 17 strikeouts in 13 shutout innings for the Tides. ... Manager Brandon Hyde said right-hander Miguel Castro, who hasn’t pitched in a week because of illness, was “iffy” for Monday’s game, but was at the ballpark with the team.