Orioles left-hander Richard Bleier sat in the bullpen during Friday night’s 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t one of the five men called on to help protect his team’s lead.
After the game, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias told him why: He was traded to the Miami Marlins for a player to be named later as part of their search for healthy players after a COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse.
“Definitely surprised,” Bleier said. “Extremely thankful for Baltimore, the organization and everything they’ve done for the last few years for me. They gave me an extended opportunity in the big leagues and really gave me another opportunity coming off a down year to kind of get back to the status I was at before. It’s been a really enjoyable ride here in Baltimore, and I’m very, very thankful for that.”
Before Saturday’s game, Elias said that the Marlins had been interested in Bleier through the offseason, and again when summer camps resumed in July.
“Before their most recent crisis began, they had had interest in Richard,” Elias said. “With our position right now as a rebuilding team, we’re listening to everything and particularly with a veteran reliever like that, there’s interest from other clubs at times. We explore it.
“He’s somebody who has occupied a very prominent place, I think, in the recent history of this team. He’s been a part of some good runs here, and he’s been a leader in the bullpen. He’s pitched through injury at times, and he’s just — he’s an Oriole. It’s tough seeing him leave. But I think it’s part of the process and the transition that this club is going through. We know things like this happen. We did it last year, and it’s happening this year. It doesn’t mean that he’s not appreciated.”
Elias said the trade doesn’t mean the Orioles, who entered Saturday’s game with a .500 record and have several players off to good starts, weren’t going to try and continue to compete this year. Instead, he said that the team was still mindful of the goal to build up the minor league talent base, no matter what.
MLB’s rules for the shortened season dictate that all players traded must be in the trading club’s 60-man player pool, and must go into the player pool of the acquiring team. By acquiring a player to be named later, the Orioles can choose their return after the season and select from a wider group of players from the Marlins.
They used a similar method in trading Hector Velázquez to the Houston Astros this week, though Velázquez had a bad summer camp and was severely diminished from his previous form. Bleier was getting back to his best self this summer.
Bleier, the 33-year-old left-hander who the Orioles added in the spring of 2017, established himself as a gem in their bullpen in 2017 and 2018. At one point, he was statistically one of the best pitchers in baseball history.
But a torn lat muscle in June 2018 ended his season and required surgery. It took Bleier a while to get back to form in 2019. Still, the team signed him for $915,000 to avoid salary arbitration this year and he’d pitched well when called upon in the last week.
The Marlins have been claiming pitchers off waivers all week in their efforts to add arms during their COVID-19 outbreak, and it’s likely that when they resume play next week, Bleier will get to face his old team in Baltimore.
After that, the South Florida native will be pitching for the hometown Marlins. He and his family still live there, and when asked if he’d wanted a trade to move closer to home, he said “LeBron James asks for trades, not me.”
“I haven’t really processed it that much,” Bleier said. “I’m glad that I have value to another team, but at the same time, this is such a comfort for me here in Baltimore. I’m going to miss it. I know all the guys. I know all the staff. I’ve been around everybody for years. Before I came to Baltimore, I was bouncing around organization to organization. Being the new guy isn’t nearly as fun as being the guy who has been around for a long time. It’s definitely something that I will miss.”
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The trade comes at a time when the Orioles have a deep bullpen because of expanded rosters, though the number of players is set to shrink as the month goes on. Paul Fry and Tanner Scott become the only left-handed relief options in the bullpen, though manager Brandon Hyde views right-hander Cole Sulser as an option against lefties because of his split-fingered fastball.
On Saturday, the Orioles selected the contract of catcher Bryan Holaday to take Bleier’s spot on the roster, giving the team 39 players on its 40-man roster.
Bleier’s Orioles career ends with 3.15 ERA in 143 appearances. Fellow reliever Shawn Armstrong said losing Bleier was a shock in some senses, but not in others.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Bleier was “one of our older players” but was off to a good start in July.
“He’s gong to be missed,” Hyde said. “It’s a guy in the bullpen with a really inexperienced group that sometimes had trouble with command, [Bleier] was one guy that we could rely on to come in and throw strikes. Usually, he gets ground balls. It was somebody that I could rely on from that standpoint. Now, it’s just up to other guys.”
Reliever Shawn Armstrong said: “You never expect it to happen that fast, but we’ve heard it, we’ve said it all through summer camp 2.0, offseason 2.0, whatever you want to call it: it’s a sprint. It’s not really a surprise. It is a surprise just because when you view Rich, me personally, he’s a very fateful piece of this team. He’s a leader of this team. Losing somebody like that, it stinks in the long run. But at the same time, we’re in a rebuild and it gives another guy the opportunity to kind of step up and kind of take advantage of that role.”
Around the horn
Chris Davis was meant to return to the starting lineup Saturday, but was scratched with knee soreness.
José Iglesias was out for a third straight day and is still day-to-day, Hyde said.
Elias said more prospects could be added to the 60-man player pool soon, but that he didn’t want to fill it to keep roster flexibility.