The Orioles are breaking down their roster while also spinning their organizational philosophy.
Reliever Brad Brach has been traded to the Braves this afternoon, but the Orioles aren’t obtaining prospects in return. They’re pocketing $250,000 in international signing bonus slot money, putting them in the unusual position of being on the receiving end of such a transaction.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette has promised that the rebuild will include a truer commitment to spending in the international market and the club already is linked to Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, who remains ineligible because Major League Baseball hasn’t granted its approval.
“My strategy on the international market is to get there first, see the player first, and develop a relationship with the family and then make a good investment, get as many good young players as possible,” Duquette said. “There’s a lot of interest in the international market because of the quality of the players and the finite number of bonus slots that clubs can utilize, so it’s a pretty interesting time right now, but it’s a good opportunity for the Orioles to get back in that market.
“We hope to sign a couple of international players this week. We hope to announce that we have signed some young international prospects from the Dominican and Venezuela.”
Brach was held out of today’s 11-5 win over the Rays and learned upon returning to the clubhouse that he was traded to the Braves, who joined the Cubs in making a strong late push for him. The Braves will assume all of Brach’s remaining salary of $5.165 million for this season.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” he said. “Earlier this morning going out on the field. Anytime you’re somewhere for a while, it’s always tough. You develop relationships with people. Obviously, it’s bittersweet, but I know I’m going to a good spot. A couple coaches I know are over there.
“It’s something I’ve never experienced before, but I couldn’t be more thankful to get to play here in Baltimore and for all the fans and all the experiences. I finally got to play for a winner. It was just an unbelievable experience. A lot of things going through my head.”
There’s a sense of relief after all of the rumors surrounding him. Manny Machado and Zach Britton are gone and Adam Jones seems intent on staying. Brach was next in line to be dealt.
“I’m glad that this waiting period is done and I know I’m going somewhere,” he said. “Or if I was going to stay here, that’s fine. But like I said, it’s nice that the 31st is closed and I knew where I’m going, where I’m going to spend the rest of the year, which is definitely a huge burden off my mind.”
Brach turned out to be one of Duquette’s finest acquisitions, coming to the Orioles from the Padres on Nov. 25, 2013 for minor league pitcher Devon Jones. The 42nd-round draft pick grew into an All-Star reliever in 2016.
“I have to tell you, when we acquired Brad Brach from the Padres and we picked him up for a minor league pitcher, we liked his stuff,” Duquette said. “Then he came to the ballclub and came up with a split-fingered pitch, which he perfected, which gave him a third pitch. He was able to get out righties and lefties. I was looking at his line over his Oriole career and he ended with a 2.99 ERA he had 32 saves over his career with us. He pitched on all of the playoff teams we had, so he was a key part of it.
“He gets to go to a team that is pursuing a pennant race with young players, so he’s a good veteran presence and he will be reunited with people he played with here down in Atlanta to help stabilize their club and accomplish their goals. I want to congratulate Brad personally because he did a terrific job during his time here. I was very proud of the work that he did.”
The reunion in Atlanta includes outfielder Nick Markakis, infielder Ryan Flaherty, and former pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, who are in the front office. Markakis and Brach were teammates in 2014.
“He’s the ultimate professional,” Brach said. “Nick Markakis is an unbelievable teammate. When I was here that one year he’s one of those guys you were always watching his every move and just kind of taking notes and that’s the guy you want to be when you’re at in his career and it’s definitely exciting to get to go and play with him again.
“And Ryan Flaherty’s over there, who was here, and he’s one of my good friends, so it’s nice to go over there and have somebody who’s really familiar in that organization. It’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.”
Brach kept tabs on the teams that could be pursuing him while still trying to focus on the job at hand. He was 1-2 with a 4.85 ERA and 1.769 WHIP in 42 games this season.
“I would sit there and kind of go over the divisions and go over their bullpens and stuff like that and see who needed what and it seems like every contender needed at least somebody, so the list was pretty long,” Brach said. “But I knew Atlanta would probably be a good possibility because of the coaches we had there and some of the connections we had there.”
Brach considered his arrival in Baltimore to be a “rebirth” of his career.
“When I was in San Diego, I was not good in my last year there,” he said. “Looking back and being a long man, then middle guy, then get a chance to go play in the All-Star Game and represent the Orioles was an incredible experience. It was something that I’ll never forget, and just looking at the path that’s happened the last four years, it’s kind of crazy because it almost felt like it was dead and now I have all the opportunity in the world to get a world championship ring and continue my career after that.”
Brach had his locker between Britton and Darren O’Day, who’s out for the season following hamstring surgery. They became close friends over the years.
“To be with those two guys for the final years was awesome,” Brach said. “It was an honor to get to be in the same breath as those guys. Darren’s done it forever and Zach obviously was one of the best relievers in the game, so to be in the same breath as those guys was pretty awesome. And the baseball side is one thing, but just the relationships we developed over the last five seasons has just been awesome and definitely one of those things I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
Asked what he’ll miss the most, Brach replied, “It’s hard to say. The stadium and the fans here are just incredible and I think it’s more so the relationships that you develop and the coaching staff.
“We pretty much have the same group here for five years, so I think that’s going to be the toughest to leave is just all the guys that have been here and have gotten really close to guys you like to call friends.
“Like I said, it’s just weird to think and I don’t think it’ll hit me until maybe tomorrow when I’m in the Atlanta clubhouse or something like that. But it’s just hard to believe it’s come down to this and this is the end.”
Duquette said there were three teams vying for Brach down the stretch before the Orioles accepted the Braves’ offer.
“There are several relievers being traded prior to the trade deadline, so there is a pretty healthy market of relief pitchers,” Duquette said. “There are not a lot of relief pitchers with Brad Brach’s experience and his pitches and ability to strike out hitters.”
The 40-man roster is down to 37 players and there’s an opening on the 25-man roster. The replacement will come from Triple-A Norfolk and Cody Carroll, obtained from the Yankees in the Britton trade, is a possibility.
“We’re working on that,” Duquette said. “We’ll have somebody up on Tuesday. We have some good candidates at Triple-A that could help our ballclub. We have some guys that are throwing the ball pretty well down there.”
Duquette repeated that he expects Jones to stay with the Orioles past Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline, again noting how the center fielder holds 10-5 rights. They’d like to move him, with the Phillies believed to be the frontrunner and the Indians also involved, but haven’t received his approval.
“As far as the club’s concerned, we would expect that Adam would be with us after the trade deadline,” Duquette said.
“Adam would need to consent to wherever the club would trade him. After the trade deadline, you need a waiver or the permission of the other clubs to trade him, so there would be a period of time where the club would have to request the waivers, and if Adam got through waivers (and) no club claimed him, it’s conceivable the club could assign the contract, but only with Adam’s consent.”
The Orioles seem poised to select outfielder Cedric Mullins’ contract from Norfolk and could move Jones to right field if he follows through on his desire to stay in the organization.
Jones stood at his locker and danced around the subject of a trade, twice saying “We shall see” when asked whether he might have played his last game with the Orioles or if he expressed a desire to stay.
Would getting past the deadline provide a sense of relief?
“Doesn’t matter to me,” he replied.
Jones can become a free agent after the season and while the Orioles have considered re-signing him over the winter, a full-blown rebuild and his refusal to accept a trade before Tuesday might alter those plans.
Duquette wasn’t closing any doors, but he also didn’t put out a welcome mat.
“I think the club is in the rebuild mode and we’re going to be taking a look at some younger ballplayers going forward,” Duquette said. “We’ve made that clear. That’s the intent of the club and that’s the direction we’re going to go in.”
Pressed on whether Jones could be back next season, Duquette said, “His contract is up. I don’t whether Adam will be here or not, but the club is going in the direction of younger ballplayers, I can tell you that.”
Duquette rose from his chair, said his goodbyes to the media and left the auxiliary clubhouse. No more trades will be consummated tonight.
“There’ll be some other opportunities for us,” Duquette said. “The club has established a clear direction, right? We’ve traded veteran players for younger players, and we’re going to, with the support of ownership, rebuild the roster and we’re going to sign some international players, OK? We’re going to sign some this week, and that will be the start of it.”
Brach is leaving a team on a three-game winning streak.
Dylan Bundy surrendered three solo home runs but only four hits over seven innings.
“It’s frustrating for Dylan because he doesn’t want to be giving up anything,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I’ve talked to him about it. You go back and look at every one of them, it’s a mistake. But there’s something to be said for them being solo, especially in this ballpark, the way the ball was flying out of here today.”
Jones had three singles and a walk to raise his average to .285.
“There’s always a lot going on with Adam in a good way,” Showalter said. “He’s so mentally strong. There have been a lot of challenges thrown at him. A lot like Manny, he kind of feeds off it. He doesn’t want to feel too comfortable. He likes that edge.”
He’s expected to bring it to the Bronx on Tuesday and through the rest of the road trip.