The Orioles aren’t waiting until next week’s Winter Meetings to get busy in the trade market.
Two days after sending infielder Jonathan Villar to the Marlins rather than non-tendering him, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias dealt starting pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Angels for four minor league pitchers.
Elias obtained right-handers Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich in exchange for Bundy, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and one of the few remaining faces of a franchise undergoing an extreme makeover.
Trade interest in Bundy was heavy and having two more years of team control sweetened the return. Elias said in a conference call that talks with the Angels and several other clubs were held “for weeks” and the fit and package of players received from Los Angeles made today’s deal possible.
“That said, it’s a bittersweet thing, parting with Dylan,” Elias said. “He’s been in this organization since he was drafted in 2011, been nine years with the Orioles. He’s done a lot for the Orioles. He has laid it all on the line at all times for the Orioles and has always taken the ball and this dates well back beyond my short time here, but everything I’ve heard leading into that and his history and the respect that teams around the league have for him. And we’re going to miss him and we have a hole in our rotation to fill.
“But as we’ve been doing with every move and every decision we’re making, we are eyeing the long-term benefit of the club and for us to get four pitchers back whom we view as real prospects was too good to pass up.”
Bundy earned $2.8 million this year and MLBTradeRumors.com projected his salary at $5.7 million in 2020. He came into the offseason as one of the club’s more attractive chips, especially with the reluctance to part with outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini.
Elias said the trade represents “a big step toward our stated goals to accumulate and develop as much young talent as possible as the club rebuilds its roster and gets our talent level back to the level needed for consistent playoff contention.”
To make it happen meant placing more emphasis on stockpiling younger talent in the system than holding onto a pitcher with two more years of team control, and not worrying about the hole punched into an already flimsy rotation.
“We’re thin to begin with and we’re taking one of the stalwarts out of our rotation, just as we did last year with (Andrew) Cashner,” Elias said, “but to get where we need to go these are the types of moves, the types of decisions, that we have to make right now.
“The tough spot that we’re in, we’ve got a long climb ahead of us. That’s why we were brought here, to lead this effort. All the people that we’ve brought in - scouting and player development, the coaching staff - we’ve all got our eyes on a bigger goal. And in order to get there we’re going to need to bring in as much young talent into the farm system as we possibly can and sometimes you have to give up good quality off your major league roster to do that. And Dylan is exactly that.
“It’s something I would say I felt a little more educated as to the market with Dylan and the teams that are most interested in Dylan given the fact that this is now the third trading window since I’ve been here, coming in a year ago and then the deadline last year and then now.”
Bundy is 38-45 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.330 WHIP in parts of five major league seasons. He debuted as a reliever in 2012 and underwent Tommy John surgery the following year.
More reliant on a four-pitch mix as his fastball velocity decreased, Bundy was 7-14 with a 4.79 ERA and 1.355 WHIP this summer in 30 starts. He struck out 162 batters in 161 2/3 innings.
Durability concerns faded as Bundy made 28 starts or more in the past three seasons. But he never reached the ceiling he brought with him out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma.
The Orioles had the option of holding onto Bundy and gambling that his value would increase over the summer, perhaps enabling Elias to acquire higher-ranked prospects if the right-hander’s new approach - which also led to a decrease in home runs allowed in the second half - improved his statistics.
Elias wasn’t rolling those dice.
“That’s definitely something you think about all the time with any player,” he said. “It’s not easy to know when is the best time to pull the trigger on a trade, so what we do is we try to set a value the best we can. As you learn more about the actual market that exists with the other 29 teams you may adjust that value in one direction or another over time, but you set it and when you feel like you’re getting it, when you feel like the starting pitching market in this case is working in your favor, you go ahead and do it.
“Even if a pitcher has a great first half, sometimes they can pull a hamstring three days before the trade deadline. So there’s certainly risks to relying on that at any time. When you feel like you have a deal that you would do, you tend to do it.”
Mattson is the oldest player coming to the Orioles at 24. The 19th-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Pittsburgh made a combined 37 relief appearances between Single-A-Inland Empire, Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake, and went 6-3 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.009 WHIP while averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Orioles were able to scout Mattson in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed two earned runs and struck out 12 in 10 2/3 innings.
Bradish, 23, is the highest ranked prospect at No. 21, according to MLBPipeline.com. He made 24 appearances (18 starts) for Inland Empire this season and was 6-7 with a 4.28 ERA, a 1.416 WHIP and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The fourth-rounder in 2018 out of New Mexico State was named a California League Mid-Season All-Star.
“Bradish, in particular, is somebody that I have liked dating back to the 2018 draft,” Elias said. “He went out and straight into the Cal League, which is a nasty place to pitch, and pitched over 100 innings, struck out over 120 hitters coming from a small conference, the WAC conference at New Mexico State. And he was one of the better pitchers in the California League last year over a very long body of work.
“He’s got a very unique delivery which can create some very strong opinions about him one way or the other, but he’s got four real pitches, all of which will show above-average at times, and he strikes out a lot of hitters. There’s a lot of things to like there.”
Brnovich, 22, was an eighth-round selection in 2019 out of Elon (N.C.) University. MLBPipeline.com ranked him as the 185th overall draft prospect after he finished with 360 career strikeouts to rank second all-time in the Colonial Athletic Association. He trailed only Justin Verlander of Old Dominion University, who struck out 427 from 2002-04.
Brnovich also pitched for Team USA on its 2018 Collegiate National Team.
Peek, 21, was a sixth-round selection in 2019 out of Winthrop University in South Carolina. He ranked as the No. 178 overall draft prospect by MLBPipeline.com and led the Big South Conference in strikeouts in 2018 and 2019.
Peek was chosen second team All-Conference as a junior in 2019, received All-Big South Honorable Mention honors as a sophomore and was named the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2017 by Perfect Game USA in 2017.
“We really like this package,” Elias said. “We felt it was a worthy return for Dylan Bundy and we view him highly, so that says something. And just felt that it was the right move for the organization at this time.
“Brnovich and Peek are guys that we had talked about, focused on in this year’s draft. I would say Mattson was the one with whom I was the least familiar, but you look at his numbers, he’s been really dominant across the minor leagues and especially lately just dominant wherever you send him, including the Arizona Fall League.
“We feel that he might be somebody that we can see up here to help our team next year.”
Elias explained a scouting process that led to today’s news.
“I personally was more familiar with them than usual,” he said. “In terms of the scouting we did in this trade, it represented a fun cooperation between the pro scouting department led by Mike Snyder and Brad Ciolek and the amateur group. Because we were taking some recent draftees, most of our knowledge based on them is based on their college body of work, especially the two guys that the Angels shut down right after drafting.”
Does trading Villar and Bundy this week increase or decrease the chances of the team also moving Mancini and reliever Mychal Givens?
“I do think there are different ways of looking at that,” Elias replied.
“In one sense, we are in a mode of trading from major league roster, adding to our minor league compilation, adding to our minor league depth, raising our farm system up, and once you start doing that, it does make sense to continue down that path. But we’re not going to alter what we feel are the appropriate levels of return that we might seek for any players remaining on our major league roster. Especially those that are under longer-term commitments with us, whether it be through arbitration or players that are under contract. So we will be careful to seek the right return if we move anyone else, but there’s certainly no guarantee that we’ll be moving anyone else.”
Surrendering Bundy increases the need for starting pitching, with John Means and Alex Cobb, assuming he reports to camp in good health, the only certainties for the rotation. Asher Wojciechowski’s chances of staying in it increased today.
Replacements will come from two different areas based on the time of the season.
“I think that ultimately we may see many of those rotation spots hopefully inhabited by guys who are already in the organization, that were either in Triple-A last year or are going to be in Triple-A for the first time,” Elias said.
“I think we’re having some pitchers starting to knock on the door to the big leagues that we view as starting pitcher prospects in our system, but we don’t want to rush them and we also don’t know if and when they’re going to be ready, so we do plan on supplementing our core of starting pitcher candidates outside the organization this winter. Whether it’s major league free agency or minor league free agency, I think we’re going to be bringing in some competition for the rotation so that we’re not in a situation where we’re having to do something to one of our prospects that’s not best for his development.”
The 40-man roster is down to 37 players and it shed two popular and important components this week. Another tough sell for fans who want to watch a more competitive team in 2020.
“I want to see a playoff team at Camden Yards and we want to see a playoff team at Camden Yards and there’s only one way to get there given where we’re at, where we’re starting from,” Elias said. “We all know the strategy, the process. This is not easy, it’s not something we want to happen again, but coming into the organization late 2018 with the roster construction what it was, where the talent base was in the organization, where we were in the standings, this was the only path.
“I don’t want to have to see a selloff process again. This is something we want to get through, build our organization and our base and maintain a high quality, competitive franchise, even in the American League East, and we feel it can be done. We see franchises around the league that pull it off and we want to build that here and this is part of the road to getting there.”
A road that’s less populated leading to the gates at Camden Yards.
Attendance is down and these trades won’t have fans rushing to the ticket windows.
“I hope that’s not the case, but with the goal of trying to get the team back to the playoffs, we’ve got a laser focus on that and we’re going to do what we feel is necessary to get this team to a point where we can fill the stadium on a consistent basis,” Elias said.
“Like I’ve said, it’s going to take some work. We’ve got our sleeves rolled up. There’s going to be some more difficult decisions on the way, some more tough times, but overall the organization is improving and the level of talent up and down the organization is improving and I think that this will have been worth it and it will put our team and our fan base in a better long-term setting once we get to where we need to go with the talent on the roster.
“That’s what we’re focused on and I think this was a big step.”