Four days at baseball’s Winter Meetings didn’t cause the Orioles to scrap their plans and edit their shopping list. Nothing really changed since the team’s contingent arrived at the Manchester Grand Hyatt beyond a waiver claim that barely drew notice in the industry and won’t impact the roster on opening day, and two pitching selections in the Rule 5 draft that provide starting options for a rotation lacking in numbers.
While multiple starters and a veteran middle infielder remain the most urgent needs on the club, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias also is attempting to fortify the bullpen. He’s aiming to complete a minor league deal and showed interest in veteran left-hander Fernando Abad, according to industry sources.
The sides spoke on multiple occasions, including the Winter Meetings, but couldn’t reach an agreement and Abad signed with the Nationals. It does, however, offer more evidence that the Orioles also are motivated to increase their relief depth.
If you needed further proof.
Abad turned 34 this week and he’s made only 21 relief appearances in the majors since 2017. He missed the entire 2018 season after signing a minor league contract with the Mets in March and testing positive three months later for the performance-enhancing substance Stanozolol, which led to his release from the club. He pitched in the independent Atlantic League later in the summer and signed a minor league deal with the Giants in February.
The Giants selected Abad’s contract in August and he allowed six runs in 13 innings before again becoming a free agent. He surrendered one run over his last eight appearances.
Left-handers have slashed .234/.283/.378 against Abad in nine major league seasons, which have been spent with six teams, including the Nationals in 2013. Right-handers have slashed .257/.338/.412.
Abad is 8-29 with a 3.67 ERA, 1.285 WHIP and 3.3 WAR in a major league career that began with the Astros from 2010-12. Elias joined the organization in 2011 as director of amateur scouting.
There’s often a link between the front office and targeted players, with the Rule 5 draft another example. Except the Rule 5 process doesn’t include negotiations that might not end in the club’s favor.
Abad’s finest seasons came in 2014 with the Athletics, when he posted a 1.57 ERA and 0.855 WHIP in 69 appearances over 57 1/3 innings, and in 2016 with the Twins, when he registered a 2.65 ERA and 1.206 WHIP in 39 games over 34 innings before being traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Pat Light.
Maybe he wouldn’t have made the club out of spring training. Maybe the contract would have included an opt-out date that he exercised and we’d never see him in the home clubhouse at Camden Yards. But it makes sense to pursue a guy like Abad whose had some success in the majors and makes the Orioles less reliant on young relievers who aren’t ready and let games get out of hand.
Low-risk deals are in their wheelhouse.
The pre-Elias Orioles have a history with Abad despite viewing him only as the opposition.
Abad and Manny Machado were ejected from a June 2014 game at Camden Yards, with the former Orioles infielder growing frustrated by a pair of inside pitches and releasing his bat on a swing that appeared to be aimed at the reliever. Machado later claimed that the bat, which spiraled toward Athletics third baseman Alberto Callaspo, slipped from his hands.
Plate umpire Larry Vanover tossed both players as dugouts and bullpens emptied and he later told a pool reporter: “It was obvious the pitcher threw at him the second time. The first time you have some doubt, but the second time there was no doubt he threw at him. And then he threw the bat. That wasn’t accidental.”
Abad drew interest from multiple teams besides the Orioles, who can promise opportunities in the rebuild that might not exist in other cities. But their spending is limited.
The bullpen on opening day will include Richard Bleier, who reached agreement on a 2020 contract to avoid arbitration. Paul Fry is expected to be a second left-hander and the 40-man roster also includes Tanner Scott, whose blazing fastball and a slider that’s become a weapon are offset by recurring control issues.
“He’s got two vicious pitches in his breaking ball and his fastball that play almost equally well to lefties and righties,” Elias said. “I think he can be like a monster reliever with his stuff, but he’s got to throw more strikes and he did it in Triple-A this year. It seems like he’s got nights when he does it and nights where he can’t find the rhythm. We’ve all seen that this year.
“He hasn’t established his talent level in the way that he’s capable of, but we view him as a part of our bullpen.”
The Orioles claimed Double-A right-hander Marcos Diplán off waivers from the Tigers last week and he stood as the lone transaction in San Diego prior to right-handers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker arriving via the Rule 5 draft.
Elias has been busy trying to address the rotation, middle infield and catching depth, checking on plus defenders in center field who can be obtained on minor league deals and conducting interviews for bullpen coach. The club also is interviewing multiple candidates for strength coach positions, with at least one applicant coming from a local university, and Elias wants to hire more scouts.