The Orioles chose to walk off the field after last night’s 5-4 win and leave their roster alone. They didn’t execute a post-midnight trade and spring a Zoom conference call on an unsuspecting media.
Digesting a Richard Bleier trade requires multiple stomachs. Only cows got it right away.
My surface reaction went something like this: “What?”
Bleier was a trade chip for sure and July 31 made sense in a normal season, but not necessarily in 2020 after six games. A team in desperate need of trustworthy relievers just dealt one for a player to be named later and left the bullpen with only two southpaws.
The leader of the group is gone. And a PTBNL doesn’t elicit much excitement, the letters lowering expectations on the return. They always feel like a synonym for “giveaway.” And despite his age (33), Bleier figured to bring back more - whether from a contender or a team desperate to fill its roster while more than half of it has tested positive for COVID-19.
Before you judge Bleier on his brutal 2019 season because what’s fresh in one’s mind usually leads the conversation, the man posted ERAs below 2.00 for three consecutive seasons and should get a mulligan based on his lat surgery and a shoulder injury.
He tossed three scoreless innings this year with one hit allowed and no walks. His preparation for baseball’s return, the games arranged with major league players near his West Palm Beach home, gave him an edge.
My other initial reaction beyond wondering how many readers would notice a trade story posted after 1 a.m. was how the Orioles could find a pretty decent player from the Marlins’ pool. Except that a PTBNL can be sought after the truncated season and widen the choices.
The Orioles obtained two Dominican Summer League outfielders from the Red Sox last summer in exchange for veteran pitcher Andrew Cashner. Increasing depth at the lower levels of the system is a lot harder under 2020 restrictions.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has gained some flexibility that’s been lost this season.
Sure, he could have gambled that the market for Bleier would expand closer to the new trade deadline, but reading it now is like having me stare at the tea leaves that settled at the bottom of a cup.
“It’s tough,” Elias said. “That’s kind of the job, I guess. There can be good moments that pass. We’ll never know. And you’ve got to like the return and set the mark where you think it belongs, and when that mark is hit you usually make the move.”
Elias can try to unload more players who don’t fit the future of a rebuilding club, but we’re back to reading the tea leaves.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen with the trade market,” he said. “This came together. The Velázquez trade with Houston kind of came out of nowhere. I just don’t know what to expect this year. I don’t think anyone does. We’re just going to keep taking to everybody and remain communicative and see what’s out there, but if ever there was a trade market that was impossible to predict, I think we’ve found it.”
Elias used the same PTBNL method in the Velazquez trade, but that’s where the similarities really end.
We never really knew Velazquez, who didn’t pitch for the Orioles after arriving less than a week before the shutdown. Bleier was one of the most popular guys in the clubhouse, among teammates and the local media.
At the risk of triggering the “who cares?” crowd, Bleier will be remembered as one of the nicest and most accommodating and enjoyable Orioles in franchise history. A guy you sought out - or he’d seek you - during the days of pregame media clubhouse access. Always at his best during casual conversations rather than formal interviews, and sneaky funny.
I contacted Bleier during the shutdown and requested a comment after he arranged for lunch to be catered to the emergency room staff at Wellington Regional Medical Center in South Florida. Just for a notebook item. And I stressed that he could shoot me a text message rather than be bothered with a phone call.
“I’ve got nothing but time,” he wrote back, “if you wanted to talk.”
A typical gesture from Bleier, who really did enjoy interacting with the beat crew rather than treating it like an obligation or inconvenience. Such as the time during summer training camp when he peeked over the fence separating the player and press entrances to greet us, check on our health and joke about some of the hairstyles that developed over the shutdown period.
I joined the beat full-time in 1997 and there hasn’t been a better guy inside the clubhouse than Richard Bleier.
He’s going to be missed for more than his work out of the bullpen.