The return of reliever Darren O’Day to Camden Yards this week brings back memories of the July 31, 2018 trade that really emphasized the degree of the Orioles’ roster teardown. How it was happening at a feverish pace.
More so due to the pitcher who accompanied O’Day to Atlanta - 27-year-old starter Kevin Gausman, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of LSU.
Manny Machado had been traded to the Dodgers two weeks earlier. Closer Zack Britton was dealt to the Yankees, back when he was Zach Britton. Reliever Brad Brach arrived in Atlanta a few days before Gausman and O’Day. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was traded to the Brewers on the same day that Gausman and O’Day went to the Braves.
The Orioles moved O’Day’s remaining salary for 2018 and the $9 million owed in 2019, while the right-hander was on the disabled list with a torn hamstring. The ultimate in salary dumps.
Gausman was the prize, of course, and the Orioles weren’t influenced by pending free agency. He was under team control beyond 2019, leading to the argument that they could have gotten a bigger return if they had waited.
Then again, Gausman was earning $5.6 million and had two more years of arbitration eligibility. Teams in a rebuild don’t want a guy like Gausman on their payroll.
O’Day didn’t pitch for the Braves until Sept. 7, 2019 and he was a surprise re-signing over the winter. It turned out to be a wise move, with O’Day sporting a 0.69 ERA and 0.846 WHIP in 15 appearances. He’s averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Orioles would have traded him again if given the chance. To a team exactly like the Braves.
Gausman was quite good for the Braves in 2018 but he couldn’t sustain it, registering a 6.19 ERA and 1.488 WHIP in 16 starts and hurting the Baltimore fan’s narrative that every pitching prospect blossoms after leaving the team. The Reds claimed him off waivers on Aug. 5, 2019 and put him in the bullpen, and the Giants signed him as a free agent four months later.
Given a $9 million contract, Gausman is 3-2 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.136 WHIP in nine games (eight starts). He’s struck out 62 batters in 46 2/3 innings.
Does that count as blossoming after leaving Baltimore?
The trade between the Orioles and Braves can’t be fully graded until we know what happens with left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, reliever Evan Phillips, infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion and catcher Brett Cumberland.
Only Phillips has been in the majors and he’s riding the shuttle - first to Triple-A Norfolk and now the alternate camp site in Bowie. He’s appeared in 11 games this year and allowed five runs and 11 hits with eight walks and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Zimmermann, the Baltimore native, is working out at the secondary site and could join the rotation next season. He moved up to Norfolk last summer after going 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.204 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings at Double-A Bowie. He’s a legitimate prospect in the organization, ranked 19th by Baseball America.
The Orioles left Cumberland, a 25-year-old switch-hitter, exposed in the Rule 5 draft and he stayed in the organization after slashing .248/.395/.408 in 41 games with Bowie. If he remains behind the plate, his only shot at the majors is working in a backup role to Adley Rutschman. And he’d have to leapfrog Chance Sisco.
Encarnacion is only 22 and stalled at the low Single-A level with the minor league season canceled. He appeared in 120 games with Delmarva last summer and batted .240/.293/.356 with 19 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 50 RBIs in 485 plate appearances. He committed 21 errors in 87 games at third base and registered a .907 fielding percentage.
The Orioles also received $2.5 million from the Braves in international bonus slot money.
Only Encarnacion (14th) and Cumberland (30th) were ranked among the top Braves prospects by MLBPipeline.com. It’s a nice commentary on the improvement in the Orioles’ system that the duo doesn’t appear in it.
We’ll never know whether former executive Dan Duquette could have received more for Gausman if he checked the market again in the offseason or at the next deadline, but he followed the directive to cut payroll and might have found a piece for the rotation that fits nicely behind Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer.
Zimmermann might have made his debut this summer if not for the shutdown. He impressed manager Brandon Hyde and the staff in spring training.
The general managers meetings, scheduled for Nov. 9-12 in Arizona, will be held remotely this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Winter Meetings remain scheduled for December in Dallas but also could be done via Zoom.