The news cycle and information moved fast around the Baltimore Orioles on Friday and into the first hour of Saturday morning. First they got Chris Davis back and he was indeed COVID-19-free. Then we found out that, at least for now, right-hander Kohl Stewart was opting out of the season. On the field, after a rain delay of nearly an hour and a game that took three hours and 36 minutes, the Orioles had beaten Tampa Bay. Their bullpen was stellar. They regroup after Thursday’s brutal loss.
But the headline-grabber would come in an announcement at 12:45 a.m. today. Lefty reliever Richard Bleier, a key member of the O’s bullpen since 2017, had been traded to the Miami Marlins for a player to be named later. Bleier has been one of the Orioles’ best pitchers in the bullpen, and he was also one of the club’s team leaders.
He will be missed for many reasons. We can’t begin to judge the deal until we find out which player or players the Orioles get in return. Will it be a solid prospect or a package of young talent?
Bleier has some value. A track record that shows an ERA of 1.97 between 2016 and 2018, and he also has two years left of team control after this one. He will not be a free until after the 2022 season.
In acquiring a player to be named later, did the O’s get around the rule that you can’t trade anyone not on your 60-man player pool? Perhaps they did. Maybe after this season is over, and only then, we’ll find out they added some young talent they like a lot for a 33-year-old reliever.
Bleier had to battle his way back to health and regain his previous form after his lat surgery of June 2018 and some shoulder issues early last year. But in the second half of 2019 he posted a 3.68 ERA, and in September it was 2.93. In two games this year he has looked very much like his old self, throwing three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
The Marlins got a good one and the Orioles lost a talented pitcher and high-character team leader. Did the O’s get a good return? We don’t know anything about that today. We’ll learn more later.
Here are two stories that tell a bit about Bleier and his impact in the Baltimore clubhouse. He has a great friendship with Mychal Givens and they ride each other constantly. They bicker like brothers. I wrote about that in this story this year at spring training. During the first half of the 2019 season the entire O’s organization, including the players, made a big push to get Trey Mancini voted in as an All-Star. Bleier and Givens were behind that push and I wrote about that with this story last June.
Meanwhile, oh by the way, the Orioles won last night. Their bullpen was outstanding and one night after blowing the save, Cole Sulser pitched a 1-2-3 ninth on 13 pitches in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay. It was an impressive ‘pen performance as five hurlers combined to allow just one run in five innings with nine strikeouts.
The Orioles got homers from Anthony Santander, who drove in three, along with Pedro Severino and Hanser Alberto. Santander now has seven RBIs and Alberto is now batting .440. The O’s are 3-3 heading into the second game of the series tonight at Camden Yards.
Is the season in jeopardy?: The Miami Marlins, who have not played since last Sunday, are certainly looking like the bad guys here. Baseball has a developing COVID-19 problem and one that seems to have originated with the Marlins.
Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and Turner Sports tweeted this yesterday:
“#MLB internal investigation found the #Marlins were very lapse in following protocols during Atlanta trip last weekend, players going out, players in hotel bar, etc. Lots of MLB people very unhappy with Miami.”
We should point out that nothing has been announced from Major League Baseball, but the suggestion is clearly there that Marlins players didn’t observe all protocols and the Atlanta series was an exhibition. Were their players making terrible decisions - decisions that greatly impact the sport and other players - even before a regular season game was played?
MLB announced these test results yesterday: The number of monitoring samples collected and tested in the past week was 11,895. And the report stated that 29 of these 11,895 samples, or 0.2 percent, have been new positives. Of the 29, 20 positives were players and nine were staff members. The report stated 21 of the 29 positives were from a single club (obviously Miami) and the remaining 29 teams had eight positives (two players, one alternate-site player, and five staff).
So that is 20 players with positive tests and all but two with the Marlins. Just 29 positives and only 21 players for the entire league in the last week.
On Tuesday night I asked the O’s Davis how he would feel if he found out that Marlins players did not observe protocols?
“You know, we’d be discouraged,” said Davis. “But at the same time, we’re putting a lot of faith and a lot of trust in guys to do the right thing, and that’s not just with our club. That’s league-wide. And I think that responsibility was assumed by every team once we hammered out the protocols and figured out how it would look like to go to the park on a daily basis.
“I think players assume that responsibility on their own, and I hope that guys would be doing all they can and taking all the precautions. And going to extremes to protect themselves. I think it’s just going to be disappointing if we find out guys weren’t following those guidelines. At the end of the day, you can only control what you can control. For me, my responsibility is the other 29 guys in that clubhouse. To make sure that they know what they need to do, how they need to go about their business. And I’ve been really proud how our guys have handled themselves so far.”
Davis and several Orioles players have told reporters numerous times how seriously they are taking the protocols. They have talked about how they intend to “police each other” to try to keep the team safe. Davis himself is COVID-19-free after missing two games on Wednesday and Thursday. He was away from the club and got tested - at least eight times, he said - in recent days for what turned out to be a sinus issue and not the coronavirus. The O’s had two players test positive during summer camp, but now Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. are back.
There have been 30 games postponed this week due to the virus. Several teams, including the Orioles, were impacted.
In this ESPN article published Friday, commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly told MLB Players Association leader Tony Clark that if the sport doesn’t do a better job managing the virus, it might have to shut down the season. The league has already had to change the schedule. The Orioles were originally slated to host the Yankees starting Monday, but two games of that series were played this week. As of last night, we still don’t know which team the Orioles will play early next week.
Some say baseball is in chaos. Is that so, or is the sport reeling because of the actions of players on one team?