The fans of Birdland got jostled a bit for the second time in several days — almost like mild turbulence on an airplane — as the ballclub they root for decided to take a couple steps backward this coming season in order to better position the club for the long climb back to respectability.
First, infielder Jonathan Villar, who was about to be non-tendered by the Orioles due to a possible $10-plus million arbitration price tag, was dealt to the Miami Marlins shortly before the non-tender deadline Dec. 2. Villar brought back young lefty Easton Lucas.
Then around 4 p.m. Dec. 4, the big shoe dropped. Right-hander Dylan Bundy was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for four right-handed pitching prospects: 24 year-old Isacc Mattson, 23-year-old Kyle Bradish, 22-year-old Kyle Brnovich and 21-year-old Zach Peek.
Neither Peek nor Brnovich, both of whom were taken in the 2019 MLB Draft, pitched professionally last year after signing. Peek was a sixth-round pick out of Winthrop, while Brnovich was an eighth-round selection out of Elon.
Mattson, who will turn 25 in July, has pitched professionally since 2017. He pitched in three levels of the minors in 2019, going all the way from High-A Inland Empire to Triple-A Salt Lake. Mattson made 37 relief appearances (73.1 innings), striking out 110 batters and walking just 27. He allowed four homers and posted a 2.33 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Opponents batted just .184 against Mattson in 2019. More than likely, he’ll start the 2020 season at Norfolk.
Bradish was the Angels’ 21st-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com. He went 6-7 with a 4.28 ERA throughout 101 innings at Inland Empire in 2019. He struck out 120 batters and walked 53 with a 1.42 WHIP. Opponents batted .235 against Bradish.
In his conference call with reporters Dec. 4, O’s GM Mike Elias noted it was tough to say goodbye to Bundy, who had been in the O’s organization since the club drafted him No. 4 overall in the first round of the 2011 draft.
It wasn’t an easy climb for Bundy, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and then suffered myriad other injuries before making the club out of spring training in 2016. During those first two full seasons in orange and black, Bundy was a combined 23-15. But once the club bottomed out in 2018 and 2019, Bundy fell to 15-30. From 2016-2019, Bundy was a combined 38-45 with a 4.69 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.
Perhaps playing in a bigger stadium and with plus defenders up the middle like shortstop Andrelton Simmons and center fielder Mike Trout will help Bundy. But imagining some sort of Jake Arrieta-like turnaround at this point looks to be at best wishful thinking on the part of the Angels.
For his part, Elias has now turned Villar, Bundy and right-hander Andrew Cashner into five pitching prospects, infielder Noelberth Romero and outfielder Elio Prado. Romero and Prado, both 18, were acquired from the Boston Red Sox for Cashner last summer.
Elias shed some light on the group of prospects in the Bundy deal, saying he was very familiar with them from his work in previous drafts with the Houston Astros and the Orioles. He also repeated the rationale for these deals.
“In one sense, we are in a mode of trading from the 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,” Elias said. “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.”
While it still seems unlikely the club will deal first baseman-outfielder Trey Mancini, it isn’t at all that hard to imagine right-handed reliever Mychal Givens (with his projected $3.2 million arbitration price tag) has seen his last days as an Oriole. The Philadelphia Phillies are one team with some familiarity with Givens, and he’d certainly be a nice upgrade to their bullpen. But others will want in on Givens as well.
Look, it’s understandable the fan base that wanted and understood the necessity of a huge rebuild is jittery with the notion of taking these steps backward. It kind of takes the sweetness out of the old axiom, “Hope Springs Eternal.”
At the outset, I compared these decisions to some minor turbulence on an airplane flight. That’s what this is. If Captain Elias’ plan is spot on, everyone in Birdland will be very happy with the smooth landing in a place called Relevance.
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