BALTIMORE — The Orioles bolstered their bullpen at the trade deadline with the acquisition of relief pitcher Andrew Miller from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.
The trade appears to have improved Baltimore’s chances of winning the American League East, but a look ahead to October and the blockbuster deals pulled off by the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers created a more sobering tone as the deadline passed on Thursday afternoon. Make no mistake, the Orioles are better with the acquisition of one of the best lefty relievers in baseball, but Oakland landing Boston ace Jon Lester and Detroit securing 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price certainly hurt Baltimore’s chances of winning the pennant should they advance to the postseason.
The Orioles may have improved, but the Athletic and Tigers took colossal leaps in their quest to advance to the World Series. But it’s a reality in which manager Buck Showalter and his club can’t dwell with only a 2 1/2 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays entering Thursday’s series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I’m not sure we had the wherewithal to land a top starter,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who indicated teams kept bringing up 23-year-old Kevin Gausman in trade talks. “We have some other really attractive players, but some of them are helping our current club, right?
“You just have to weigh what you can do to strengthen your ball club, and I thought adding Miller really strengthens our club, particularly when we have a lead. And it allows some of those other relievers to come into the game and pitch earlier. It shortens up the game a little bit when you have relievers who can get out both righties and lefties. This kid has been dominant against both.”
Right or wrong, the Orioles remained steadfast in not dealing any of their top young pitchers with Gausman currently in the major league rotation and 21-year-old Dylan Bundy working his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery. The recent elbow injury to 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey certainly didn’t make the Orioles any more eager to deal one of their few top pieces.
And there’s no telling how absurd the asking price might have still been to try to acquire Lester or Price from an AL East rival — even if the Orioles were willing to deal one of their young pitchers.
Miller posted a 2.34 ERA in 50 appearances spanning 42 1/3 innings for the Red Sox this season. He has held right-handed bats to a .180 average and lefties to a .150 clip. The 29-year-old is averaging 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which is also significant considering the Orioles rank 14th in the American League in strikeouts this season.
It remains to be seen who will be sent out to make room for Miller in the current bullpen as right-hander Brad Brach and left-hander T.J. McFarland would be the logical possibilities since they both have minor-league options.
“He’s just another good piece,” said Showalter, who added that Miller is expected to be in uniform and available to pitch in Friday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners. “He goes with some other good pieces down there. He gives us more depth down there [to] keep passing the load around. I think he’s a little more than just a left-handed arm. You look at left-handed relievers, the ideal ones are the guys that you’ve got left-right-left and you can leave them in there for the [right-handed hitter].”
Miller is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, making the price of giving up Rodriguez a costly one as the Venezuelan lefty was viewed as the organization’s fourth-best pitching prospect entering the 2014 season. Slowed by a knee injury earlier this season, the 21-year-old Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Bowie this season.
Duquette acknowledged a preference not to give up Rodriguez in the trade for Miller that was in the works over the last couple weeks before picking up steam in recent days.
“It wasn’t our first choice to trade him. The kid has talent and he has youth, but again, our team is in the race,” Duquette said. “We want to continue what we started, and we needed to add to our club to be competitive with the other clubs — not just in our division, but the other clubs in the American League in the playoff situation.”
Of course, that argument suffers when witnessing what else transpired around the league.
Miller’s career follows a similar narrative to that of current Orioles reliever Brian Matusz in that he’s a former first-round draft pick to have failed as a starter in the major leagues before settling into a bullpen role. However, he is an imposing option against hitters on either side of the plate while Matusz continues to struggle against right-handed hitters this season, a major factor that prompted the Orioles to make the move.
Duquette said the Orioles would still consider making some offensive upgrades to their lineup but made a point to praise the current combination of pitching and defense to go with the club’s power. Players must now pass through waivers in order to be traded, but a number of key moves have been made in that capacity around baseball over the last few years.
“We’ve got some hitters at Triple A that are swinging the bats pretty well,” Duquette said. “We picked up (Jimmy) Paredes, Dariel Alvarez is doing a good job at Triple A, and there will be some other opportunities for some bats through the waiver process. There won’t be much going on now because everybody needs waivers to get traded, so that won’t happen right away. But some time in the next couple of weeks there will be some opportunities for us to address those needs.”
The Orioles certainly took a step forward in their division on Thursday, but Oakland and Detroit may have lapped them in the race for the Fall Classic. And even if Duquette made the right call in keeping his young pitching, there’s no changing that possibility.