BALTIMORE -- One by one, the bigger and more recognizable names on the Orioles' roster are headed elsewhere. A year into their rebuild, the roster turnover is kicking into high gear.
The four pitchers coming back to the Orioles are Isaac Mattson, Zach Peek, Kyle Bradish and Kyle Brnovich.
“We think this represents a big step toward our stated goals to accumulate and develop as much young talent as possible as the club rebuilds its roster,” Orioles VP/GM Mike Elias said. “It’s a bittersweet thing parting with Dylan. … We are going to miss him and we have a hole in our rotation to fill, but as with every move we are making, we are eyeing the long-term benefit of the club. To get four pitchers back that we view as real prospects was too good to pass up.”
The highest ranked of the bunch is Bradish, the Halos' No. 21 prospect per MLB Pipeline. The club’s fourth-round pick in 2018, Bradish, 23, is a 6-foot-4 righty who spent '19 at Advanced A Inland Empire, going 6-7 with a 4.28 ERA. He struck out more than 10 batters per inning, but he walked 4.7 per nine in his first season of pro ball. Bradish is seen as a potential back-end starter if he can clean up those command issues.
Peek, 21, and Brnovich, 22, were sixth- and eighth-round picks, respectively, of the Angels this past June. The club shut them down after their college seasons, which is standard in that organization. Both have the chance to be starters.
Mattson, 24, is a former 19th-round pick who transitioned to the bullpen and reached Triple-A Salt Lake in 2019. He also turned heads in the Arizona Fall League, pitching to a 1.69 ERA across seven AFL appearances. All told, Mattson posted a 2.33 cumulative ERA in 37 appearances across three development levels last season, striking out 13.5 batters per nine. He is probably the most big league ready of the group.
As for Bundy, Elias all but confirmed trade rumors that had buzzed since last week when, speaking on Monday, he called Bundy “a popular guy” and “a name that I hear often.” Elias then went on to champion the strides Bundy made during his somewhat bounce-back 2019, when he went 7-14 with a 4.79 ERA over 30 starts. He echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.
"He’s done a lot for the Orioles. He’d laid it out on the line at all times for the Orioles,” Elias said. “To get where we need to go, these are the types of decisions we need to make right now. It’s a tough spot we were in. We have a long climb ahead of us. This is why we were brought in, to lead this effort.”
Elias said the Orioles had worked for weeks to move Bundy, 27,who is under club control for two more years and in line for a raise on the $2.8 million he earned in 2019. He is projected to earn roughly $5.5 million in '20, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
The Orioles cut roughly $15 million in salary by dealing Villar and Bundy this week, bringing their 2020 commitments down to $54 million at the moment. That’s well below their $80 million 2018 Opening Day payroll, and it has a chance to be the lowest in MLB this season. It could drop lower if the Orioles trade Mychal Givens and/or Trey Mancini in the coming weeks, though Elias said it's “no guarantee” that either player is moved. But the Orioles will listen on both at next week’s Winter Meetings.
“I want to see a playoff team at Camden Yards, and there is only one way to get there,” Elias said. “Given where we’re starting from, we all know the strategy, the process. This is not easy or something we want to happen again. But coming into the organization, with the roster construction where it was, this was the only path.”
The fourth overall pick in the 2011 Draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma, Bundy made his Major League debut a year later at age 19. But he didn’t appear again in the Majors until ‘12, after several right arm injuries -- including Tommy John surgery -- stalled his development. Bundy joined the Orioles' rotation for good in July '16. Since then, he went 38-45 with a 4.67 ERA in 103 starts.
No longer armed with an upper-90s fastball, Bundy sought ways to survive with decreased velocity the past two seasons. He threw a career-high 58 percent offspeed pitches in 2019, when he went 7-14 with a 4.79 ERA across 30 starts. Though that translated to roughly league-average production, Bundy’s underlying metrics, home ballpark and team situation -- he pitched in front of the American League’s worst defense and ahead of its worst bullpen -- suggest he has the potential to rebound elsewhere.
Bundy led the O's in starts, innings (161 2/3) and starter strikeouts per nine (9.0), improved his home run rate significantly from 2018 (when he allowed an MLB-high 41), and pitched to an elite hard-hit rate in ‘19, per Statcast. He was worth 2.5 WAR by Fangraphs’ calculations.
The club used 18 starters in 2019. Of the six who remain with the organization, only John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski profile as regular options. Keegan Akin, the club’s No. 11 prospect, is expected to get the chance to win a rotation spot this spring, while No. 8 prospect Dean Kremer could arrive by summer’s end.
The Orioles are expected to target a free-agent starter or two, likely on Minor League deals, to compete for rotation jobs this spring. But at the moment, the Orioles’ remaining depth consists of David Hess, Ty Blach, Tom Eshelman, Chandler Shepherd and Rob Zastryzny.