SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles, just days before Opening Day and on the same evening manager Brandon Hyde spoke about uncertainty with the back end of his bullpen, are now going to have to remake it.
But in taking on such a challenge, they hope they’ve continued to enhance their top-rated farm system.
Baltimore on Sunday night traded left-hander Tanner Scott and right-hander Cole Sulser -- a pair of relievers expected to get save opportunities this season and with multiple years left under team control -- to the Marlins in exchange for a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick, two prospects and a player to be named later.
Heading to the O’s are left-hander Antonio Velez and outfielder Kevin Guerrero, neither of whom are within the Marlins’ Top 30 Prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline. It’s not clear the type or caliber of player the Orioles will later get to complete the deal. The Competitive Balance B Draft pick is currently slated to be 67th overall, which will give the Orioles five selections within the first 75 picks this coming July.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias remained firm in his tenor that when the Orioles see a move to improve the viability of long-term competitiveness, they will strike. Moving on from two well-liked, high-leverage relievers with multiple years of control remaining was worth the return.
“We have some interesting relief pitchers, and the last several seasons when we found trades that we feel like made sense for the overall health and long-term success of the organization, we do them. That's the mode that we've been in since we've been here,” Elias said. “ … Obviously, in the short term, it’s going to create some holes in our bullpen right now that we're still sorting out. This has been a hectic camp from a number of different angles, and this will make that even more so.”
The trade also clears two spots on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, which is essential for adding players to the big league club ahead of Opening Day. The roster now sits at 38.
Velez, 25, compiled a 2.55 ERA in 23 games (14 starts) across High-A and Double-A in 2021, his first professional season after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Florida State in 2020, a Draft year with just five rounds. Guerrero, meanwhile, is just 17 years old, part of the Marlins’ 2021 international signing class. He slashed .260/.373/.298 with 13 stolen bases across 40 games in the Dominican Summer League last year.
But Elias pointed to the Draft pick as the most “salient” component of the swap.
“Anything's possible with a high Draft pick,” Elias said. “I like to think that we have a methodology and track record of drafting pretty well. To get that opportunity right at the end of the second round, it's a big deal. ... And so that's, to me, a nice return to get in a trade.”
In order to add hoped-for talent to the farm system, ranked by MLB Pipeline recently as the best in baseball, the Orioles parted with a pair of pitchers who figured to lead their back-end innings in 2022. Scott, 27, is an advanced analytics darling, with a fastball that can spot up to 100 mph and the makings of a lethal closer. But he has struggled with command, finishing among the worst in qualified relievers last year with a 14.7 percent walk rate. He is under team control for three more years, through the 2024 season.
Sulser, despite bullpen uncertainty, was slated to serve as the O’s de facto closer, though no label had yet been awarded. It was a role he took on in 2021, converting eight saves in 11 chances, and he has been lauded for his aptitude against both handedness of batters. At 32 years old, he is under team control through 2025.
Both relievers turned in middling results this spring. Their impact will extend far beyond the holes in the bullpen.
“Obviously very excited for him. That's my best friend, so it's going to be a different dynamic,” said reliever Paul Fry, fighting back tears reflecting on Scott, who he’s known since the 2015 Arizona Fall League. “... That's Uncle Tanner to my son.”
Fry is among a small group of arms now slated to get looks in the late innings. He will be joined by Dillon Tate, who has turned in an electric spring, and Jorge López, among other bullpen candidates. And other opportunities align for Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer, Mike Baumann, Keegan Akin and others.
“We're still really counting on this group,” Elias said. “Some of those guys need to step up. I mean, that's why we're struggling right now, is because we haven't gotten a real cemented breakout from one of those guys, and we still have high hopes for them and want some of those guys to click this year, because it's going be tough if they don't. We're going to have to move on to other people.”