I really don’t know what the Orioles just did.
Baltimore acquired right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and cash considerations from the Philadelphia Phillies late Friday night in a deal with multiple moving parts. In exchange for the veteran starter, the Phillies received outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, minor-league lefty Garrett Cleavinger, and international bonus money.
At first glance, the Orioles look like buyers after making this curious trade. Yet the team remains 7 1⁄2 games out of the AL East lead and 6 1⁄2 out of the second Wild Card. Plus, the team hasn’t been trending upward either, having lost their last three in a row and posting just a 6-8 record since the All-Star Break. So what gives?
Well, actually, the Orioles remain sellers. Zach Britton, Brad Brach and other bullpen arms remain on the market for the taking. Then what can justify the move that I’m supposed to be writing about? There appears to be no reason for this trade, which saw the Orioles give up a Top-30 prospect, international bonus money and a Major League fill-in. Baltimore apparently values those pieces at nearly zero, considering Hellickson is a free agent at the end of the year and thus also nearly worthless to the O’s.
Why did the Orioles make this trade? They needed an innings eater to finish out this season. I kid you not, Ken Rosenthal himself reported that the Orioles made this deal to “get through [the] season,” implying that Baltimore thought their rotation was so bad that they could not even play the remainder of their schedule with it, and needed to give up valuable assets simply to finish the season.
Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette practically confirmed this report, via Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports: “Hellickson is a solid dependable veteran Major League starter who knows how to win in the AL, whose skills should provide some quality innings for the Orioles.”
Hellickson was scheduled to start tonight for the Phillies, but he was scratched before game time. Through 20 starts this season, Hellickson has a 4.73 ERA and a 65:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 1⁄3 innings pitched. If he looks mediocre, that’s because he is. His FIP (5.50) and DRA (5.41) numbers don’t help his cause, either. Hellickson is pitching on a one-year, $17.2 million contract this season after he took the Phillies’ qualifying offer last winter.
With all of that said, the Orioles’ rotation has been bad this year. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have limped through the rest of the year. Orioles starters have a 5.90 ERA this year and a 2.2 fWAR, ranking 29th and 28th in MLB, respectively. Dylan Bundy, who has arguably been their ace this season, has a 4.53 ERA. That’s the lowest ERA on the staff, and it will remain that way even after this acquisition.
I don’t get why the Orioles gave away what they did. Let’s break it down anyway.
First, the prospect. Cleavinger wasn’t one of the top arms in the Orioles’ weak system, but the lefty is a former third-round pick with the ability to throw his fastball up to 96 mph. He has a 6.28 ERA in 38 2⁄3 innings at Double-A Bowie this year, but he is averaging over one strikeout per inning, something he has done throughout his professional career. There is absolutely upside here.
Next, the Major Leaguer. The Orioles almost cut Kim after he struggled to produce in his first MLB Spring Training in 2016, and he has never been able to gain regular playing time since. With just 488 plate appearances of MLB experience under his belt, Kim seemed to be a lost cause in Baltimore and could benefit from a change in scenery in Philadelphia. He does have a career .281/.359/.381 line, posting a pretty solid 9.8 percent walk rate in those two seasons. Kim was worth 0.9 fWAR last year, but -0.4 so far in 2017. He has the ability to become a free agent after this season.
Perhaps the most interesting player dealt in this trade wasn’t a player at all. The Phillies were able to squeeze another international bonus spot out of the Orioles, who have now dealt an undisclosed amount of slots out to three teams, including the Brewers and Mets. We don’t know how much money the Phillies will receive, but it will provide them with more flexibility in the ever-important international signing market.
This trade is nothing short of fascinating, as the Orioles acquire an arm to pitch for them down the stretch... in a non-existent pennant race.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.