Orioles trade Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Braves

BALTIMORE — With Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline looming, the Baltimore Orioles surprised everyone by agreeing to trade Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta.

The Orioles received four prospects in return for Gausman and O’Day – Infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion, catcher Brett Cumberland, left-handed pitcher Bruce Zimmermann and right-handed pitcher Evan Phillips. The Braves have one of the most loaded farm systems in baseball and sent two of their top 30 prospects to Baltimore in the deal.

Encarnacion headlines the group as one of the best infielders coming up in the Braves system. He was signed in 2016 at the age of 18 out of the Dominican Republic and has spent the past two years playing rookie ball. In 2018 he was moved to Single-A Rome where he is currently hitting .288 with 10 homers and 57 RBI’s in just under 100 games. His 100 strikeouts are a concern but Encarnacion has shown a lot of potential as a hitter.

Standing at 6’3″, he could grow into a power hitter but for now his ability to make contact is enough to earn him attention. Defensively, Encarnacion has settled into a role at third base after initially playing some shortstop.

Cumberland rounds out the Braves top 30 prospect list as one of a few young catchers in their farm system. As a switch hitter, Cumberland has shown some power from both sides of the plate but often swings and misses. The 23-year-old has spent time at Single-A and Double-A this season where he is hitting just .228 with 90 strikeouts in 87 games. His defense behind the plate is still a work in progress as well.

Outside of these top 30 pickups, the Orioles also acquired two pitching prospects. Zimmermann will likely make more headlines in this deal as a starter, while Phillips continues to develop as a reliever. Zimmermann is a lefty with good strikeout numbers. In 20 starts between Single-A and Double-A, he has a 9-4 record with a 2.96 ERA. His 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings is also a good sign.

Phillips is a right-handed pitcher who started his minor league journey back in 2015. He currently finds himself at the Triple-A level with a 1.99 ERA and eight saves in 40.2 innings of relief. Phillips also made his major league debut with the Braves earlier this season but struggled in his brief appearances.

Throughout the month of July the Orioles front office has been dead set on just trading the players with expiring contracts. Dan Duquette and company stated that the door was also open for offers on players like Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Mychal Givens, but until Tuesday afternoon this just felt like a safe media answer. In addition to the Gausman deal, the O’s ended up trading Schoop to the Brewers.

However, with Adam Jones‘s recent decision to not waive his no-trade clause, the Orioles may have felt more pressure to deal Gausman and Schoop, despite having years left on their contracts, to ensure that their farm system gets the overhaul it desperately needs.

Gausman was selected by the Orioles in the first round of the 2012 draft and made his major league debut a year later. By 2014 he was a consistent member of the starting rotation, earning seven wins in 20 starts. The Orioles had seemingly turned the franchise around after 2012 and Gausman was projected to be their No. 1 pitcher as they became perennial contenders.

While the 27-year-old has certainly looked like an ace on many occasions, he has struggled with consistency. Over the past five seasons in Baltimore Gausman has gone 36-46 with a 4.12 ERA.

Gausman will join an Atlanta team right in the middle of a playoff hunt. He will also be greeted by some former teammates like Nick Markakis and Ryan Flaherty. Fellow pitcher Brad Brach was also traded to the Braves this past Sunday.

If Atlanta does end up making the playoffs, Gausman has some experience under his belt that could benefit his new team. During the 2014 playoff run, Gausman never started a game but he did toss eight innings of relief between three games. In those appearances Gausman surrendered just one run and struck out seven.

O’Day is an interesting addition to the trade considering he finds himself out for the rest of the year. It’s not surprising that his name never came up in trade conversations after suffering the injury but with the Orioles moving toward a full rebuild, it makes sense to add him to this deal as a sweetener.

In seven seasons with the Orioles, O’Day accumulated a 28-14 record with a 2.40 ERA as a reliever. His unique pitching motion helped make him a deceptive change of pace coming out of the bullpen. In recent years he performed well pitching in the setup role before Zach Britton would enter for a save opportunity.

Image credit: Evan Habeeb / USA Today Sports

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Orioles trade Brad Brach to Braves for $250K in international slot money

BALTIMORE — Just about an hour after the Orioles earned a series win over the Rays on Sunday, the Orioles traded reliever Brad Brach to the Braves. The Orioles will receive $250,000 in international slot money in return for the right-hander.

In four seasons prior to 2018, Brach pitched to a 3.18 ERA or lower with the Orioles. Things have unraveled for Brach this season, inconveniently in a contract year. His 4.85 ERA in 39 innings pitched to-date marks the highest total of his career. His rookie season in San Diego saw a 5.14 ERA, but Brach only pitched seven innings in September call-ups. Brach, 32, exited the 2012 season with a 3.78 ERA, so he’s running out of time to turn what’s been the worst year of his career around.

Although Brach has struggled this season, he will be welcomed to a Braves bullpen that currently has the 19th-best ERA in the majors. Atlanta (55-47) sits 1.5 games behind the Phillies (58-47) for first place in the National League East. The NL Wild Card race is really crowded right now, so it makes sense for the Braves to add arms to their bullpen even with Brach’s recent struggles.

This trade speaks volumes to the Orioles’ efforts to restock the farm system with international talent. In recent seasons, for whatever reason, the Orioles stayed away from signing international players. In 2017, more than 350 international players joined MLB organizations. None of them were picked up by the Orioles.

As frustrating as this was, the Orioles have realized the error of their ways. For the first time in a long time, the Orioles aren’t freely giving away their international slots, but they’re adding on to what they already have in their funds.

“My strategy on the international market is to get there first, see the player first, and develop a relationship with the family and then make a good investment, get as many good young players as possible,” Duquette said on Sunday. “There’s a lot of interest in the international market because of the quality of the players and the finite number of bonus slots that clubs can utilize, so it’s a pretty interesting time right now, but it’s a good opportunity for the Orioles to get back in that market.”

After the trade became official, Brach spoke to the Baltimore media one final time. When Brach arrives in Atlanta, he will reunite with former Orioles Nick Markakis and Ryan Flaherty. Brach looks forward to the opportunity to win a ring with two former teammates who he played with in the Orioles’ American League Championship series against the Royals in 2014.

“Nick Markakis is an unbelievable teammate,” Brach said. “When I was here that one year he’s one of those guys you were always watching his every move and just kind of taking notes and that’s the guy you want to be when you’re at in his career and it’s definitely exciting to get to go and play with him again.”

“And Ryan Flaherty’s over there, who was here, and he’s one of my good friends, so it’s nice to go over there and have somebody who’s really familiar in that organization,” Brach said. “It’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.”

“He gets to go to a team that is pursuing a pennant race with young players, so he’s a good veteran presence and he will be reunited with people he played with here down in Atlanta to help stabilize their club and accomplish their goals,” Duquette said. “I want to congratulate Brad personally because he did a terrific job during his time here. I was very proud of the work that he did.”

With the trade of Brach, the Orioles wrapped up their trades pertaining to pending free agents who will receive new contracts after the 2018 season. Adam Jones will also hit free agency, but he has 10/5 rights and can veto any trade the Orioles make due to his 10 years of service to the MLB.

When asked about Jones’s status, Duquette made it seem like Jones wants to stay in Baltimore for the rest of this season.

Jones lives with his family in Baltimore during the season. He’s also heavily involved in town through his outstanding community service efforts. Although Jones would love to get a chance to compete for a pennant this season, he still feels an obligation to play out his contract and stay involved in the community, at least through the 2018 season.

No matter what happens with Jones, the Orioles will discuss resigning him in the offseason, but Duquette has made it clear that the Orioles will get younger during the rebuild.

“I would expect that the club would take the payroll down next year and the year after and reinvest those resources in younger ballplayers,” Duquette said on Saturday during a Q+A with fans. “We should be able to do that and get back to competitiveness.”

Image Credit: Camden Chat 

 

Orioles fall short of sweep in Atlanta but still pick up a rare road series win

ATLANTA — Despite dropping the series finale 7-3, the Orioles

Game 1 (10-7 BAL): It’s hard to describe just how crazy Friday night’s series opener was. The unusualness of the game came pretty early before culminating into an insane ninth inning. With Alex Cobb on the mound, many expected the O’s to be forced to dig themselves out of a hole early on. However, Cobb turned in a great outing and held the Braves to just one run through seven innings of work.

The unlikely scenarios didn’t stop with Cobb. Chris Davis returned to the starting lineup after being benched for eight games and put the O’s on the board in the fifth with a solo homer to left field. Davis’ struggles at the plate have been well documented this season so no one expected the big man to make this kind of splash in his return.

The game remained tied until the eighth inning. Tanner Scott gave up another pair of runs and the Braves took a 3-1 lead going into the ninth. What happened next was even more unexpected than Cobb’s quality outing or Davis’ flashy comeback. The O’s sent ten batters to the plate and came through with six hits to score six runs and take a 7-3 lead.

Adam Jones and Manny Machado led off the inning with a single and a walk respectively. Danny Valencia brought Jones in with an RBI single and Jonathan Schoop followed with a ground rule double to score Machado and tie the game. The Braves made a pitching change but it didn’t stop the next four batters from picking up RBI’s with either a hit or a sacrifice fly.

With this being a road interleague series for the O’s, a pinch hitter was needed when the bottom of the lineup came around late in the game. After making his major league debut on Wednesday, Steve Wilkerson got the opportunity to hit in the ninth in place of Brad Brach. The 26-year-old got a pitch he liked right away and hit a shallow line drive into right field for his first career hit and more importantly his first career RBI.

The game had already provided enough surprises but the Braves still had three outs to work with. Zach Britton came in to close out the final inning but encountered his first rough outing since returning from injury earlier this month. Britton quickly loaded the bases before recording an out, which certainly didn’t inspire much optimism, but he did have a four-run lead to work with.

Unfortunately, Britton never gained control in his appearance. The next three Braves batters all picked up RBI hits to tie the game up at once again. As fate would have it, former Oriole Nick Markakis was responsible for driving in the game-tying run with a double to right field. To make things even worse, only one out had been recorded and it seemed that the most heartbreaking loss imaginable was now unavoidable.

Darren O’Day came in after Britton’s implosion and was tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of keeping the game tied 7-7. However, with the winning run at third base, O’Day dialed in and picked up a crucial strikeout. He later finished off the nightmare inning two batters later by getting Dansby Swanson to fly out to right field.

The O’s were fortunate enough to survive the bottom of the ninth and force extra innings but there was a lot of baseball left to be played before the wild ride ended. It didn’t help that both offenses failed to keep their momentum going after scoring a combined ten runs in the ninth. Through the next five innings the Braves only managed to pick up three hits and the O’s only reached base once via walk.

The Orioles finally broke through in the 15th. Craig Gentry led off the inning and reached base after being hit by a pitch. Two at-bats later, Machado put the O’s back on top with a two-run homer down the left field line. Just like the ninth, the Orioles added an insurance run after taking the lead as Colby Rasmus picked up a hit and later came around to score on an RBI single by Schoop.

The O’s bullpen was locked in through all six extra innings. Miguel Castro pitched three hitless innings and Mike Wright finished off the game with two strong innings to earn his first win of the season.

Game 2 (7-5 BAL): It’s difficult to turn around and play the next day after going through a game like Friday night’s series opener. The important thing is the Orioles walked away with a win, but it took over five hours to get it with the final out being recorded around 1:00 am on Saturday.

The quick turnaround didn’t have an effect on the Orioles lineup. In the first inning, the top of the lineup loaded the bases very quickly for Mark Trumbo. The O’s cleanup hitter fell behind in the count but still managed to blast a grand slam to center field and put the Orioles up 4-0 right away.

The Braves got one back in the bottom half of the inning but Dylan Bundy held the Atlanta lineup down for most of his 6.1 innings of work. A second run was manufactured by the Braves in the fifth, but the O’s offense had already scored three more in the top half of the inning, so the score remained comfortable in Baltimore’s favor.

Atlanta did manage to make it a closer game after Bundy exited. Most of the reliable bullpen arms had already been used the night before so Donnie Hart was called upon to pick up where Bundy left off. Hart was making just his seventh relief appearance of the season and couldn’t quite get into a rhythm. The Braves loaded the bases and then Markakis brought two home with an RBI double to make it 7-4 game. Buck Showalter was quick to pull Hart and replace him with Mychal Givens who finished off the inning with just nine pitches.

Givens and Britton combined to close out the final two innings. Britton’s ninth inning appearance was strange considering how bad he performed with a bigger lead the night before. However, Britton rebounded and earned his first save since Sept. 17 of last year.

Game 3 (7-3 ATL): The Orioles had already secured a rare road series win but a sweep was still on the table Sunday afternoon. David Hess got the start for the Orioles and turned in another rough outing. It marked the third straight start where Hess gave up five runs in less than five innings of work.

It started right away in the first inning when Freddie Freeman drove in two runs with an RBI single. The next three came in the third inning on a pair of doubles by Markakis and Charlie Culberson. Markakis had a great series against his former team by going 6-for-14 at the plate with four doubles and five RBI.

Trumbo also had a standout weekend despite not being in the starting lineup on Sunday. Buck Showalter still found a way to get Trumbo’s bat into the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth and the right fielder came up big with a two-run homer to make it a 5-3 game. It marked Trumbo’s fifth home run in the last seven games and gave him his sixth RBI of the series.

That would be the end of the afternoon for the Orioles offense as they only picked up one hit through the final four innings. The Braves padded their lead in the eighth with a two-run homer by Swanson and went on to close out a 7-3 win. By salvaging a win on Sunday, the Braves avoided what could have been just their second sweep of the season.

Up next: The Orioles will return home this week to open up a seven-game home stand against two west coast teams. It starts with a four game set against Seattle and then a weekend series against the Angels will follow.

Image credit: Daniel Shirey / Getty Images