Orioles Face Major Decision With Bundy
Four years ago it would have been hard to imagine the crossroad that is now facing Dylan Bundy and the Baltimore Orioles. In 2012, the right-hander shot through three levels of the minors and earned a brief major league stint in September as the Orioles completed their run to the playoffs.
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Since then, Bundy has faced his fair share of injuries, including a shoulder ailment last year and torn elbow ligament that cost him all of 2013 and a good chunk of 2014. Now he is out of options, meaning that the Orioles must either carry him on their Opening Day roster, or risk losing him through waivers if he is sent to the minors.
Bundy, who made just eight starts last season at Double-A Bowie, has seen his stock drop since being selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. Even if his value has declined, the Orioles should not risk losing Bundy through waivers. He is still just 23, and flashes glimpses of his potential when healthy, which is evidenced in part by his 10.2 K/9 rate in 22 innings at Bowie in 2015.
The bigger question facing the Orioles is how they best use Bundy this year. Ideally he would be a candidate for the starting rotation, but he has thrown just 63 1/3 innings over the last two seasons, a total that does not include the two frames he threw in the last Arizona Fall League season before being pulled, reportedly as a cautionary measure. Several outlets, including Baseball America, have reported that Bundy’s 2016 season will likely be capped at approximately 75 innings.
That leaves the major league bullpen as the most likely destination for Bundy. Outside of re-signing Darren O’Day, the Orioles have not focused all that much on their bullpen this off-season. As our own Jon Bernhardt noted recently, the bullpen still has some holes, making it possible that the Orioles look for another arm between now and spring training. If they do not, though, that increases the likelihood that Bundy opens the year in Baltimore.
In a typical year the Orioles carry seven or eight relievers on their Opening Day roster. Right now, it seems that O’Day, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Brian Matusz are all locks. Vance Worley will likely join them if he does not win a rotation spot in camp.
That would leave up to two spots for four pitchers: Bundy, Jason Garcia, Chaz Roe, and T.J, McFarland. While he has a future in the major league bullpen, Garcia—a Rule-5 pick from the Boston Red Sox last year—has been under team control for a full year, meaning that the Orioles can option him to the minors without offering him back to Boston or subjecting him to waivers. As it is, his 29 2/3 innings in Baltimore last year account for Garcia’s only work above Double-A, so a stint to Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk may be good for his development.
Roe, meanwhile, flashes excellent stuff at times and got off to a good start with the Orioles last year before dropping off in the second half. If his woes in the later part of the year were trigged by the shoulder tendinitis that forced him to spend a month on the disabled list, Roe may rebound in spring training. Like Bundy, he is out of options.
McFarland could have an edge if the Orioles decide to put a third lefty in the bullpen, but he does not match Roe’s upside and is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.91 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and 4.0 BB/9 rate.
The Orioles will likely open the year with Bundy in the bullpen and, if they do indeed carry eight relievers, give the last spot to Roe, while sending McFarland and Garcia to the minors. There is another possibility to keep in mind, which is that the Orioles have Bundy open the year in the minors as part of a rehab assignment. However, unless he is truly hurt, that could cause more headaches in the long run, as pitchers can only stay in the minors on rehab for 30 days before either rejoining the major league club or being optioned.
Once Bundy is in the bullpen, the Orioles will have to maximize his value while protecting him. In the beginning, that might mean using him in lower-leverage situations and being extremely selective about how often they call on him to warmup in the bullpen, an often hidden factor that can lead to fatigue. Ultimately, though, the Orioles are hoping that 2016 represents a rebound for Bundy and that his best years in Baltimore still lay ahead.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.