The Orioles need a versatile, left-handed reliever in 2017 who can get lefty hitters out, but also could pitch multiple innings.
That’s what they believed they received Sunday evening when they dealt away right-handed minor leaguer Ryan Moseley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno, a move first reported by The Baltimore Sun.
“Our scouts like how Nuno competes in the American League and old-school baseball people will appreciate how he works fast, throws strikes and changes speeds,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “We look forward to his contributions to the 2017 club.”
To make room for Nuno on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated lefty T.J. McFarland for assignment.
Here’s why the move to acquire the 29-year-old Nuno makes sense:
One, he’s tremendously versatile. In his first four seasons in the majors, he made 42 starts and 84 relief appearances. He’s better as a reliever (3.14 ERA) than as a starter (4.40 ERA), and he should remain in the bullpen with the Orioles. Relief appears to be his best role; he was 1-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 55 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2016. He also has a minor-league option remaining, which is a plus for a team that loves to shuttle its relievers from the minors to the majors to keep everyone healthy and rested.
Two, Nuno is experienced. This will be his fifth major-league season and his sixth big league organization, though he never played for the Dodgers – they acquired him this offseason from Seattle in a trade for catcher Carlos Ruiz – or for the Cleveland Indians, the club that selected him in the 48th round of the 2009 draft.
Nuno made his big-league debut in 2013 with the New York Yankees, spending parts of two seasons in the Bronx. He posted a 4.78 ERA in 22 games (17 starts) before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Brandon McCarthy in 2014. So, Nuno isn’t a stranger to the AL East. (Coincidentally, Nuno also was part of the 2015 trade between Seattle and Arizona that included Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo and new catcher Welington Castillo).
Third, he takes the ball, and possesses a short memory. He’s the kind of a guy that can sit for days and then deliver a solid performance – he has a 1.69 ERA in 22 relief appearances in which he had four or more days of rest. But he’s also fine on back-to-back days – he has posted a 2.52 ERA in 31 appearances in which he has had no or one day’s rest.
Fourth, the Orioles didn’t give up much – at least at this point. Moseley, 22, was an eighth-round pick last year out of Texas Tech and pitched 12 games in relief at Short-A Aberdeen, compiling a 3.20 ERA. Maybe he’ll be a major-league reliever one day, but Nuno can help the team now. Duquette once again found a legitimate major leaguer that didn’t have a spot on his current team. The Dodgers needed room on their 40-man roster for newly signed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, and Nuno was the odd man out. Also, Nuno isn’t expensive if he succeeds; he’s owed $1.125 million in 2017 and can’t be a free agent until after the 2019 season.
Most important, the Orioles didn’t have a lefty reliever in the bullpen besides rookie Donnie Hart and closer Zach Britton. Hart did an excellent job last year, but at this point in his career he’s best facing mostly lefties. McFarland was competing for the long-man job, but he had a disastrous, injury-riddled 2016 in which he posted a 6.93 ERA in 16 appearances. So, the Orioles filled the void with a guy who had success in the role last year.
Here’s why this move may not make sense:
Nuno is a flyball pitcher. He relies on a 90-mph fastball, a good slider and a changeup, but a lot of times those pitches go flying – 42 percent of all contact made against Nuno in his career have been flyballs, according to FanGraphs. And some of those end up going over the fence. He’s allowed 53 homers in 329 1/3 innings in his career. That’s not a good thing for someone pitching half his games at Camden Yards.
The other negative of the deal – or at least a potential by-product – is that the club could lose McFarland, who is one of manager Buck Showalter’s trusted soldiers and a favorite among the players. The 27-year-old McFarland, when he is going well, is a groundball machine who can give the club important bridge innings. He has done that in the past, most notably in 2014 when he had a 2.76 ERA in 37 games.
The problem is McFarland wasn’t that guy last year or for much of 2015, and he is out of options, which means he’d have to stick on the club this season or potentially be lost to waivers anyway. Since his value has taken a hit and he can’t be optioned, it’s very possible McFarland clears waivers and remains with the Orioles. So, he might end up at Norfolk attempting to get things turned around.
Bottom line: With the exception of Nuno being a flyball pitcher, there is little here not to like. Nuno serves a need, is a major-league pitcher and didn’t cost anything.