Even before the Orioles made the official announcement of Alex Cobb’s trade to the Los Angeles Angels, the team took a small step to replace him.
According to a report by Jon Morosi of MLB Network, which was confirmed by an industry source, the Orioles re-signed left-hander Wade LeBlanc to a minor league contract. He’ll have a $700,000 base salary.
The Orioles also signed LeBlanc, 36, to a minor league contract just over a year ago, on February 1, 2019. LeBlanc was the first of two minor league signings. Tommy Milone was signed later that month, and they both made the team.
The Orioles were LeBlanc’s eighth major league club. He was 1-0 with an 8.06 ERA in six starts before he suffered a season-ending elbow injury after throwing just 13 pitches on August 23rd.
Since news broke that the Orioles were trading Cobb, 33, it seemed logical that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias would seek another veteran for the starting rotation. But LeBlanc’s return is a surprise.
A year ago, LeBlanc was one of the candidates to replace right-hander Dylan Bundy, who was traded to the Angels in December 2019. After the trade, the rotation looked thin.
John Means, who had a surprisingly successful rookie season, and Cobb, returning after a year lost to hip and knee surgeries, were the only known quantities.
Besides Means and Cobb, there was journeyman right-hander Asher Wojciechowski and question marks. Kohl Stewart, who had six major league starts, was a possibility for the fourth starter and Rule 5 right-handers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker appeared to be in the mix.
So was Thomas Eshelman, who had started four games and been dropped from the 40-man roster, and Ty Blach and Chandler Shepherd, who had combined for eight starts but also weren’t on the 40-man roster.
David Hess, who had lost 10 of 11 decisions in 2019, got another look, as did Brady Rodgers, who started one game for Houston in 2016.
Then came the signings of LeBlanc and Milone. Means, Cobb, LeBlanc, Milone and Wojciechowski became the starters.
LeBlanc joins Means, rookie left-hander Keegan Akin, who started six times late last season, and right-hander Dean Kremer, who had four starts.
But these potential starters are better than the ones the Orioles had last year.
Akin and Kremer were in camp last year, but they weren’t serious contenders to begin the season with the Orioles.
This year, right-hander Michael Baumann and left-handers Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells will be there. Like Akin and Kremer a year ago, they’re not considered contenders to begin the season with the Orioles on April 1st.
Eshelman is back again on a minor league deal after he went 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA. Two more Rule 5 right-handers, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, will try to make the team.
Jorge López, a right-hander who started six games last season, and Bruce Zimmermann, a left-hander who had just one start, are also possibilities.
It’s likely Elias will sign more starting candidates to at least serve as placeholders for the young talent the team thinks is on the rise.
A year from now, Means might be joined by Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann, and/or Baumann, Lowther and Wells. On the way, are 2017’s first-round pick, left-hander DL Hall, and 2018’s top choice, Grayson Rodriguez.
The overall pitching talent in the Orioles’ camp, which begins in Sarasota, Florida on February 16th, will be better than it was last year. It should be even better in 2022.
Remembering Grant Jackson: Grant Jackson, who had a successful six-year stint with the Orioles, died on Tuesday at 78. The Pirates, with whom he also spent parts of six seasons, said Jackson’s death was due to COVID-19 complications.
From 1971-1976, Jackson, a left-hander, was 24-12 with a 2.81 ERA and 39 saves for the Orioles.
Jackson was traded to the Orioles by Philadelphia in 1970 along with utilityman Jim Hutto and outfielder Sam Parilla for outfielder Roger Freed.
Freed had terrific minor league power numbers in the Orioles’ organization but couldn’t break into their major league outfield rotation. He played parts of eight seasons in the majors, but Jackson’s career was far better. It was an excellent trade for the Orioles.
Jackson was part of an even better trade for the Orioles in June 1976, when he, Elrod Hendricks, right-hander Doyle Alexander and left-handers Jimmy Freeman and Ken Holtzman were sent to the New York Yankees for catcher Rick Dempsey, left-handers Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez and Rudy May, and right-hander Dave Pagan.
In 1979, Jackson won Game 7 of the World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared in four games of the Series, allowing just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.