As the Orioles spent much of the past two months seeking to double the number of additions they’ve made to their rotation this offseason, their deep stockpile of infield prospects seemed to be a logical place to pull from should that need for starting pitching be addressed with a trade. On Thursday, they finally found a match.
Baltimore acquired Oakland Athletics left-hander Cole Irvin and minor league right-hander Kyle Virbitsky for infield prospect Darell Hernaiz, the team announced. Irvin, who turns 29 next week, had a 4.11 ERA over 62 starts for Oakland the past two seasons, averaging nearly 180 innings per campaign and ranking in the top 11% of qualified pitchers in walk rate both years. He has four years of team control remaining. Left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez was designated for assignment to open a 40-man roster spot.
Irvin joins veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson as the Orioles’ offseason additions to their rotation, with Gibson signing a one-year, $10 million deal with Baltimore in early December. Assuming the pair locks down a pair of rotation spots, that leaves three other spots open, with Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer likely to secure two of them given their strong finishes to 2022. Tyler Wells, Grayson Rodriguez, Austin Voth, DL Hall, Spenser Watkins, Mike Baumann and Bruce Zimmermann make for a lengthy group of remaining candidates, with 2022 opening day starter John Means set to rejoin the rotation sometime this summer after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery early last season. Given Hall and Zimmermann are relative longshots among the candidates, Irvin could prove to be Baltimore’s lone left-handed starter until Means’ return.
Irvin was the Philadelphia Phillies’ fifth-round pick in 2016 and made his debut for them in 2019 before being traded to the A’s for cash before the 2021 season. He relies heavily on two types of fastballs, with both his four-seamer and sinker averaging between 90 and 91 mph in 2022. Right-handed hitters have had success against both his sinker and curveball, slugging above .500 on those pitches each of the past two seasons. Irvin figures to benefit from pitching his home games at Camden Yards with its new left field dimensions, though 19 of the 25 home runs he surrendered last season came in his 13 starts on the road, where he had a 5.26 ERA compared to a 3.07 mark in 17 outings at Oakland’s RingCentral Coliseum.
Virbitsky, a 24-year-old who was Oakland’s 17th-round pick in 2021, had a 4.63 ERA in 23 outings, all but one a start, between Low-A and High-A last season. He struck out 140 batters in 126 1/3 innings. Baseball America rated him as having the best control in the Athletics’ system.
The same publication ranked Hernaiz as one of Baltimore’s top 30 prospects as recently as July. The 21-year-old was the Orioles’ fifth-round pick in 2019 and reached Double-A in 2022, hitting .273/.341/.438 with 12 home runs and 32 steals across three levels while playing around the infield. In trading away Hernaiz, Baltimore pulled from an area of depth. Six of the organization’s other infielders have appeared on at least one offseason list of the sport’s top 100 prospects, including two other members of their 2019 draft class in Gunnar Henderson and Joey Ortiz.
The trade marks the second time this offseason the Orioles have parted with a prospect for an established major leaguer, something they hadn’t previously done in four years under executive president and general manager Mike Elias. In December, they acquired catcher James McCann from the New York Mets for Dominican Summer League first baseman-outfielder Luis De La Cruz. Along with Gibson, the Orioles have signed infielder Adam Frazier and reliever Mychal Givens as major league free agents.
A left-handed reliever, Hernandez was acquired for cash from the Boston Red Sox earlier this month. Like all other players Baltimore has added this offseason after another organization designated them for assignment, he now finds himself off the Orioles’ 40-man roster, as well.