Orioles Claim Jorge Lopez From Marlins

The Orioles have reunited with Jorge Lopez, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post (X link) reports that Baltimore has claimed the right-hander off waivers from the Marlins.  Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald reported earlier today that Lopez looked like the odd man out on the Marlins’ roster in some capacity, as the Fish needed to create roster space for Johnny Cueto’s activation from the 15-day injured list.  The Orioles designated right-hander Logan Gillaspie for assignment to create a spot for Lopez on the 40-man roster.

Lopez’s tenure in Miami ends after a little more than two months, as the Fish acquired the righty from the Twins in late July in a one-for-one swap for Dylan Floro.  In hindsight, it was a deal that hasn’t really worked out for either club, as neither reliever recaptured their old form after donning a new uniform.  Floro has posted a 6.30 ERA over 10 innings in Minnesota, while Lopez had even greater struggles, delivering only a 9.26 ERA in 11 2/3 innings for Miami.

It was a little over a year ago that Lopez was an All-Star, by dint of his outstanding 1.68 ERA over his first 48 1/3 innings pitched of the 2022 season as a member of the Orioles.  Given Lopez’s unimpressive career track record prior to 2022, however, Baltimore saw him less as a breakout star and more as a sell-high trade chip, so the O’s moved Lopez to the Twins at last year’s trade deadline.  Speaking of trade hindsight, that swap has already become an infamous move for Twins fans, as Yennier Cano was one of the four prospects sent back to the Orioles in return for Lopez.

While the Orioles front office took some heat at the time for dealing an All-Star closer (or being deadline sellers in general) when the club was contending for a playoff spot, those criticisms have certainly diminished given Cano’s breakout and Lopez’s lack of success basically since the moment he left Camden Yards.  The O’s now hope that Lopez can rediscover some of his 2022 magic to help a bullpen trying to get by without injured closer Felix Bautista.  Lopez isn’t going to step back into a ninth-inning role, of course, but he could provide some depth behind Cano and Danny Couloumbe as the temporary late-game closing duo.  The Orioles will be using Lopez for the stretch drive alone, as he isn’t eligible for postseason play since he was acquired after September 1.

Is there hope for a Lopez bounce-back?  Unsurprisingly, his metrics have dropped off sharply in most categories from 2022 to 2023, as his big advances in strikeouts and limiting hard contact have both fallen back to earth.  Lopez threw his sinker 50.5% of the time in 2022 and got plus results, though the pitch has now become much less effective, with Lopez throwing it only 34% of the time this season.  The righty has instead increased the use of his four-seamer to pretty disastrous results, as opposing batters have been teeing off on the pitch to the tune of a .400 batting average.

Rediscovering the All-Star version of Lopez may not be as simple as a change in pitch arsenal, but the Orioles are taking a relatively inexpensive plunge in hoping that he can provide at least adequate relief.  In making the waiver claim, the O’s pick up the roughly $578K remaining on Lopez’s $3.525MM salary for 2023.  The 30-year-old is also eligible for arbitration one final time this winter, though it seems likely that he’ll be non-tendered.  The fact that the Orioles (who have one of baseball’s best records) were even able to claim Lopez is a further sign of how his star has fallen in a year’s time, as it means that just about every other team in the league passed on Lopez before he was available for Baltimore to claim.

Since Lopez surely wouldn’t have been tendered a deal from the Marlins, the move provides a bit of salary relief for the Fish as they get an early jump on some offseason business.  It also allows Cueto to return without any further roster maneuvering, as Cueto is set to start today against Washington in his first outing since August 15.  The veteran righty has been sidelined due to a viral infection that scratched him from his previous start, and eventually required a 15-day IL stint to give Cueto time to fully recover.

Gillaspie made his MLB debut in May 2022, and has since been shuttled back and forth several times between the Orioles’ big league roster and Triple-A Norfolk.  The right-hander had a 3.12 ERA over 17 1/3 innings in 2022 but only a 6.00 ERA in nine frames of action this year, and his career Triple-A line sits at a 4.90 ERA over 71 2/3 innings, with a 23.08% strikeout rate and an 8.01% walk rate.  An undrafted player who broke in with the Brewers’ farm system in 2018, Gillaspie has been a member of Baltimore’s farm system since 2021.

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