The Orioles announced Friday that they’ve claimed righty Chris Ellis off waivers from the Rays and designated right-hander Cesar Valdez for assignment. Meanwhile, left-hander Ryan Hartman, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, went unclaimed on waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Norfolk.
Ellis, 28, pitched four shutout innings with seven strikeouts against the Orioles earlier this week. The Rays had selected him to the MLB roster in order to get a fresh arm in the ’pen, but it proved to be a one-off appearance for Ellis in spite of that fine work. The O’s, who currently have the game’s worst record, have top priority on the waiver wire.
Ellis has had a rough season in Triple-A, pitching to a 6.32 ERA in 57 innings with below-average strikeout and walk rates and 14 home runs allowed. He’s had a rough couple of seasons in Triple-A but has had some success at that level in the past and comes to the Orioles with a bit of pedigree. He’s a former third-round pick and well-regarded prospect who was included in a pair of trades for notable big leaguers (Andrelton Simmons and Jaime Garcia), and the Royals liked him enough to select him in the Rule 5 Draft back in the 2018-19 offseason as well.
The Orioles are a good landing spot for a pitcher like Ellis, who has had some success in the upper minors but has yet to get much of a real look in the Majors. The O’s can afford to give him a look in the rotation or try him out of the bullpen if they like. Ellis also has all three minor league options remaining, so he can give them flexibility both now and in future seasons — if he sticks on the 40-man roster.
Valdez, 36, became the Orioles’ unlikely closer after signing a minor league deal in January 2020 and working his way back to the Major Leagues for the first time since 2017. His career arc has been atypical, to say the least, as Valdez debuted as a 25-year-old in 2010 and then did not appear in the Majors again until that 2017 return. The 2020-21 seasons mark the first time that he’s ever pitched in consecutive MLB seasons. Between MLB stints, he’s pitched professionally in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Taiwan.
Valdez didn’t simply return to the big leagues in 2020 — he thrived. Upon debuting with the Orioles, he pitched 14 1/3 innings and held opponents to two earned runs on seven hits and three walks with a dozen strikeouts. His success carried into 2021, too, at least in the early portion of the season. Valdez pitched to a 2.50 ERA with a sterling 21-to-4 K/BB ratio through his first 18 innings this season, accumulating eight saves along the way. Valdez found that success in spite of a “fastball” that barely averages 85 mph, relying heavily on a 78 mph changeup he refers to as the “dead fish.”
It’s been a swift decline since late May, however. Valdez was tagged for three runs in consecutive outings late in May and hasn’t been able to right the ship. Dating back to May 24, Valdez has pitched 27 1/3 innings and allowed a whopping 24 runs on 41 hits (including eight homers) and nine walks with 23 strikeouts.
It’s possible another club will take a look at Valdez on outright waivers, as he’s not yet arbitration eligible. He’s out of minor league options, though, meaning any club who does place a claim will need to carry him on the active roster or else try to pass him through waivers a second time before being able to send him down.