Orioles GM Mike Elias announced this afternoon that right-handed closer Felix Bautista is set to undergo Tommy John surgery in early October. Elias also announced that the club and Bautista had agreed upon a guaranteed, two-year contract that runs through the 2025 campaign. Bautista won’t pitch during the 2024 campaign, and is expected back in time for Spring Training 2025.
Bautista, 28, made his big league debut in 2022 as a member of the Baltimore bullpen and almost immediately became one of the club’s most important arms, with a 2.19 ERA and 2.91 FIP in 65 2/3 innings for the club last year as the Orioles surged to a surprising 83-79 season. The right-hander took another leap forward in his sophomore season to become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball during the 2023 campaign. In 61 innings of work this season, Bautista posted an unbelievable 46.4% strikeout rate that lead all relievers while also leading the pack in FIP (1.88), xFIP (2.30), and SIERA (2.06). Bautista’s sterling 1.48 ERA trailed only four relievers in the majors, and the right-hander figured to be a key part of the Orioles’ first postseason push since 2016.
Unfortunately, those plans went awry in late August when the club announced that Bautista was headed to the injured list with “some degree” of UCL injury. Even at the time, that diagnosis was ominous, given that UCL damage often requires Tommy John surgery. That said, the Orioles left the door open for the 2023 All Star to return to help the club’s playoff push, and the righty began to rehab in hopes of working his way back from the injury. Elias noted at the time that while doctors had indicated Bautista would be able to pitch without causing any further damage to his UCL, a procedure to address the issue would be necessary at some point.
The plan seemed to be going well, at first, as Bautista worked up to 25-pitch side sessions fairly quickly. Ultimately, as relayed by Jake Rill for MLB.com, the right-hander ran out of time to return during the regular season, with just two games left to play on Baltimore’s schedule. That left the Orioles to decide to shut him down for the year, preferring not to activate him during the postseason push without having made lower-leverage appearances first. With Bautista not participating in the postseason, there was little reason to delay the right-hander’s surgery further.
With Bautista not expected to throw a competitive pitch until Spring Training of the 2025, the sides came together on a guaranteed deal that would run through the end of the 2025 season, Bautista’s first year of arbitration eligibility. While the terms of Bautista’s deal with the Orioles have not been disclosed, Elias expressed in comments to reporters (including MASN’s Roch Kubatko) that the deal was a bright spot that should help Bautista focus on the rehab ahead of him.
“I think that’s great, because he can just concentrate on his rehab and getting back on the field. He won’t have any business to attend to in that time,” Elias said. “We did something similar with John Means, and very happy for Félix and for us that that’s out of the way.”
With Bautista officially done for 2023 (and 2024), the Orioles figure to turn to right-handed setup man and fellow All Star Yennier Cano as their primary closer in his absence. Cano has recorded four saves in Bautista’s absence, though he’s struggled to an uncharacteristic 4.76 ERA in 11 1/3 innings of work during that time. Cano’s full-season numbers are much more impressive, as the 29-year-old righty sports a 2.12 ERA and 2.87 FIP in 72 1/3 innings of work with the Orioles this season.