An Underrated Reliever Who Could Find Himself On The Trade Market

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Still amidst a multi-year rebuild, the Orioles are one of a handful of teams around the league certain to trade players off the big league roster in advance of the July 30 deadline. Much of the discussion about the club in the coming weeks figures to revolve around the potential availability of staff ace John Means and first baseman Trey Mancini, with good reason. But there’s a lower-profile Oriole whose excellent performance should draw plenty of attention from contenders: lefty reliever Paul Fry.

A former 17th-round pick of the Mariners, Fry was traded to Baltimore for international signing bonus space back in 2017. He made his MLB debut the following year. While Fry began as a rather nondescript middle reliever, he’s quietly been lights-out for the past two seasons. Since the start of 2020, Fry has pitched to a 2.22 ERA that ranks twelfth among big league relievers (minimum 40 innings).

Relievers can sometimes fluke their way into strong ERA’s given their generally small sample workloads, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Fry. He’s among the top 25 bullpen arms in strikeout rate (33%), strikeout/walk rate differential (22.9 percentage points), SIERA (2.98) and ground ball rate (55.3%) over the last two years. Quite simply, he’s done almost everything teams want from a pitcher. He’s shown the ability to both miss bats and keep the ball on the ground, so it’s no surprise he continues to post scoreless innings. His 10.1% walk rate, while slightly worse than league average, is far from disastrous.

Fry was very good in 2020, and he’s seemingly taken his game to another level this season. Fry’s punching out hitters at a career-best 36.7% rate this year, helping him pitch to a 1.99 ERA across 22 2/3 frames. He’s averaging a career-high 93.5 MPH on his four-seam fastball, which is missing bats at an elite level. And Fry’s been equally dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate, holding left-handed and right-handed batters alike to a sub-.500 OPS.

That level of on-field dominance is interesting enough, but Fry’s contractual status makes him all the more appealing a trade target. He’s making just more than the league minimum salary this season and comes with three additional years of team control via arbitration. Even the lowest-payroll contenders would have no issue adding Fry to the books; the same is true of big-market teams seemingly set on staying underneath the luxury tax threshold (i.e. Astros, Red Sox and Yankees).

While that level of production and cost control certainly appeals to the Orioles as well, Baltimore figures to at least entertain offers on Fry. They’re not going to contend this season, and it’d be a stretch to envision them hanging around the postseason picture in 2022. The performance of relief pitchers can be volatile, and the late-blooming Fry will be 29 years old by deadline day. It’d make sense for the Orioles to move him to a more immediate contender if they’re offered high-end prospect talent to continue to stockpile the farm system. Contending clubs are seemingly always on the lookout for relief help at the deadline, so there should be no shortage of teams in touch with the Orioles about one of the game’s most underrated arms in the coming weeks.

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