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Orioles Can Pursue Closing Help At Last

The Orioles lead the American League with a 26-13 record, which puts them a half game ahead of the Yankees atop the AL East. Baltimore is once again looking like one of the best teams in the league and is looking to buy at the deadline.

One area that could be a priority this summer: strengthening the back of the bullpen. Baltimore lost a star closer Felix Bautista for Tommy John surgery last fall. They signed Craig Kimbrel — the league's only free agent acquisition of the winter — in a $13MM deal to bolster the ninth inning. That didn't work out the way the front office thought. Kimbrel has experienced recent struggles that put his status as a closer.

Baltimore used Kimbrel in the seventh inning last Friday in a win over the Diamondbacks. Manager Brandon Hyde was noncommittal after that game about whether that meant a permanent change for the nine-time All-Star. The O's haven't had a save since, even though they used it Yennier Cano top of the ninth in a tied game (a situation a team usually calls a close game) on Saturday. Kimbrel threw 11 scoreless innings in that contest and earned the win when the Orioles came out of the bottom half.

Kimbrel is more than two months away from returning to the ninth inning before the deadline. Still, the situation is flexible enough that the Orioles could consider other options if the veteran's performance remains uneven. To that end, Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote over the weekend that the O's will monitor the status of established closers such as Jordan Romano, Ryan Helsley again Ryan Pressly.

All three players are trade deadline prospects, though each of the teams entered the season expecting to compete. The Blue Jays are four games under .500 and sit last in the AL East. The Cardinals are at the bottom of the NL Central with a 16-24 record. At 15-25, the Astros have an even worse mark, though they are at least ahead of the Angels in their division.

None of those clubs will start moving seasoned players any time soon. Houston GM Dana Brown recently played down the possibility of a trade at any point, though it appears the team will reconsider that option if it remains below .500 in July. All three are aging teams who won't sell unless it's clear they have no way back into contention this year.

Romano, 31, has served as Toronto's closer for the past three seasons. He is a two-time All-Star who has saved 36 games in consecutive years. Romano hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in nine in any of the last three seasons. He opened this year on the injured list with elbow inflammation. He was reinstated in mid-April and has worked off his normal velocity (96.5 MPH fastball, 86.4 MPH slider). Romano is making a $7.75MM salary and is under arbitration control for one more season.

Helsley is also controversially ruled out until 2025. He makes $3.8MM this year for the Cardinals. The 29-year-old has been one of the game's most successful assists since 2022. Helsley owns a 1.65 ERA with a whopping 36.5% strikeout rate in 120 1/3 innings in two-plus seasons. The power righty pairs a fastball that averages over 99 MPH with a slider in the upper 80s. After missing a good portion of the 2023 campaign with an arm strain, Helsley has been healthy this season. He allowed just three earned runs on 21 hits and two walks over 19 innings.

Things were worse for Pressly, who gave up 11 runs (nine earned) in his first 14 1/3 frames. The 35-year-old righty managed to hit 22 with six free passes, however, and keeps the ball on the ground more than half the time an opponent makes contact with him. Those secondary marks and Pressly's career record should lead to a lot of interest if the Astros get to the point where they seriously consider dealing him at the deadline. Pressly worked on the setup volume to Josh Hader this year; he has saved more than 30 games over the past two seasons.

From a financial perspective, Pressly would be a more expensive addition than Romano or Helsley. He is making a $14MM salary and has a similar 2025 option that could be worth if he appears in 50 games this season. He has played 16 games and looks in good shape to open that option barring a significant injury.

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