Cute Attempt At O's Bullpen FailsPosted on May 04, 2011
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
I don't sit in on the budget meetings of the Baltimore Orioles, and yet I think I know how some of the roster-shaping went this offseason. There was a sincere effort to improve the team, to at least get the Birds in the same zip code as the contenders, but with the real eye for serious improvement being in 2012.
So, fans got a lot of one-year looks at potential pieces to the positional puzzle, while buying another season to make long-term assessments on the pitchers that can really be a part of this nation building in Birdland.
While the additions of everyday players brought Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy to Baltimore via small trades, the club also spent some serious bucks for Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee. Together, these four guys make $26-28 million. To date, Hardy has missed about half of the O’s the games because of injury, while the other three players have been collectively so-so.
Andy MacPhail gambled on the starting pitching being more solid than it has to this point.
Remember, Brian Matusz went down with his intercostal injury on the eve of Opening Night in Tampa, and Justin Duchscherer was a $700,000 pipedream, who if healthy enough to throw any big-league innings will demonstrate why he was worth the risk -- until he gets hurt again.?But the one area where there was a true disconnect was in shaping the bullpen, again. Across the majors, there are only a handful of teams that truly get what to do with a bullpen, and then do it right.
Quizzically, the Orioles made a decision to put real dollars into paying someone who could close games out. That move, the acquisition of Kevin Gregg, has been one of MacPhail's shrewdest as Koji Uehara just now seems to be rounding into shape -- a shape, I might add, that may disqualify him from throwing back-to-back days for all or a large chunk of the season.
Then there is last year's attempt at paying free-agent dollars to find the back-end solution, Mike Gonzalez. A major disappointment in 2010, he did give manager Buck Showalter a glimpse of his capabilities during the last two months of the season. After getting off to a suspect start this season, Gonzalez has reverted back to his odd-looking delivery he is most comfortable with -- and during his last three appearances, there does seem to be cause for optimism.
Let's not forget the not-so-old and not-so-reliable Jim Johnson and Jason Berken. During the past two-plus seasons, both have at times looked absolutely brilliant. However, in 2011 Johnson (4.73 ERA) has run hot and cold, and Berken (5.54 ERA) has looked almost as inconsistent as he was consistent through last year's All-Star game. But Showalter seems to be a fan of what both can bring to the dance.
This was where the club tried to get cute -- rounding out the bullpen with suspicious resumes. It might work with one guy, but the O's essentially threw stuff against the wall and hoped for the best.
How else could you explain the club signing Jeremy Accardo, Clay Rapada, Chris Jakubauskas and Josh Rupe, all who have pitched in the big leagues this year? Plus, the Orioles signed Mark Hendrickson and Ryan Drese to minor-league contracts.?Accardo, a one-season closing wonder in Toronto when B.J. Ryan got hurt, is coming back into form and was a worthwhile signing.
Rupe and Rapada are a different story. Duchscherer's injury, followed in rapid order by Matusz being unavailable, opened up at least one spot, which Rupe gobbled up after a solid spring. But since the season began and he has been facing real major league batters, it's been a vastly different story as he has allowed five home runs in just 10.2 innings, while having an ERA higher than 7.50.
Rapada, who didn't make the team out of Sarasota, received his Triple-A reprieve when Gonzalez was struggling so mightily. Rapada's ERA is 16.50 after just 3.1 innings.
The Orioles are neither a disappointment nor a disaster, but they are looking less and less likely to be the sort of surprise contender fans were hoping for in 2011. "Why Not II" is not playing at your local theaters.
As this club prepares for the next roster shuffles to take them yet again to the next level, they simply have to get guys who can pitch. Leave the cuteness out of the decision-making.
Posted May 4, 2011