Spring training is approaching quickly, and now that Masahiro Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees, the free-agent market has begun to move again.
Rumors are already swirling, and though the Baltimore Orioles have had a quiet offseason, the team has been connected to multiple free agents.
Since Tanaka left the market, the most notable and concrete name the O's have been connected to is closer Fernando Rodney. On January 23, Jonah Keri of Grantland.com tweeted that the O's were "making progress" on Rodney. However, Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun later tweeted that the O's hadn't had talks with Rodney's representatives in weeks.
Even with Connolly's refute, the rumored O's connection to Rodney could be something; Connolly reported as far back as December 23, 2013, that the Orioles have "significant interest" in the right-hander. If that December report is correct, it's likely the team is still intrigued by Rodney.
Rodney is arguably the best closer left on the free-agent market, and the O's arguably need bullpen help. But that doesn't mean that the Orioles need Rodney.
While the Orioles' interest in Rodney is justifiable and understandable, it's ill-advised. Yes, the team is without an established closer at this point in time, but they don't necessarily need to spend the money it would take to land Rodney in order to solidify the position.
Besides, who's to say that Rodney would solidify the spot anyway?
Rodney has had a solid 11-year career to date, tallying up 172 saves with a 3.70 ERA. But he hasn't been very consistent throughout it, posting five straight seasons with an ERA at 4.24 or above between 2007 and 2011 while also putting up an ERA of 2.86 in 2005 and a remarkable 0.60 ERA with 48 saves in 2012.
In 2013, Rodney went 5-4 with a 3.338 ERA and 37 saves in 66.2 innings. He did blow eight saves last year. Nine total decisions is way too many for a late-innings reliever, and especially a closer, as the closer's job is to save the game and hand the decision to the starting pitcher (or one of the relievers before him), not risk the game and then have the decision fall on himself.
The last thing the O's need is to meet Rodney's demands and have the hard-throwing righty fail to be the consistent force at the back end of the bullpen that the team needs.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted back on December 11, 2013, that Rodney was looking for $10 million a year for at least two years, potentially three, though it's likely that Rodney's demands have lowered considering it's about a month and a half later and spring training is right around the corner.
With that said, what would be the point of the O's spending even near that much on a closer, an inconsistent one at that, when the team traded Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics in an obvious salary dump to reallocate his $10 million salary?
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette recently indicated to Connolly that the O's could have an Opening Day payroll at or close to $100 million, and since their payroll is currently projected to be at around $82-83 million, that means the team could spend up to $17 million more before the season starts.
If the O's were to pay Rodney, say, $7-10 million per year on a two year deal, that would tie up a significant portion of said $17 million, too significant a portion to this writer. For Grant Balfour, I was fine with the $7 million a year, but Rodney is much more inconsistent than Balfour has been throughout their respective careers. Balfour would have solidified the bullpen; Rodney would be a question mark.
Instead, the O's should add quality bullpen depth by adding relievers who are proven and capable of getting batters out, such as Francisco Rodriguez, and break camp with Tommy Hunter as the team's closer. If Hunter falters, the team has other options to go with, such as K-Rod, Darren O'Day, and newcomer Ryan Webb.
Heck, even a closer by committee could work well enough. If manager Buck Showalter used a combination of playing the matchups and using the hot hand, I'm sure the ninth inning wouldn't be a problem.
The team should also make the starting rotation its primary concern, not the closer's role. If there's no lead to hand a closer in the ninth inning, what's the point of spending on a closer? The free-agent market doesn't have much left to choose from (one could argue that it never did), but one arm that could help the O's is Bronson Arroyo.
Arroyo isn't an ace by any means, but the right-hander is a proven and established innings-eater, having made at least 32 starts and pitched at least 199 innings each of the last nine seasons. His career 4.19 ERA is definitely quality. Sure, it may go up to around 4.50-5.00 in the AL East, but it's not as if Arroyo wasn't already pitching in a hitter-friendly situation out in Cincinnati the last eight years.
I feel he could keep his ERA around 4.50 if pitching for the O's. The consistent innings he would provide would not only help the bullpen by providing a break for them virtually every time he pitches, but he would also help to keep some stress off the rotation as the other starters wouldn't have to worry as much about going deep into the game to save the bullpen, allowing them to have a more relaxed approach.
Arroyo would help the entire pitching staff around him, but he's just one example of how the O's could improve their pitching staff.
As well, the O's would be wise to work on improving their OBP numbers, as the team ranked 19th in baseball in that regard last season. They lead the league in home runs, so they can do plenty of scoring, but if nobody is on base for those dingers, then the team is going to have to do a lot of work to build big leads.
One name I've been pushing is Kendrys Morales, as he would solidify the DH role, fatten up the lineup and provide help in both the OBP and home run/RBI department. His presence would likely help the rest of the lineup, but he's just one option, and admittedly a more expensive one.
The Orioles have more pressing needs than signing a high-priced closer, and to me, the team should focus on those needs rather than keeping tabs on Rodney and debating whether to sign him or not. While an addition of Rodney could help bolster the bullpen, I don't believe he's the answer at closer and the money it would take to sign him just isn't worth it.
The O's are better served looking to improve their team in areas that would have a bigger impact, such as the starting rotation and the OBP department.
Let's hope the Orioles make some smart additions going into the regular season. But my gosh, let's hope they make some additions period.
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