Most of the free agent speculation about who the Orioles will pursue has centered around starting pitchers and hitters with decent on-base percentages.
There’s another part of the free agent market the Orioles may well be active in, and that one is even harder to grasp than the one for starters and hitters, and that’s the bullpen.
In 2013, the Orioles bullpen’s performance fell off. On Monday, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette took the first step to strengthening the bullpen by adding Chris Jones, a left-hander, who he says took a big step after the Orioles acquired him from Atlanta for Luis Ayala.
There are more than 40 free agent relief pitchers. Several have already pitched for the Orioles, Ayala, Matt Albers, Michael Gonzalez, LaTroy Hawkins and Francisco Rodriguez.
Hawkins had a terrific year at 40 with the Mets and prefers to re-sign there. He doesn’t have good memories of his time with the Orioles, but it was four years before Buck Showalter arrived.
One reliever who was nearly an Oriole was Pat Neshek, who’s just become a free agent. Neshek came to camp in 2012 on a minor league contract, impressed the team with an outstanding spring and nearly made the team.
The Orioles had a fully stocked bullpen, and Neshek used his opt-out to force a sale to Oakland in August 2012. In 67 games with the Athletics, Neshek was 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
He lockered near sidearmer Darren O’Day and when asked to describe his unorthodox motion, he cracked: “herky jerky.”
Neshek earned just $975,000 last year, and will probably have lots of suitors. The Orioles could and should be one of them.
Thirty-five year-old Matt Guerrier was most recently with the Chicago Cubs. The Orioles saw plenty of him when he was with Minnesota, and he pitched against them early in the season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Guerrier has an 0.90 ERA in 18 games against the Orioles. He earned $4.75 million last year. Duquette probably doesn’t want to pay that much for a non-closer, but if his market isn’t strong, he could appeal to the Orioles.
Jamey Wright is 38, and he’s pitched for 10 teams. He’s durable, pitching in 66 games for Tampa Bay in 2013. In 12 innings against the Orioles, he allowed just one run.
Wright was a bargain at $900,000 last year, and should be another right-hander the Orioles take a hard look at.
With Dave Wallace on board, the Orioles may consider Peter Moylan. The Australian sidearmer pitched for the Braves when Wallace was there. He had a rough year for the Dodgers, and it’s unlikely that he’ll get a major league contract.
Left-hander Scott Downs was traded to Atlanta in late July, and he’s had a long and successful major league career. The Orioles know him from his time with the Blue Jays and Angels.
Downs has a 3.86 ERA in 40 games against the Orioles, though he had a 6.41 ERA in Baltimore. He may be the most attractive left-hander on the market.
The Orioles have had interest in the past in Oliver Perez, who revived his career in the last two years with Seattle. A one-time starter, Perez has become a most effective situational lefty, and if the Orioles are looking for a change there, he could be a fit.
Eric O’Flaherty, who has been a most accomplished pitcher for the Braves, underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Wallace is familiar with him, too, and it be interesting to see what kind of a market develops for him.
Late in the season, Duquette indicated that the team was planning on retaining Jim Johnson despite speculation he could be non-tendered. Even if the Orioles reversed track, it’s unlikely that they would be in the closer market.
There are some big names, who are likely to get some decent dollars: Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson. Another could be former Oriole, Kevin Gregg.
The Orioles cut Gregg in September 2012, a little more than a year after the temperamental right-hander lost his closers job to Johnson. He signed with the Cubs in spring training and had a good season but accused the team of undermining him late in the year.
Chicago wanted to see how Gregg’s former Orioles’ teammate Pedro Strop, who the Orioles sent to the Cubs in the Scott Feldman deal, handled the closer’s role. Gregg objected and complained publicly.
He won’t be welcomed back in Chicago nor is he a candidate to rejoin the Orioles.