The Orioles had some interest in veteran reliever Antonio Bastardo this offseason, but the left-hander reportedly agreed to terms on a two-year, $12 million deal with the New York Mets on Wednesday.
His deal is on par with the three-year, $18 million deal that left-hander Tony Sipp received earlier this offseason to remain in Houston.
Yes, the money continues to flow for free-agent pitchers this hot-stove season, even for left-handed specialist relievers.
It appeared that Bastardo -- who posted a 2.98 ERA with the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and held opponents to a .188 batting average, including a .138 mark for lefties -- was going to be rewarded handsomely coming off last season. And the Orioles didn't need him as much as other teams might, so it didn't seem a likely fit that he would come to Baltimore. Any interest in Bastardo never reached a serious level.
Considering this year's wasn't considered to be a strong reliever market, plenty have gotten paid, including Orioles setup man Darren O'Day, whose four-year, $31 million deal is the largest doled out to a reliever in team history.
If the resurgence of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals taught other teams anything -- other than that whole "keep the line moving" thing – it's the value of having a lockdown bullpen. We all know that having superior front-line starting pitching can get a team deep in the postseason, but teams have obviously taken notice of the Royals' ability to shorten games with their bullpen.
The 'pen will be one of the Orioles' strengths in 2016, and while retaining O'Day was a key, the club has done a good job in building its relief corps. The Orioles rotation might still need an upgrade, but their bullpen will undoubtedly be a strength in 2016.
They've invested significant finances into the bullpen. Closer Zach Britton, who is coming off his first All-Star season, will receive a big raise this year. He will receive between $5.6 and $7.9 million, the salary-arbitration figures that were exchanged last week. He made $3.2 million in base salary last season in his first of four seasons of arbitration eligibility as a Super-2 qualifier.
While Britton's success over his two years as closer has yielded some well-deserved raises, the key has been complementing the late-inning hammers with some qualified relief arms that are a value.
The biggest value in the Orioles 'pen might be Brad Brach, who agreed to a $1.25 million deal. He was a valuable arm last season who held opponents to a .203 batting average and was used in a variety of situations, including in some late-inning pressure scenarios.
The emergence of right-hander Mychal Givens, who sparkled in his debut over the final two months of the season, gives the Orioles another power relief arm. Givens will make the league minimum of $507,500.
Add in left-hander Brian Matusz, who is a bargain compared to the money Bastardo and Sipp are receiving, and the Orioles have five solid bullpen arms. Matusz held opposing hitters to a .211 average and left-handers to a .186 clip in 2015. He will make somewhere between $3.5 and $4.4 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
And if top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is healthy, he will likely pitch out of the bullpen since he is out of minor league options and needs to build his innings count.
Adding a pitcher like Bastardo would have improved the Orioles 'pen, but having a reliever spot for an optionable arm might be more valuable. Manager Buck Showalter is masterful at keeping his bullpen fresh, and he was unable to do so early last year because he had to carry Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia. Now, he can use that seventh bullpen spot to keep the relievers fresh with reinforcements from Triple-A Norfolk.
Ed Smith Stadium honored
The Orioles' major league spring training home, Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., was named the Field of the Year for professional baseball by the Sports Turf Managers Association.
The head groundskeeper at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, Dan Thomas, will accept the award this week at the annual STMA Conference in San Diego.
The Field of the Year award is considered the highest honor in the sports groundskeeping industry. A panel of 15 judges rated fields based on "playability, appearance of surfaces, utilization of innovative solutions and effective use of budget and implementation of a comprehensive agronomic program."