SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles reliever Darren O'Day couldn't predict back in October that he'd be back in Sarasota this spring, or that the club would compile a record payroll and retain key free agents Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and himself.
But as spring training opens, the Orioles setup man is around a lot of familiar faces.
"Frankly, no," O'Day said Saturday when asked if he thought at the end of the season that all three would be back. "I'd be surprised. There's quality players and quality men [here]. There's a lot to like about this team and the players they've assembled, so it is surprising a little bit, but obviously it's a really nice pleasant surprise. Personally, I couldn't be happier to be back, and I hope I speak for the other guys."
O'Day signed a four-year, $31 million deal in December – the largest free-agent deal handed out to a reliever in club history – and back then he said he'd lobby for Davis to return, even growing a mustache to match Davis' midseason lip fur. Davis signed a club-record seven-year, $161 million deal last month.
"Ultimately, I don't think it was the mustache," O'Day said. "There are a lot of good reasons to come back here. … It was more so like comparing notes. … With Chris, he already knew what was here, the guys here, the group, the environment we come to work in every day, so it wasn't so much telling him what that would be like. It was more so just reminding him of the stuff he had done here. It was more so talking to a friend — and growing a mustache."
Even though the Orioles have spent nearly $215 million in free agency this offseason mainly to keep the club intact – their only key loss was left-hander Wei-Yin Chen – and are still pursuing right-hander Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Dexter Fowler.
"I think they showed a commitment to winning, really, to putting a good team on the field by signing some of these guys who were pretty expensive," O'Day said. "It's really challenging to build a team on a low-dollar budget to win games, so to play at this level, you've got to spend some money. Our team did. They're always pretty creative with these late-season signings. We had some pretty good ones a couple years ago, so we'll see if they can pull some magic again."
But prognosticators are still picking the Orioles to finish last in a revamped American League East. O'Day said that serves as motivation.
"As a logical person, I understand that," O'Day said. "I think it's going to be the most competitive league in baseball, and to play these other heavyweight teams, what is it, 19 times? It's tough. Somebody's got to finish fourth or fifth. I don't think it's going to be us.
"But they've got to pick somebody. And if you look at rosters and think you know everything maybe you pick some other teams. But I would never count us out. I think we've shown that over the past four years that we play kind of a different brand of baseball that you can't quantify. Maybe [we] steal some wins. But it's going to be a good year in the AL East."
O'Day said he's looking forward to having pitching prospect Dylan Bundy in the bullpen this season with Bundy out of minor league options and needing to carry him on the big league roster. O'Day said he remembers Bundy's first attempt at big league relief work when he made his major league debut in September 2012 at Fenway Park.
"The phone rang and Billy Castro was the bullpen coach at the time and he said, 'Bundy, it's for you.'" O'Day said. "And he's wearing his sunglasses at the time and he jumps up and goes, 'What do I do?' [We said,] 'You warm up.' He jumps up on the mound, and I was like, 'Take your sunglasses off, too.'
"We've got some work to do," O'Day deadpanned. "We will help him out for sure. He's obviously talented. I still remember the first bullpen I saw him throw. The quality and consistency of four pitches was incredible to stand behind and watch for a kid that young. He's had a tough couple years with injuries and that can be frustrating for anybody. You get down on yourself so I think he's got a time here where he's got to show what he can do and we will help him as much as we can."