One of the more intriguing free agents this offseason, as it pertained to the Orioles, was Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara.
Uehara and his family still live in Baltimore. He turns 40 in April and he struggled some toward the end of last season, allowing 10 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings (5.75 ERA) in August and September. But for much of his time in Boston, he has been tremendous, and this postseason proved a stout bullpen can take a team a long, long way.
So the Orioles would have had to consider bringing back Uehara if he hit the open market.
He didn't. The Red Sox locked up Uehara and his nasty split-fingered fastball to a two-year, $18 million deal Thursday.
That can be a bad thing or a good thing for the Orioles, depending on which way you look at it. It definitely will have some repercussions.
The obvious one is that an American League East opponent just retained a quality player, and that's never worth celebrating. They did it for some significant money, which would be good for the Orioles if it meant Boston's free-agent budget had shrunk some. I doubt that's the case, though. We've seen over the years how aggressive the Red Sox can be in free agency. Spending $18 million this early won't make them blink.
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The intriguing thing is whether Uehara's signing alters the chances of Orioles left-handed reliever Andrew Miller returning to the Red Sox, who dealt him to Baltimore in July. That was a concern when the Orioles gave away pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez for Miller -- that he'd be a rental and head right back to Boston.
The fact that Uehara will be in that bullpen, and likely begin the season as closer, maybe changes things some for Miller. I'm sure the Red Sox still will pursue him, but the sense is that Miller has done enough recently -- he had a 2.03 ERA in 73 games for the Orioles and Red Sox and was unhittable in the postseason --that someone will give him a closer's job.
You have to figure Miller would prefer a place where he doesn't have another closer-type in the bullpen, as he now would in Boston and Baltimore, where Zach Britton seized the role last season. In that sense, Boston might have hurt its chances in the Miller sweepstakes. And, frankly, the Red Sox have bigger needs in free agency, such as starting pitching and a left-handed hitter.
Just because Boston might not be the top contender for Miller's services at this point doesn't make the Orioles the leader. Because, again, they don't have the closer role to offer him. A team such as the Detroit Tigers, who originally drafted Miller but traded him in the 2007 deal for Miguel Cabrera, does.
So my take on Uehara's signing, in terms of how it affects Miller, is that it's a bad thing for the Orioles. Because if a near-40 Uehara is worth $9 million per year, what is a 29-year-old Miller worth? He might not have been a closer in the past, but he'll be paid like one. I'd say he gets at least a three-year deal that could be worth in the annual range of $8 million to $10 million. At that rate, I can't see the Orioles being in the mix.