What were the Orioles thinking?
There are two ways to view the Orioles' investment of nearly $42 million in relievers Jamie Walker, Danys Baez and Chad Bradford.
A. The Orioles, coming off nine consecutive losing seasons, needed to overpay each reliever in a three-year contract to attract him to Baltimore, or,
B. The Orioles have lost their minds.
Most rival executives choose "B," noting that none of the relievers signed by the Orioles are true difference-makers in the middle innings.
The Orioles committed $12 million for Walker and $19 million for Baez. They're expected to pay $10.5 million for Bradford and $900,000 for one year to another reliever, Scott Williamson.
Granted, the Orioles needed to rebuild their entire bullpen in front of closer Chris Ray. Relievers, however, are the sport's most volatile performers, rarely providing adequate returns on long-term investments.
The World Series demonstrated that it actually might be preferable to construct bullpens on the cheap if you're got quality young arms — which, to an extent, the Orioles do.
The Cardinals' bullpen was full of inexperienced, low-salaried pitchers. The Tigers also had a relatively low-priced bullpen; their highest-paid reliever, closer Todd Jones, earned $5.8 million — less than Baez will average in his new deal with the O's.
Baez, 29, achieved success in the A.L. East with the Devil Rays before losing the effectiveness on his split-fingered pitch last season with the Dodgers and Braves. His declining strikeout rate — from 7.85 per nine innings to 6.88 to 6.35 to 5.88 over the past four seasons — is nothing short of alarming.
Walker, 35, and Bradford, 32, offer reasonable enough track records, but they're essentially situational pitchers. Over the next three years, it's possible that the Orioles would get comparable performance from less expensive relievers.
If the Orioles succeed with their bullpen binge and add one quality starting pitcher and one big slugger, they could be a dangerous team in the ever-competitive A.L. East.
More likely, they'll fail to obtain the other players they need, endure another losing season and wonder why the heck they spent more than $42 million on middle-inning relief.