Stacey Long: Volatile bullpen a case of dollars spent unwisely

It’s no secret the that Orioles’ bullpen hasn’t been all that reliable through the first month of the season. Even when he gets the job done, closer Kevin Gregg raises the stress level in Birdland to epic proportions. Mike Gonzalez’s last outing was fantastic, but given his other performances this year it was still a little hard to watch. Koji Uehara is walking people, Jim Johnson is giving up home runs, Josh Rupe has been a disaster.

With the starting pitching having success, it’s even more frustrating to know that the bullpen is unlikely to get through the end of the game unscathed.

Bullpens are volatile, of course. With the exception of once-in-a-generation players like Mariano Rivera, relief pitchers aren’t necessarily going to be good on a consistent basis, which is why signing them to expensive multi-year deals is usually a bad idea (in the case of the Orioles, look no further than Jamie Walker, Danys Baez and Gonzalez for proof). Because of their volatility from year to year, it seems smart to spend the big money on more stable players and rely on cheap alternatives for the bullpen. Whether it’s young guys who couldn’t cut it in the rotation or older guys who will sign cheaply but who might be a risk, it’s easier to maximize value from them rather than expensive relievers.

Many would say it was a no-brainer to trade David Hernandez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the deal for Mark Reynolds. And time will tell if it turns out to be a good trade for the O’s. But Hernandez has allowed just three earned runs in 13 1/3 innings for Arizona. He makes about $400,000 a year. And how about Pedro Beato? The Orioles didn’t put him on the 40-man roster this offseason and he was plucked from the organization by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 draft. In 17 innings, Beato has yet to allow an earned run. He’s earning the league minimum. It’s only two pitchers, but both are performing better than the two $6 million men in Baltimore’s bullpen. And the good thing about them is if they start to stink it’s not a big deal to replace them because they aren’t making $6 million.

There’s nothing that can be done about the losses of Hernandez and Beato, and individually they really aren’t that important. It’s more about the trend of signing older,allegedly established pitchers expensive contracts and then being stuck with them when they don’t perform. History has proven it’s a mistake, but it’s one that major league baseball teams just keep on making.

Stacey Long blogs about the Orioles at Camden Chat. Read Long’s Orioles observations this week, as begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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