I brought up Koji Uehara’s name yesterday during my conversation with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.
As expected, the Orioles aren’t ready to say whether they’ll attempt to re-sign Uehara this winter at a significantly reduced rate. And Uehara hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll return to Japan or attempt to continue pitching in the majors.
MacPhail didn’t shoot down the idea of retaining Uehara, but he’ll need to seek the opinion of his medical staff.
The Orioles can’t project Uehara as part of their 2011 bullpen if they’ve got serious concerns over his ability to stay healthy. He’s been injured during both spring trainings and has missed significant time during both regular seasons.
“With Koji, it’s always been an issue of durability, not ability,” MacPhail said.
MacPhail conceded that Uehara should have been used as a reliever from the moment that the ink dried on his contract. Putting him in the 2009 rotation was a mistake - neither side benefited from that arrangement - but Uehara wanted to be a starter. That’s a main reason why he signed with the Orioles.
MacPhail knew that Uehara could eventually move to the bullpen, and the right-hander’s past experience as a closer brought a certain appeal.
Too bad it didn’t happen right away.
Of course, the hamstring and elbow injuries probably would have cropped up anyway, but maybe his lack of stamina wouldn’t have been such a detriment.
Anyway, Uehara no longer is a cinch to disappear from the organization after the season. He’s given the Orioles plenty to consider. And without a doubt, he’s made a favorable impression on manager Buck Showalter, who could strongly urge the front office to offer a new contract.
I’d suggest plenty of incentives - beginning with games pitched.