Is everyone eating turkey omelets and turkey hash this morning?
The Orioles made it through Thanksgiving without being attached to a new trade rumor. For that, I am thankful.
Monday is the deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and executive vice president Dan Duquette indicated last week that all nine Orioles will receive offers - outfielders Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce, left-handers Troy Patton and Brian Matusz, first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters, closer Jim Johnson, reliever Tommy Hunter and starter Bud Norris.
As I’ve been reminded by a few people in the organization, tendering contracts doesn’t ensure that all nine players will be introduced on opening day. Trades are possible, and that includes Johnson, whose salary could jump to $10-plus million.
The $1 million question is, who would take Johnson’s place if he didn’t return in 2014?
It’s supposedly easy to find another closer. The Red Sox and Cardinals deviated from their first choices this season and met in the World Series. But Orioles fans have lived through plenty of late-inning disasters. Guys who were better suited to set up. Guys who were past their prime. Guys who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the ninth.
Johnson has notched 101 saves the past two seasons, but he lost eight games and blew nine saves this year. He was 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 2012, with 55 hits, 15 walks, 41 strikeouts, three hit batters and three home runs allowed in 68 2/3 innings. In 2013, he was 3-8 with a 2.94 ERA, 72 hits, 18 walks, 56 strikeouts, seven hit batters and five home runs allowed in 70 1/3 innings.
A year ago, Johnson made the All-Star team and placed seventh in the Cy Young Award voting and 14th in Most Valuable Player voting. He was shut out in all three categories this year.
Hunter is the likeliest in-house candidate, though it would be new territory for him. His four career saves came this season.
Hunter’s upper-90s fastball is a nice fit, but who knows how he’d handle the responsibility. Does he have the stomach for it? The endurance to work back-to-back nights?
There’s only one way to find out.
Hunter posted a 2.81 ERA this year and allowed 71 hits and 11 home runs in 86 1/3 innings. He gave up 32 homers in 133 2/3 innings last year.
As I’ve pointed out, the splits need to improve. Right-handers batted .141 against him this year, while left-handers hit .294.
Hunter wants to get back in the rotation and he’s expressed those feelings to manager Buck Showalter, who seems willing to let him work out as a starter in spring training.
Before this season, I would have tabbed Darren O’Day as the closer-in-waiting. He’d receive consideration in Johnson’s absence, but the Orioles value him in a set-up role.
O’Day also has four career saves - two in 2009 and two in 2013. His splits were a concern this season, with right-handers batting .154 and left-handers .309, and they eventually influenced some of Showalter’s matchup decisions.
The Orioles mostly have focused on their bullpen with a few offseason moves, but Edgmer Escalona, Brad Brach and Kelvin De La Cruz aren’t viable options as closers. We won’t even go there.
MLBTradeRumors.com lists the following free-agent closers:
Grant Balfour (36)
Joaquin Benoit (36)
Rafael Betancourt (39)
Kevin Gregg (36)
Joel Hanrahan (32)
Ryan Madson (33)
Edward Mujica (30)
Joe Nathan (39)
Chris Perez (28)
Fernando Rodney (37)
Jose Veras (33)
Brian Wilson (32)
You can forget about Gregg. The Orioles have no interest in a reunion.