I have always believed that a nice bullpen is fairly easy to assemble — even moreso than a starting rotation. Most teams have enough talent and spare parts in the minors to put together at least an average bullpen, however, most fail to pull candidates from an often overlooked pool; young starters. In the olden days of baseball, a young starter would be placed in the bullpen in order to get some time against big league hitters and to earn a spot in the rotation. This practice is all but lost to the dust bin of time for now good reason except that contracts often force an organization’s hand. However, it boils down to a choice between:
1) Watching a young pitcher flounder as a starter for 1-2 years 2) Picking a young pitcher’s appearances wisely for the pen
Anyway, assuming that the Orioles decided to do something radical and do as I advocate, then the prospects for a solid 2007 bullpen widen. Let’s look at the potential candidates, broken into the following categories: Proven, Reactivated, Radical, Potential, Fringe, and Free Agents.
Proven Chris Britton, Chris Ray
These guys are essentially no-brainers. Nothing to be said here.
Reactivated Kurt Birkins, Aaron Rakers, John Parrish
All three of these guys have had success in the past, but their injury status gives cause for concern. However, if even one is able to pull himself together, then what they bring is essentially free given that they were non-factors last season (especially Rakers and Parrish).
Radical Hayden Penn, Cory Morris
Cory Morris has had pretty good K/9 rates during his time in the Orioles system (9.10 in 643.1 IP) and is a perfect candidate for the bullpen. Hayden Penn struggled majestically during his brief time in Baltimore last season, but has put up respectible numbers in the minors. There’s no doubt that both of these guys have talent, but they should not be handed rotation slots based on that alone.
Potential Brian Burres, Radhames Liz, James Hoey
Of the three, I would put my money on Hoey to win a spot out of spring training, however, with the other two in the mix things look nice for the next year or two. I would imagine that at least one of these guys could be something special out of the pen.
Fringe Sendy Rleal, Todd Williams, Julio Manon, Tim Byrdak, Jim Johnson
All of the above have proven to be adequate, but each suffers from one or more of the following flaws: not enough strikeouts, inconsistentcy, injuries, and LOOGY-ness. Between the lot, I would imagine that one may prove fruitful. However, in order to find the one gem, a coach must be willing to devote a bullpen slot (or two) as a revolving door where each of these guys can be swapped in and out at will.
Free Agents J.C. Romero, Chad Bradford
IMO, only one middle reliever should be bought this offseason, as they rarely turn out to be wise investments. However, the magic comes in picking the one guy who will give you the best for your dollar. The best bet for me is Chad Bradford, however, he comes with a price, and that’s his tendancy to induce grounders. That should be a good thing, however the Orioles defense is suspect and may be better served by a guy who can blow the ball by the hitters — That’s where J.C. Romero comes in. After his sub-par 2006 season, he may be available cheaply and could provide the best bang for your middle-reliever buck; he’s risky though.
A bullpen of: Britton, Ray, Parrish, Penn, Hoey, and Bradford may help the Orioles gain some respectibility. In addition, with potential gems like Rakers, Morris, Burres, Williams, and Byrdak ready to step in, their depth may prove to shine as well.