Darren O’Day Re-signs with Orioles: Reaction and Analysis

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After considering offers from the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, All-Star setup man Darren O’Day is sticking with the same team he has called home for four seasons. The 33-year-old right-hander and the club are believed to have agreed to a four-year deal worth $31 million. There may be a bit of uncertainty while the Orioles and their pitcher await the results of a physical, but O’Day has been extremely durable while with Baltimore and has no history of arm trouble.

O’Day has blossomed into one of the most consistent, reliable middle relievers in baseball after being waived by the Texas Rangers following an injury-plagued 2011 season. The eight-year veteran was named to the All-Star team for the first time in 2015.

There is very little reason to believe that O’Day will suffer a significant decline over the life of his contract. His submarine pitching style is not terribly taxing on the arm, and he seems to be getting better with age. O’Day pitched to a career-low 1.52 ERA (on the heels of a 1.70 ERA season in 2014). His 11.3 K/9 was also a career-high by quite a high margin. O’Day is one of the more unique submariners in baseball history in that he can actually generate a high percentage of empty swings.

With O’Day back in the fold, the Orioles have their rock-solid setup man/closer combination back in place. Zach Britton has continued to dominate with his two-seam fastball and slider. Mychal Givens, who is similar to O’Day in delivery but with more velocity, will take the seventh inning. Brad Brach and Brian Matusz will tag-team the earlier innings (always an important task given the inconsistent performance of the starting rotation). The bullpen has been the strongest part of the pitching staff as the Orioles returned to contention over the past four seasons. It is that bullpen that has allowed the Orioles to win more one-run and extra-inning games than statistical analysis would predict.

So, the bullpen is clearly settled going forward. What will the rest of the offseason hold?

At the onset of the offseason, Dan Duquette stated that the Orioles would have the payroll flexibility to re-sign Chris Davis as well as a starting pitcher. With O’Day returning and Matt Wieters accepting the qualifying offer, the Orioles now have roughly $100 million on the books entering the 2016 season. Davis will cost close to $25 million. The Orioles are now up close to $125 million. A mid-tier starting pitcher will run the team a minimum of $15 million per year, but that may not be the best course of action.

None of the mid-tier starters left on the market — think Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, Mike Leake, and Hisashi Iwakuma — will bring earth-shattering value to the Orioles. What’s more, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants all missing out on Zack Grienke, the market for mid-tier starters is going to get a lot more crowded. Each of those mid-tier pitchers could easily command over $17 million per season (Fister will likely be the cheapest, but not a great fit for Camden Yards). None of those options are worth $17 million for a team like the Orioles.

What the Orioles need to do now, is re-sign Chris Davis at whatever cost. The offense is based on its ability to hit the home run, and no one in the league does that better. The 2014 season was a lost one for Davis as he dealt with injuries and the circumstances surrounding his use of medicine for ADHD, but he came back in 2015 and proved that he is a threat to go deep every time he steps to the plate. During Spring Training last year, Davis questioned the direction of the franchise and its desire to win. Those questions should be answered after the re-signing of O’Day, a clubhouse leader and very valuable asset.

Instead of looking for a starter after re-signing Davis, the Orioles should instead wade into the outfield market. Ownership may not be willing to approve an $18-20 million per year contract for Alex Gordon, but perhaps Peter Angelos and family will be willing to spend through the $15.8 million Wieters is owed for one year. Gordon would be a huge signing for the Orioles but a longshot.

Denard Span has been rumored to be of interest to the Orioles, and would be an excellent fit in the outfield. He is coming off an injury-filled season, but could preserve his body by sliding to a corner outfield slot opposite Adam Jones. Span would give the Orioles a true leadoff hitter, something they have not really had over the past four years. Manny Machado‘s bat, more valuable in a run-producing slot, can be slid down to third. There is also no draft-pick compensation tied to Span.

Re-signing Darren O’Day is a great move on all front for the Orioles, and should give the nervous fan base some confidence. The front office is behaving in an aggressive manner, which should help their chances with Davis. With O’Day, Davis, and an outfielder like Denard Span, the Orioles will still be able to enter the 2016 with expectations to contend. There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Orioles and their future, but this initial offseason move is a step in the right direction.

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