Darren O’Day, a 33-year-old sidearmer with 14 career saves, will be the most hotly-pursued free-agent reliever on the open market. How crazy does that sound, given the spotty history of 33-year-old relievers, and sidearm pitchers in general? Pretty crazy, considering O’Day was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels, left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, passed over by the New York Mets shortly after they picked him, and then waived again two years later by the Texas Rangers.
If you’re keeping track, that’s three teams in four years who were content to give O’Day his walking papers. After two very good years with the Rangers (O’Day posted a 1.94 ERA in 68 2009 appearances and a 2.03 in 72 2010 appearances), the right-hander blew up in 2011 after suffering a hip injury and dealing with inconsistency. O’Day appeared in only 16 big league games for the Rangers in 2011. His 5.40 ERA was bad enough for the Rangers to move on.
O’Day returned to form upon being claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles. Four years, and a 1.92 ERA over 263.0 innings later, O’Day hits the free-agent market yet again. This time, there will be an army of teams bidding for his services. The 2015 season was O’Day’s best — he posted a career-low 1.52 ERA, struck out 11.3 per nine, and allowed a .198 opponent’s batting average. O’Day also made the All-Star team for the first time, and an argument could be made that he, not Zach Britton, was the best reliever in the Baltimore bullpen. The only two losses O’Day took on the year came as a result of infield hits and bloop singles. No one was able to square O’Day up all year. Over 35 percent of right-handed batters went down on strikes when facing O’Day.
When evaluating the market for O’Day’s services, it may be easier to list teams that will not be after him. The Orioles, Dodgers, Red Sox, Nationals, Mets, Tigers, Yankees, Cubs, Rangers (yes, again) and Royals could all use O’Day. Every single team in the league could use a veteran relief pitcher who basically wipes out one side of the plate. The only team it’s really hard to see O’Day signing with is the Toronto Blue Jays. Jose Bautista would likely not approve.
O’Day controls his own destiny. He will likely be able to count his offers on both hands, and can pick the team that best fits his remaining career goals. O’Day will most likely wish to continue pitching for a contender. O’Day does have more ties to the Mid-Atlantic region besides pitching for the Orioles for the past four years. His wife is a correspondent for Fox News out of Washington, D.C. The Orioles and Nationals will both be in pursuit of O’Day. O’Day’s wife should not have a hard time finding another news job in a major media market like Los Angeles or New York City.
A three-year deal worth at least $21 million is likely. That number could easily climb to $24 million if the right teams get involved. There are just not enough quality relief pitchers on the market. In the past, most teams would have shied away from a sidearmer, but O’Day is unique. He throws much harder than most pitchers who deploy the unconventional delivery. He can rise or sink his fastball, and his slider is a strikeout pitch. The only drawback with O’Day is that he can occasionally fall victim to the home run ball or command issues. If his changeup is elevated, it is hittable, and there are the occasional moments when he loses his release point.
O’Day helped his value immensely down the stretch by closing six games for the Orioles. Very few relief pitchers are a safe investment at the age of 33, but O’Day is very unique. It took awhile for teams to realize it, but Darren O’Day is one of the best relief pitchers in the league. He has truly broken the mold for what a sidearm pitcher is capable of. Now O’Day just has to pick which team will finally pay him what he’s been worth for years.