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Orioles Bolster Bullpen With Early Moves

With the Hot Stove season now in full swing, teams are dishing out big bucks for top-quality free agents.  Every team has holes at least a few holes to fill this offseason, and there aren’t very many quality players on the market.  That’s why one team, the Baltimore Orioles, decided to quickly determine who its targets were and to sign them before anyone else got the chance. 

The bullpen was one of the Baltimore Orioles’ biggest problems last season, finishing with a combined ERA of 5.27 — second worst in the league.  There wasn’t one reliable reliever in the Orioles bullpen last season, except for closer Chris Ray, who had a spectacular year keeping the leads the bullpen was able to hold for him.  That’s why GM Jim Duquette put overhauling the bullpen at the top of his to-do list for this offseason.  Just a few weeks into the offseason, he’s already made plenty of headway toward accomplishing his goal. 

Jamie Walker

The O’s first signing of the offseason was veteran lefthanded reliever Jamie Walker, who had an excellent 2006 season for the Detroit Tigers; the deal was a 3-year pact worth roughly $12M.  Walker went 0-1 with a 2.86ERA last season, and opponents hit .251 against him (.238 Lefties/.262 Righties).  He walked just 8 batters in 48 innings of work.  In 7 MLB seasons with the Tigers and Royals, Walker is 15-16 with a 3.95ERA and a 1.26WHIP.  Opponents have hit .258 against Walker during his career.  Jamie Walker bolsters the Orioles bullpen and give Manager Sam Perlozzo a reliable arm for the middle-innings, as well as a veteran who does very well against lefthanded hitters. 

Danys Baez

Continuing to work toward improving the bullpen, the Orioles announced yesterday that they had agreed to a 3-year deal ($19M) with righthander Danys Baez, who will likely be the new set-up man.  Baez did not have a particularly good year in 2006, but his 5-6 record and terrible 4.53ERA were likely caused by the move from Atlanta to Los Angeles as well as the constantly changing situations (closing, set-up, middle-relief) he was asked to pitch in.  For his career, Baez is 31-37 with a 3.79ERA and a 1.31WHIP, over 6 seasons with 4 different teams (the Indians, Devil Rays, Braves, and Dodgers).  He has 111 career saves, including a terrific year in 2005, during which he recorded 41 saves for the Devil Rays (a remarkable number because the Devil Rays only won 67 games that year).  Baez will provide solid late-inning relief for the Orioles as well as excellent insurance for closer Chris Ray, should he encounter some difficulties in his sophomore year. 

Kudos to GM Jim Duquette for fixing his team’s most glaring issue this early.  I expect the Orioles to sign at least one more reliever during these next few months, but I think the O’s are ready to move on to potentially making several trades and working on bolstering the offense, which will need improvement if they want to contend in the near future.  With the addition of Baez and Walker, the Orioles should see terrific improvement in their bullpen numbers for 2007; they can now focus on bolstering other aspects of the team to contend with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays in a season or two. 

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