Being a fan of the Rays, I'm used to Yankees and Red Sox being the top competitors in the division. Yet, the Baltimore Orioles are quietly becoming a team that is starting to scare me. Maybe not in the 2010 season, but come 2011 there could be a serious battle from first to fifth in the AL East.
The Orioles have a deal in place to acquire the services of Mike Gonzalez to become their closer. The deal is reportedly for two years and $12 million dollars with incentives that could push it to $16 million. Despite his type-A status, the Orioles first round pick is protected meaning they'll lose a second-round pick for him. While I'm some what confused by the signing, I don't think it is a bad deal.
I do like Mike Gonzalez, although the price tag still might be a bit high. Despite owning some above average seasons, Gonzalez has never crossed the $6 million WAR dollar value. His career high of 1.7 WAR occurred in 2004, and that was many pitches (and DL stints) ago. As is the case with a lot of pitchers, especially ones with injury histories, health is the key.
Between the years 2007-2008, Gonzalez pitched a combined 50.2 innings. He came back strong in 2009 to throw in a career-high 80 games, and racked up a career-high 74.1 innings (way to ease back those relievers Bobby!). His velocity was back to normal, and he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings. There isn't much fluke in his 2009 3.51 FIP; the mark falls just marginally lower than his 3.74 tRA and 3.70 xFIP. Talent isn't the question, but how will he respond to such a heavy work load the following year? Personally, I watched Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell seemingly run out of gas at the end of 2009 because of heavier than usual loads in 2008.
I don't follow the O's close enough to know exactly what the plan looks like. From the outside looking in, it seems they are trying hard to field a decent team in 2010, and an even better one in 2011. A few days ago, Dave Cameron talked about the marginal value of a win. For a team on the cusp of a playoff birth, slightly overpaying a Mike Gonzalez type is worth the risk if the potential reward is the difference between win number 93 and number 94. I think we can agree that Baltimore is not at that level. This is why I'm not sure the Orioles necessarily needed to make this kind of move right now.