If you had a pitcher with a 23-8 record and a 1.92 ERA, you’d really want to keep him on your team. The Orioles have such a pitcher, but he’s not a starter.
In four seasons with the Orioles, Darren O’Day has that 23-8 record with that 1.92 ERA, and unfortunately, there may not be a fifth, sixth or seventh season for him here.
O’Day is a free agent, and in this most challenging offseason, whether to keep him may be the most challenging decision for the Orioles.
Everyone loves O’Day. Well maybe not everyone. Jose Bautista doesn’t think too much of him, but everyone around the Orioles does.
They were thrilled when he was named to the All-Star team, and they’d be thrilled if he returned in 2016.
With Nick Markakis gone, O’Day assumed a more vocal leadership role around the team. People gravitate toward him, and while it’s unusual to have a bullpen guy as a team leader, well, the Orioles are a slightly unusual team.
O’Day enters the clubhouse riding his Solowheel, and in 2012, manager Buck Showalter pranked the reliever in New York’s Citi Field during a supposed interview about it. After O’Day fell into what’s a slump for him, Showalter blamed himself for participating in it.
Despite barely making the Orioles in 2012 when he beat out Zach Phillips for the bullpen’s last spot, O’Day has managed to improve his ERA each season.
In his first year, O’Day had a terrific 2.28 ERA, and has lowered it to 2.18, 1.70 and 1.52 in each successive season. During his four years with the Orioles, he has struck out more than 4 ½ times the number of batters than he’s walked, and this year, it was nearly six times.
In 10 days, O’Day turns 33, and not long afterward, will become a highly sought after free agent.
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The Orioles value him. Before the 2013 season, O’Day was signed to a two-year contract with a third year option for $9.65 million.
He could get a three-year contract for much more this time.
Before the 2014 season, another sidearmer, Joe Smith, signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels for $15.76 million.
Smith was 30 when the contract began, and O’Day, who as he jokingly has said could become the highest paid sidearmer in baseball history, should top that.
O’Day doesn’t have an ego that demands being a closer. For the right money he’d be quite happy setting up for Zach Britton. But, he’s competitive enough that he wouldn’t shy away from the challenge of accepting the closer’s role.
When Britton was unavailable near season’s end, O’Day methodically dispatched the Nationals in three straight games.
Showalter is very careful to not overuse relievers. In his four years with the Orioles, O’Day has pitched in 69, 68, 68 and 68 games. He’d need a manager who made sure to look after him.
O’Day’s teams often win. He played for Texas in 2010 and 2011 when they went to the World Series, though he couldn’t pitch in the 2011 postseason because of injuries.
If O’Day leaves, the Orioles may seem to have replacements in Brad Brach and Mychal Givens, but his loss would be felt in other ways.
Showalter credits him not only with solidifying the clubhouse, but making sure the relievers fit together, and that’s hard to measure.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has decried the large contracts given to relievers.
"Can you believe some of the money these guys are getting for a couple outs?” Duquette said at last year’s Winter Meetings.
O’Day may get that money elsewhere for a couple outs, but he’d be missed terribly here.