Baltimore Orioles: How will the bullpen look this season?

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The main difference between the recently competitive Orioles teams of the last three seasons and the bottom-dwelling Orioles’ teams of the previous fifteen seasons has been pitching. Obviously, G.M. Dan Duquette has done an impeccable job acquiring a quality, and often-underrated, starting rotation. However, it’s his ability to accumulate quality pitching depth that has resulted in the Orioles strong bullpen.

In an era of baseball where pitchers rarely work into the eighth or ninth inning a quality bullpen is increasingly important, and for the last three season the Orioles have had one of the best in baseball. Their bullpen has been a strength the last few seasons, and this coming season shouldn’t be any different.

Barring any injury or trade, the Orioles bullpen shouldn’t look much different in 2015 than it did in 2014; Zach Britton will be the closer, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day will work as set-up men, Brian Matusz will be the lefty-specialist, and T.J. Mcfarland and Brad Brach will likely be the multi-inning options. However, there are a few situations that could develop into interesting stories during spring training.

If the Orioles choose to carry 12 pitchers on opening day, there is probably only space on the roster for one more pitcher. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that spot could likely go to unwanted starter Ubaldo Jimenez. If the Orioles’ starters remaining healthy, the rotation looks set for 2015, and Jimenez hardly showed anything last season that would suggest he could force himself into the rotation this spring.

The Orioles will work diligently this offseason to unload Jimenez, but his contract makes it unlikely they’ll find a trade partner, and the Orioles have invested too much financially to release him. Unfortunately, those factors may force him onto the roster by opening day. However, the decision may not be as cut and dry as it looks.

The Orioles drafted two players in this year’s rule 5 draft. Normally, the chances of rule 5 players making the roster by opening day are low. However, Dan Duquette as shown in the past few seasons that he covets his rule 5 selections, as evidence by the last three season’s selection that are currently in the organization. If one or both players have a strong showing in spring training, the Orioles will have to clear a spot to keep them on the 25-man roster for the duration of the season.

Also, the Orioles signed minor-league veterans Oliver Drake and Eddie Gamboa to major-league contracts, which could indicate the Orioles think that those pitchers are ready to compete for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. It’s highly unlikely that any spring performance from them could unseat one of the established bullpen options. However, a strong showing in March could make for some interesting conversations among the Orioles management.

Obviously a lot of things could, and probably will, change between now and opening day. However, it’s clear Dan Duquette has accumulated plenty of quality options, and it looks like the Orioles should have another strong bullpen in 2015.