Aug 31, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) takes the ball from relief pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (31) after he walks in a run in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Twins 12-8. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
The Orioles’ opening day roster is slowly taking shape, and the spring training competitions are starting to work themselves out. However, with just under two weeks left there are a few tough decisions left to be made, and the most complicated of those could be what to do with the two Rule-5 pitchers currently in spring training.
Keeping a Rule-5 player is always complicated, and the Orioles have further complicated that discussion by bringing in two Rule-5 players. The Orioles drafted RHP Logan Verrett from the Mets, and then acquired RHP Jason Garcia in a trade after he was taken by the Astros.
For those who may not know, Rule-5 players must stay on the 25-man roster for the entire season, or they must be offered back to their original team. In all certainty, if either player were offered back to their original team they would be welcomed back with open arms. That leaves the Orioles in the awkward position of wanting to keep both players, but wondering how would they fit on the roster and what would be their role.
Both players have been as advertised this spring. Verrett is the more polished of the two having played in AAA last season, and he has had a solid spring training. Garcia on the other hand is the more raw of the two having only pitched as high as Single-A last season, however his stuff is impressive, and an arm like that doesn’t come along every day.
The issue with keeping either pitcher, and the issue with most Rule-5 players, is that at this point in their career they’re probably not ready to play at the Major-League level, and keeping them on the roster would probably mean they will be designated to a low-pressure, insignificant role, at least to start the season.
This presents a unique challenge for any team, but especially a team with an already crowded and talented bullpen like the Orioles. Another significant factor will be Ubaldo Jimenez. With the money the Orioles have invested in his contract, it’s almost guaranteed Jimenez will be on the roster for the significant future. However, his performance has hardly justified the roster spot.
There’s still a chance Jimenez could make the rotation out of spring training. Although he has done nothing in his year with the Orioles to justify pushing Miguel Gonzalez or Kevin Gausman out of the rotation, there is some train-of-thought that management would be more comfortable with him there than in the bullpen. If he does make the rotation by April there’s a good chance he will play himself out of that role sooner rather than later.
If, or when, Jimenez loses his spot in the rotation, he most likely will be sent into a similar role as last season when he was mainly used for mop-up duty during blowouts. The problem the Orioles face in that scenario is that role could be occupied by one of the Rule-5 players.
There is a chance the Orioles could make a trade to keep either, or both, Rule-5 players, in which case they could be optioned to AAA. However, if a deal cannot be made, bullpen spots are extremely limited among the talented arms in the organization. In this scenario, the Orioles may have to choose between losing a talented young arm or throwing away a lot of money by releasing Jimenez.