Creating the best 26-man roster of Baltimore Orioles since 2000: Part II
Onto Part II of this two-part series of putting together the best roster of Orioles since the new millennium started. I hope you enjoyed the first installment, which created a starting lineup and bench of the best Orioles position players from 2000-2023.
And now onto the pitching staff. The seven-man bullpen was not too difficult to create; the Orioles have had several dominant late-inning relievers since 2000. But it is no secret that the Orioles have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching since developing Hall-of Famer Mike Mussina in the 90s. The metrics considered for spots on the team are the same for Part II as they were for Part I: longevity (a player who spent more good years with the team would make it over a player who spent less good years), All-Star appearances, importance to winning for the Orioles, and of course overall performance (this is why Jake Arrieta, who was great after leaving Baltimore, is not on this list). Enjoy the list and feel free to let me know any changes you would make in the comments!
1. Erik Bedard: Number 1 Starter
Erik Bedard is the exception to the truism that the Orioles could not develop homegrown starting pitchers in the 21st century. Bedard's best season with the Orioles was in 2007, when he went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and a phenomenal 221 strikeouts over 182 innings. In fact, 221 strikeouts are the most strikeouts in a single season in franchise history since Bobo Newsome in 1938. As great as Bedard was, the Orioles wisely traded him after the 2007 season for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler. Bedard was never the same pitcher after the deal, bouncing between Seattle, Tampa Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Houston before retiring in 2015. Perhaps it is crass, but Bedard greatest contribution to Baltimore may have been the trade that brought in Jones and TIllman.
2. Chris Tillman: Number 2 Starter
Ironically, the Orioles second-best starter of the era came from the trade of Erik Bedard. After landing in Baltimore from Seattle in the Bedard trade, the big right-hander pitched in parts of 10 seasons with the Orioles, was an American League All-Star in 2013, and pitched in several big games for the team. Tillman's best season arguably came in 2014, when he went 13-6 in 34 starts, posting a stellar 3.34 ERA over 214 innings. But Tillman was consistently good: in 2012, he went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA (in only 15 starts), while in 2013 he went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA. Tillman started three playoff games for the Orioles during this time and was considered the ace of the playoff teams in 2012, 2014, and 2016. There is an argument for him to be number one on this staff, but Bedard's utter dominance in 2007 pushes Tillman to 2. While Tillman appeared to be attempting a comeback earlier in 2023, he remains unsigned and out of baseball.
3. Wei-Yin Chen - Number 3 Starter
Wei-Yin Chen's inclusion on this list as the number three starter is a reminder of the somber truth that the Orioles simply have not had any top tier starting pitchers in the last 23 years. The Taiwanese-lefty was solid; he won 46 games over 4 years with the Orioles (2012-2015), his best season coming in 2014 when he went 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA. Chen was the Orioles' number two starter for the 2012, 2014, and 2016 playoff teams, and while never an All-Star, was a solid contributor for the team before signing a big free-agent contract with the Marlins in 2016. For what it's worth, Chen was never the same pitcher after leaving the Orioles, and has been out of the league since 2019.
4. Jeremy Guthrie: Number 4 Starter
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Orioles simply have not developed or acquired top tier pitching in the last 23 years. To this end, Jeremy Guthrie earns the fourth starter role for the "all-2000s" Orioles. Aside from 2007 when the team had Bedard, Guthrie was the team's "de-facto" ace during his five seasons (2007-2011) with the Orioles. Guthrie was a good soldier; he pitched solidly for some bad teams, his best seasons coming in 2008 and 2010, where he pitched to ERAs of 3.63 and 3.83, respectively. He was the team's opening day starter in 2008 and 2011 and, despite a low bar, was the Orioles' most consistent starting pitcher during this four-year stretch.
5. Miguel Gonzalez: Number 5 Starter
Miguel Gonzalez narrowly beats out current Orioles' left-hander John Means for the final spot in the all-2000s rotation. While Gonzalez may be far from an inspiring choice for this spot, the right-hander posted three solid seasons in Baltimore from 2012-2014, with ERAs of 3.25, 3.78, and 3.23, respectively. Nicknamed the "cold killer," Gonzalez never seemed rattled in big games, as evidenced by his two stellar post-season starts for the Orioles. In fact, Gonzalez's best moment as an Oriole came in Game 3 of the 2012 ALCS in the Bronx, when Gonzalez allowed only one run on five hits over seven outstanding innings at Yankee Stadium. While he was far from spectacular and never an All-Star, I always felt confident with the cold killer on the mound. Gonzalez earns the number 5 spot in the rotation.
While the Orioles admittedly have not possessed top-end starting pitching in the last 23 years, they have had some of the league's best bullpens. These bullpens served as the backbone of several successful seasons, as recently as 2022. Without further adieu, the final seven spots on this roster go to the following seven relief pitchers.
Zack Britton: Closer
Zack Britton was the Orioles' best pitcher from 2000 to 2023. Although he came up as a starter, manager Buck Showalter wisely moved Britton to closer in 2014, and the move paid off in spades. In 2014, when the Orioles won the AL East, Britton appeared in 71 games, pitching to a stellar 1.65 ERA and earning 37 saves. Britton was an All-Star in 2015 when he saved 36 games and pitched to a 1.92 ERA. But his best season came in 2016: Britton recorded 47 saves and pitched to a microscopic, record-breaking 0.54 ERA in what is considered by some the greatest relief season in MLB history.
In fact, Britton finished 4th in Cy Young voting that season, along with making his second All-Star game. After a solid 2017 season, Britton was traded to the New York Yankees as part of the Orioles' busy 2018 trade deadline in a deal that brought in current Oriole Dillon Tate. Britton pitched well for the Yankees following the deal before undergoing Tommy John Surgery in September 2021, and is currently a free-agent.
Jim Johnson: Set-Up
Like Britton, Jim Johnson came up with the Orioles as a starting pitcher, debuting in 2006 with a rough, three-inning, eight-run performance. After a forgettable 2006 and 2007, Johnson returned to the Orioles as a shutdown reliever in 2008, appearing in 54 games and pitching to a 2.23 ERA. After pitching in a setup role from 2009-2011, Johnson took over as the Orioles' closer in 2012 and set the franchise's single-season record for saves with 51 that season. Johnson saved 50 more games for the Orioles in 2013 before being traded to Oakland that offseason. The right-hander was never the same pitcher afterward, bouncing between Oakland, Detroit, the Dodgers, the Braves, and the Angels. He has been out of baseball since 2018.
Koji Uehara: Set-Up
While perhaps better known for pitching for the Red Sox, where he won a World Series in 2013, the Japanese right-hander was a dominant reliever for the Orioles from 2009-2011. Like Britton and Johnson, Uehara initially joined the Orioles as a starter in 2009 before converting to full time reliever later that season. In late 2010, Uehara took over the closer role from Alfredo Simon, earning 13 saves and pitching to a 2.86 ERA. He was even better in 2011, pitching to a 1.82 ERA before being traded to Texas for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Uehara was simply a joy to watch, as he effortlessly threw strike after strike and rarely melted down out of the Orioles pen. He has been out of the league since 2017.
Darren O'Day: Middle Relief
One of the most popular Orioles during his 7-year stay in Baltimore, Darren O'Day originally joined the team as a waiver claim following the 2011 season. The side-winding righty was a consistent force out of the Orioles' bullpen, most notably during his All-Star season in 2015 and the team's playoff appearances in 2012, 2014, and 2016. In his two best seasons, O'Day posted a stellar 1.70 ERA in 2014, only to follow that up with an even better 1.52 ERA in 2015. Although O'Day announced his retirement a few months ago, Oriole fans will always have fond memories of thousands of fans chanting "O'Day O'Day O'Day O'Day" as he took the mound at Camden Yards during his time in Charm City.
BJ Ryan: Middle Relief
BJ Ryan pitched for the Orioles from 1999-2005, with the hard-throwing left-hander known for securing big strikeouts in tight spots and eventually earning the closer's role in 2005. Indeed, following a stellar 2004, where he pitched to a 2.28 ERA and struck out an incredible 122 batters in only 87 innings, Ryan saved 36 games in 2005 and made the American League All-Star team. The 6'6" 230 pound lefty signed with the Blue Jays after the 2005 season, saving 38 games for them and making his second All-Star team. Ryan last appeared in the majors with Toronto in 2009.
Brad Brach: Middle Relief
While perhaps flying under the radar out of the Orioles pen behind Britton and O'Day, Brad Brach was a valued member of the team's bullpen from 2014 through 2018. In his first season in Baltimore, Brach went 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA, and he only improved from there. Brach followed a 2.72 ERA in 2015 with an even better 2.05 ERA in 71 games in 2016, a year that included his only All-Star appearance. Brach took over for an injured Zack Britton in 2018 to earn 18 saves and post a strong 3.18 ERA in 67 games. Brach joined the mass exodus of Orioles at the 2018 trade deadline, that includes Britton, Manny Machado, and Jonathan Schoop, in a trade to the Mets for lefty Kevin Smith. Brach subsequently pitched for the Cubs and Reds, the latter being his final Major-League team in 2021.
Félix Bautista: Set-Up
Notwithstanding a shaky outing in Wednesday's Opening Day win at Fenway Park, Félix Bautista earns the final spot in my bullpen following his stellar 2022 season, his game-changing velocity and strikeout ability, and my prediction that he will spend the next several years as the Orioles' closer. There were other candidates in the running for this final spot, including Buddy Groom, Chris Ray, and Brian Matusz, but ultimately, the most dominant reliever of the group earned the final spot. Bautista won't close on this team - Britton will - but he would certainly be counted on to record a key strikeout or two. Perhaps it's recency bias, which I postulated contributed to my selection of Adley Rutschman as the backup catcher in Part I, but I have no qualms including Bautista in the final spot.
And there we have it: a 26-man roster of Orioles from the 2000s. And what is a 26-man roster without a man at the helm leading the group? With that said, a brief word about the team's manager.
Buck Showalter: Manager
The Orioles' fortune in the 2000s changed, quite literally, when Buck Showalter was hired on July 30, 2010 following interim skipper Juan Samuel's brief stay at the helm. The Orioles were 32-71 when they hired Showalter, and went on to win 8 of his first 9 games and finished the season with a 32-25 record. Not bad for a team that was 39 games under .500 before he was hired.
Although the team struggled in 2011, Showalter led the Orioles to their first winning season in 14 years in 2012, as well as their first playoff berth since 1997. After beating Texas in the first-ever AL Wild Card game, the team bowed out to the Yankees despite a valiant showing in the ALDS. Incredibly, after 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles did not have a single losing season from 2012 through 2016, a run that included three playoff appearances. While he was far from perfect (his failure to use all-world closer Britton in the 2016 playoffs is still puzzling), Showalter easily earns the manager's role for this team.