Should the Orioles target this all-star reliever in free agency?

A three-time all star reliever is still on the market. Should the Orioles pounce?

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on February 14, a Valentine's Day gift for all Orioles fans who are counting down the days to the regular season. But just because Spring Training has begun does not mean the Orioles are finished supplementing their roster. While the Orioles have already strengthened their bullpen with the signing of veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, it never hurts to add another veteran All-Star with closing experience to the mix. Enter Liam Hendriks.

According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, the fiery veteran from the land down under has set a deadline of February 15 to sign a major-league deal with a team and is apparently weighing multiple offers.

Passan's report does not speculate what teams are interested in the soon-to-be 35-year old Hendriks, who is out through at least the All-Star break after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past August. But the Orioles would make a ton of sense. First, although the Orioles added Kimbrel, their bullpen depth is somewhat lacking, with the recently-rehabbed Dillon Tate competing with decent but unremarkable options Cole Irvin, Mike Baumann, Bryan Baker, and Jacob Webb for the final two spots.

It could be worthwhile for the Orioles to bring in Liam Hendriks as another high-leverage relief option

Second, while the addition of Kimbrel should theoretically help with the loss of Felix Bautista for the season, Kimbrel was certainly not as dominant as Bautista last season and struggled in the playoffs against Arizona last October. While Hendriks will not be ready until the second half of 2024 at the earliest, adding another pitcher with closing experience with Bautista shelved for the whole year would not hurt.

There are also reasons for the Orioles not to sign Hendriks. First, there is no guarantee that Hendriks will pitch in 2024 as he recovers from the same surgery that will likely keep Bautista out all year. Second, by the time Hendriks returns - be it in 2024 or 2025 - he will have pitched only five innings since the 2022 season.

Following his triumphant return from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2023, Hendriks struggled, albeit in a small sample size, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in five games. Third, while it makes sense to offer Hendriks a two-year deal so he provides value in 2025 if 2024 is a lost year, this would lock the Orioles into a potentially multi-million dollar deal with a pitcher who may not have much left in the tank.

With that said, the Orioles should absolutely be in on Hendriks if the price is right. The winner of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, Comeback Player of the Year Award, and Tony Conigliaro Award, Hendriks is a winner and a fighter, and the type of player who could provide a much-needed surge to the Orioles' pen come the dog days of summer. He is a three-time All-Star, and between 2019 and 2022, averaged over 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

He has persevered not only physically by beating cancer, but also in his Major League career, as he struggled tremendously as a start with Minnesota and Kansas City before reinventing himself as a star reliever in Toronto, Oakland, and Chicago between 2015 and 2022. Despite potentially having bad memories pitching in Camden Yards (Kyle Stowers says hi), Hendriks could thrive as a late-inning weapon for the Orioles, be it at the end of 2024 or the start of 2025.

Liam Hendriks
2024 BBWAA Dinner / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

As good as it may be, the Orioles bullpen has several question marks heading into Spring Training. Can Kimbrel, who struggled down the stretch with Philadelphia, at least somewhat fill Felix Bautista's shoes? Can Yennier Cano avoid a sophomore slump and remain one of the American League's top relievers?

Which Cionel Perez will we see - the one who many fans wanted designated for assignment during the first half of 2023, or the shutdown lefty we grew accustomed to in 2022? How will Tyler Wells transition to a full season in the bullpen? Can Dillon Tate recapture his 2022 magic after missing all of 2023?

Adding Liam Hendriks will not solve all of Baltimore's bullpen questions. It might not help answer any of them in 2024. With new ownership in town and a clear goal to win in 2024 and beyond, a two-year deal with Hendriks makes a ton of sense for the Orioles.