What's left in the MLB free agent market is the equivalent to what's on the racks in you neighborhood Salvation Army thrift store. Nothing extravagant, all of it previously owned and most of it still has the original owner's stench still attached. Yet, once in blue moon, there's something that catches your eye. Through all the garbage, you find that treasure. The Orioles may have just found that treasure last night when they signed former Atlanta Brave pitcher, Jair Jurrjens
Jurrjens represents a very low-risk signing that could turn into an absolute boon for the Orioles. Yes, Jurrjens had a very rough 2012 where he went 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA. He also struck out only one more batter than he walked, but most of that can be attributed to the groin injury that kept him on the disabled list and in the minors most of the year. This made him expendable in the eyes of the Braves, who ultimately non-tendered Jurrjens making him a free agent, despite only being a year removed from an all-star season where he pitched to a 13-6 record with an ERA of 2.96.
You'd figure a 26 year old, former all-star pitcher would garner a little more interest on the free agent market, but Jair got next to no play. Sure he's not going to overpower you with strike outs galore and he's going to walk about 3 guys per 9, but the upside is there. He's career winning percentage is near 60 at 53-37 and he's pitched to a 3.62 ERA and averages 6 K's per 9. Again, I also stress that he's only 26 years old. That is another huge factor. His youth and track record obviously seemed favorable enough for Dan Duquette to go out and ink him to a 1 year, 1.5 million dollar deal that could be worth 4 million with incentives. The O's also control Jurrjens through the 2014 season. Jurrjens is well worth the risk and could prove to be a steal if he regains form. I'm sure he'll be motivated. This is the type of signing that can make Duquette look like a genius and have the rest of the majors asking why this guy lasted so long on the market.
I'm just speculating here, but I'd be one to assume that this will end the Orioles' pursuit of Joe Saunders. Myself, I'm somewhat saddened that Saunders won't be brought back as he pitched 2 huge games in the playoffs and added to the lore of the O's 2012 season. The O's were probably only willing to go to 2 years with Joe and from all account he was looking for around 3 years. He might get that from a team like Minnesota or Seattle, but the O's weren't willing to go there. Never say never, when it comes to pitching, Double D always said there's strength in numbers and Saunders could be brought back. Jurrjens, however, offers much more upside than Joe in terms of youth and ability. Jurrjens could pitch towards the top of the rotation. Joey is more of fourth or fifth starter or a low-end number three on some clubs. Despite all Saunders did last year for the O's, if he regains, Jurrjens is the much better option, without a doub.
Hopefully, Jurrjens can bounce back from his horrid 2012 season and the groin injuries that plagued him. There is the downside that he'll miss some spring training time due to the fact he'll be pitching for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, but at least he'll be able to get acquainted with O's prospect, Jonathan Schoop. After the WBC, here's hoping JJ comes in to the rest of the spring training motivated and eager to prove to the Braves that they made a horrendous mistake in letting him walk. If he does that, he gives the O's some flexibility and the opportunity to turn their surplus of young pitchers into a much needed piece of the puzzle elsewhere in the lineup. It's a low-key signing that just might prove to be the O's most pivotal move of the off-season.