The Orioles pilfered left-hander T.J. McFarland from the Indians in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, and as required to retain his services, kept him on the MLB roster all season, mostly limiting his exposure to low-leverage mop-up duty. In 2014, the team had (and Dan Duquette used) the option of shuttling McFarland to Norfolk, but he actually improved every facet of his game, and stuck on the roster after his second call-up in late May. McFarland wasn't a highly regarded prospect (hence his availability), relying on command and deception rather than velocity or stuff -- but the Orioles saw something in his performance that they thought could add value to the club, and so far they've been right.
As the season began, between trips to Norfolk, McFarland was mostly used in the same role as 2013 -- the long man. He'd put up two or more adequate innings in a game with a large run margin, keeping the rest of the bullpen and rotation fresh. His ERA hovered in the 3s while he took a few trips between Norfolk and Baltimore, but he mostly seemed to know his role and fill it adequately, nothing more.
McFarland's role as the swing man resulted in what was undoubtedly the peak of his season, and perhaps his career to date. On July 1st, McFarland was summoned into spot starter duty for his second major-league start. He scattered seven hits and two earned runs over five innings to garner his first major-league win as a starter, earning an Adam Jones pie for his trouble.
But then, a funny thing happened -- McFarland went from adequate, unobjectionable roleplayer to a full-blown pitching asset. Everything quietly clicked for McFarland as the season stretched on. After August 22nd, he didn't allow a single earned run, and he was used in shorter, higher-leverage situations as his ERA steadily dropped to a solid 2.76 to finish out the campaign.
Poor T.J. didn't appear on either of the Orioles' playoff rosters. This was understandable against Detroit's stacked right-handed lineup, but in the ALCS, the team opted to go with Brian Matusz as their left-handed arm against the Royals. We all know how that ended. We all sort of knew how that would end in advance, but one thing that I, at least, didn't realize, is just how much better T.J. McFarland could have been as an alternative, particularly riding an eight-outing, nine-inning scoreless streak into the season's end. But hey, in Dan and Buck we trust.
But to continue the McFarland-Matusz train of thought, while the Orioles will face a tough decision with Matusz this offseason (it shouldn't be tough, but I'm sure it will be), they have no such dilemma with McFarland, who is still in his pre-arbitration time, a cheap asset to the team who has shown an ability to play any number of roles for the team, and still has minor league options (probably the most important part for Dan Duquette). We'll see T.J. McFarland on the 2015 Orioles unless he's packaged as a sweetener in some unforeseen trade -- and that probably won't be a bad thing at all.