The Orioles tried to outsmart the rest of baseball when they picked up Jason Garcia in last winter's Rule 5 draft. This wasn't even their own selection. The O's paid a small $25,000 sum to the Astros to draft Garcia for them. Just 22 years old, Garcia had never pitched above the High-A level when the Orioles got their hands on him. As the season went on, the O's seemed to have outsmarted themselves. In the end, they didn't pay much of a price for a player who still has some potential value in the future.
Through spring training, the story about Garcia was that the O's, one of only a few teams to have video in their Gulf Coast League complex, got their eyes on Garcia when he was rehabbing with the GCL Red Sox. No one else thought much of the hard-throwing righty who had so little seasoning. After all, what kind of idiot team would snag a player in the Rule 5 draft who had no high minors experience? Keeping in mind, also, that whoever drafted him would have to have him on the MLB roster all season or lose him, oh, and also, he came with a reputation for command problems.
That idiot team proved to be the Orioles, who wanted the whole world to think of this acquisition as some great pilfering that they accomplished shrewdly. The reality was not nearly as pretty as the idea of Garcia, who did not take very many games to show that he was not a major league ready pitcher because, shockingly, the issues with his command were not smoothed over from one spring training camp with the Orioles. It wasn't actually shocking at all.
Carrying Bigfoot as a reliever
It's not like the Orioles were blithely unaware of what they were doing. That they needed to save Garcia for situations where, in effect, it didn't matter if he came in and screwed up a game was as apparent to us as to them. Garcia pitched a scoreless inning in his O's debut, the third game of the season, but the next game saw him give up two hits and two walks in 2.2 innings of a lost cause of a game.
Following that outing, Garcia did not appear in a game for ten days. He was not unlike Bigfoot in that he was someone who many people claimed to have seen, but the evidence for his existence was hazy at best. This hiatus did him little good.
Even settling into a role as a garbage time reliever, he was still in some ways not safe to put into a game. Garcia's wildness played an ancillary part in a flare-up between the O's and the Blue Jays. His part was that he hit Ryan Goins. Jose Bautista somehow thought, one, that there was any reason to intentionally hit Goins, and two, that this pitch plot demonstrated a pitcher who was "hitting his spots," thus, the hit by pitch should be seen as intentional. That's a dumb thing to say. But you can't very well keep using Garcia in games when he has such severe command problems, either.
So he was buried in the O's bullpen, appearing in only eight of the team's first 31 games. At the time, there was some angst that his presence may have been causing a strain on the O's bullpen, since it was constructed in such a way that the O's did not have any player who could be optioned to the minor leagues. That's a debatable point, but even at his best, Garcia was an inconvenience.
Suffering from "shoulder tendinitis"
On May 13, Garcia was banished to the disabled list with what was called right shoulder tendinitis. Nobody actually seemed to believe that Garcia was ailing in any way, a situation that manager Buck Showalter did not help when he remarked that the Orioles only needed to have Garcia on the active roster for so many more days in order to keep him in the long run.
Why were they going through all of this for the sake of keeping Garcia? That was the big question. When Garcia finally emerged from where the O's stashed him to start a rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie, he didn't do much to answer the question. Over the nine games Garcia pitched with the Baysox, he issued nine walks in 15 innings and had a WHIP of 1.400.
Eventually, they had to bring him back onto the big league team. That necessitated another disruption to the existing bullpen group. It seemed clear to me that a big reason the O's moved Tommy Hunter at the trade deadline was to get a spot in the bullpen for Garcia opened up. His personality was missed, but really, Hunter was being paid $4.65 million this year to duff around out there. He was certainly not the closer, definitely not the eighth inning guy, and with the emergence of Brad Brach, Hunter wasn't even the seventh inning guy.
At the time, however, the trade was just one more indignity that O's fans seemed to be suffering due to Garcia's continued presence. Hunter was a character who had become a fan favorite with his presence across multiple good Orioles seasons.
The remaking of a reliever
The ugly caterpillar spins itself a cocoon and eventually emerges as a beautiful butterfly. This is one of those things we just understand about nature. So it was, perhaps, with Garcia, who, after his return to the big leagues, almost looked kind of like a competent pitcher. From that day to the end of the season, Garcia pitched to a 2.81 ERA. That doesn't suck.
Garcia was not suddenly lifting a heavy load out there, of course. He pitched in only 13 games from August 6 onward. Two of the games were Orioles wins. One was a 13-inning affair against Oakland when it seemed that Showalter wanted to do everything possible to avoid using Garcia, who, when he finally pitched, needed only six pitches to notch a perfect inning. The O's walked off in the bottom of the inning. The other was an 18-2 blowout in which Garcia both pitched and batted and was walked by a position player. Really.
Was he a different pitcher after all? Maybe. He only walked six batters in his final 16 innings, still not a great ratio, but also a significant improvement over how he began. Over the full year, he did not look to be worth the gymnastics the Orioles did to keep him. They made it through the season and now Garcia belongs to the Orioles.
What that means is that now they've got three option years to use for him, time in which they can try to continue to refine his abilities into a real big league reliever. They've even sent him to the Arizona Fall League this month to get him a little extra work. Who knows what he'll turn into, but stranger things have happened than a useful reliever suddenly emerging from a mess. The Orioles bullpen has been well-stocked with former messes in recent years.
Garcia added little to the 2015 O's. He didn't take much away, either. No team's success or failure hinges greatly on the seventh or eighth man in the bullpen. There will always be garbage time. No one seemed to be hurt or worn out by his presence. He was just there, toiling away in blowouts.
Maybe he'll never turn into anything useful and all of this will end up seeming pointless. You can still appreciate the idea. The Orioles need to take some chances to get cheap talent. If Garcia works out, he will be exactly that. If he doesn't work out, he still didn't cost them much.