Baseball is so flush with money at any given moment that even free agents who at first glance are nothing special are still able to get multiple guaranteed years for millions of dollars. The latest signing on this tier is lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo, who agreed to a two year, $12 million contract with the Mets on Wednesday. The O's even had some mild interest in Bastardo, though, since they weren't the ones who signed him, it's safe to say they weren't interested.
Perhaps the price tag for a player in that role was more than they wanted to pay, or they felt they might be able to spend the money better elsewhere than on a LOOGY,
The LOOGY - that is, Lefty One Out Guy - is one of the stranger phenomena in modern baseball. Of course it makes sense that you would want to have a player who specializes in getting out left-handed batters, but the juggling of relievers to create lefty-lefty matchups creates a number of situations where the LOOGY is summoned to face one batter and then immediately replaced. Could this guy ever be worth $6 million per year? The existing O's LOOGY, Brian Matusz, only faced two more batters than Mike Wright last year.
On the days where he's off his game, a LOOGY may walk or give up a hit to that lefty and leave having retired no batters at all. It's an extra sting for fans of his team. Not only did he fail, but he dragged out the whole process of watching a baseball game. It's not fun to sit through a million pitching changes unless you're Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
That the Orioles already have Matusz made the mild interest in Bastardo a bit surprising. Matusz didn't start out as a LOOGY, but that's how his career has evolved. It's been a disappointing outcome to O's fans who expected to see him at the top of a starting rotation based on his prospect hype when he was drafted #4 overall, one spot ahead, as it turned out, of three-time All Star (and counting) Buster Posey.
If Matusz had been a seventh round pick, that perception would probably be a lot different. Still, though he's failed at his initially-expected role, that doesn't mean that he has no value at all to the Orioles.
Then again, perhaps the interest in Bastardo isn't so surprising after all. Bastardo has been better than Matusz at the primary function of retiring left-handed batters and he's been competent enough against righties as well that he doesn't have to be hidden away from them. While Matusz was good against lefties, Bastardo was even better, holding them to a .138/.233/.215 batting line.
The real difference was in right-handed batters in the most recent season, with Bastardo holding righties to a .626 OPS compared to the .721 OPS Matusz allowed. That's probably why Bastardo logged 68 more right-handed batters than did Matusz. In turn, he's much more valuable to a team, even considering the year-to-year fluctuations relievers can go through. Bastardo's 2014, for instance, saw him end up with a higher OPS from lefties (.640) than Matusz (.626) but Bastardo crushed Matusz against righties (.599 vs. .826).
Bastardo's often a LOOGY. Ten of his 66 appearances in 2016 lasted only one batter. But he's capable of being a lot more than just that, and that matters. The $6 million per year price tag is a lot for a reliever, but it's less of a hit for a pitcher who has some versatility in how he can be used. No wonder the O's were interested. He'd cost more than Matusz, but he'd be expected to be better, too.
The presence of Matusz should not have been an impediment to improving the bullpen. It probably wasn't, or at least not directly. We know that the O's spent last winter shopping Matusz around, including attempting to interest the Pirates in him in exchange for Travis Snider. Imagine how much better you'd view that bust of a trade if it had been Matusz for Snider, without costing the O's any precious starting pitching prospects. But it's not that easy, of course. If O's fans are well-acquainted with a player's deficiencies, it's a safe bet that most teams will be as well.
A more likely reason for the O's to avoid Bastardo at this point in the offseason is that they may prefer to keep their options open to spend that money elsewhere. It's not much of a secret that the O's could use another starting pitcher. Whether they're better off sinking that money into Yovani Gallardo or Doug Fister or somebody else is the subject for a different article.
Maybe they'd still benefit from getting another outfielder, too. My fellow Camden Chatter Chris Booze recently argued for the O's to sign Austin Jackson. The difference between Bastardo and Matusz is probably not as great as the difference between Vance Worley and Doug Fister's upside, nor is it as great as the difference between Nolan Reimold and Jackson's upside.
Of course, the Orioles being the Orioles, they might not sign either one of those guys. They could go even more bargain basemen than that and sink money into a player who's not an upgrade at all. Maybe they will just pick off the scrap heap and see if anyone sticks in spring training.
If either of those ends up being the case, we'll probably look back and wonder if signing Bastardo might have been a better play. Any improvement of the team is an improvement, and making a positive move is always better than making no move at all.