Reports out of the Baltimore Sun indicate that the Orioles have agreed to a three year deal with relief pitcher Danys Baez. The 29 year old right-hander is expected to make $19 million over the life of the contract. Baez will join another recent free agent acquisiton, left-hander Jamie Walker, as one of the primary set-up men for closer Chris Ray.
Due to his 111 career saves, Baez instantly becomes the Orioles' most famous reliever. He also has a career 3.79 ERA in six seasons. Orioles officials were particularly intrigued by Baez's prior success in the AL East. In 2005, Baez recorded 41 saves with a 2.86 ERA and made the all-star team as the closer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Prior to the 2006 season, Baez was packaged with Lance Carter in a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He served as a part-time closer until the emergence of Takashi Saito made him expendable. Baez was then packaged with Wily Aybar in a trade to the Braves for Wilson Betemit. He only managed 10 innings of mixed effectiveness with the Braves before undergoing an emergency appendectomy on August 24th. On the season, Baez finished with 9 saves and a 4.53 ERA in 59.2 innings. He is expected to be fully healthy for the 2007 season.
While Baez certainly represents an improvement over the likes of Russ Ortiz, the Orioles have invested a lot of money in a pitcher that, historically, has been consistently overrated based on his save totals. Of particular concern is that his strikeout rate has declined each of the last four seasons, from 7.9 per nine innings pitched to 5.9 per nine innings pitched. Baez has, however, maintained a solid groundball rate. His 2006 GO/AO ratio of 1.05 nearly duplicates his career GO/AO ratio of 1.08. While he has never been confined to facing right-handed hitters, Baez has been more successful against them. In 2006, lefties drubbed him to a .295/358/.448 batting line, while righties were held to .244/.308/.328. Baez works regularly in the mid-90's with good movement and he has been known to dial it up a notch or two further when needed. His curveball is a solid second pitch. Though he has had mechanical inconsistencies in the past, Baez has proven to be a durable reliever that is capable of pitching more than an inning at a time.
Danys Baez should provide some stability to a beleaguered bullpen, but it is unlikely that he will be worth the money invested in him. Even in a spiraling market, the Angels were able to get a decidedly better reliever in Justin Speier for a lower annual salary. It's well known that the Orioles are being forced to overspend for free agents, and Danys Baez has proven to be no exception. At least Orioles fans can take solace in the fact that the front office is willing to do so, even if it is an inefficient way to improve a roster that needs a substantial overhaul.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com