Refusing to sit still, the Orioles have again acquired a bullpen arm in right-hander Scott Williamson. Though just entering his age 31 season, Williamson has a long history of injuries that have kept him from living up to the promise he showed as the 1999 National League Rookie of the Year. Williamson had two stints on the disabled list in 2006, both for an aching elbow that has previously required surgery. Because of his injury history, the Orioles were able to sign him to a one year deal worth $900,000 and incentives.
Williamson was originally signed for the 2006 season by the Chicago Cubs, but he was traded before the July trading deadline to the San Diego Padres. A combination of his own inconsistency and injury concerns cost him a spot on the playoff roster and he was given his release. Although there is nothing sparkling about Williamson's 5.72 ERA over 39 total innings last season, there are plenty of statistical indicators in his favor. For example, his strikeout rate of 9.7 per nine innings pitched would have topped the Orioles last season. He also has a track record of allowing very few home runs, despite being a slight flyball pitcher. Perhaps this is due to his often overpowering arsenal, which includes high-90's heat, a plus splitter, a solid slider and a changeup he uses to keep left-handers honest.
Although Williamson isn't getting paid like Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, or Chad Bradford, he has the highest ceiling of any of these pitchers. While it would be foolish to depend on Williamson holding up for an entire season, the Orioles should be commended for taking this particular risk. Williamson may yet disappoint his third team in the past two seasons, but the Orioles have very little invested in him. If he is able to return to form, however, Williamson is capable of being the best reliever on the roster.
Notes: The Orioles also came to terms with catcher Paul Bako, who will be playing for his eighth major league team in nine seasons. If you are looking for anything more than 2007's incarnation of Geronimo Gil or Chris Widger, you are likely to be disappointed. Bako is entering his age 35 season and has a career batting line that would make Brandon Fahey wince. Bako is a prime example of the axiom that however bad a catcher's offense is, that is how good his defense is likely to be perceived. Once a slightly above-average defender, Bako is now closer to average and declining. Naturally, the Orioles have long had a fetish for this type of backup backstop. It could be quite a waste if this move blocks J.R. House, who lacks Bako's defensive reputation but is a much better overall player.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via e-mail at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com