The Cleveland Indians need to acquire a couple of pieces for their lineup, sure, but perhaps just as importantly, they need to pick up some bullpen arms. Relievers are fickle, and the Tribe rarely shells out cash for late-inning help, but there’s one pitcher for whom they should make an exception: the great Darren O’Day.
O’Day is as solid as they come, and he’s certain to get a big payday as he becomes a free agent this year. But as a setup man with an odd submarine delivery, he’s stayed largely underneath the radar. Since joining the Orioles in 2012, O’Day has pitched in roughly 68 games per season, but amassed only 12 saves. This low profile might just keep him in the Indians’ price range.
Over 263 innings with Baltimore, the right-hander maintained a 1.92 ERA and struck out 283 batters. He was a 2015 All-Star, posting a 31.9 percent strikeout rate and just a 5.5 percent walk rate this past season. Perhaps most impressively, he allowed just 3.9 percent of his opponents’ hits to go for extra-bases – far below the 7.6 percent league average.
O’Day’s only bad years came in his 2008 debut with the Los Angeles Angels, when he posted a 4.57 ERA over 30 games, and in 2011, when he posted a 5.40 ERA in an injury-shortened season with the Texas Rangers. Other than that, he’s been stellar – and healthy, which is an added bonus.
Some might argue that the Tribe is more in need of a quality lefty than a stellar right-hander. The problem is that there are very few left-handers on the market worth their asking price. Assuming that Cody Allen returns as closer next year, he will need a setup man. Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship are all quality pitchers, but none have the talent of O’Day.
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So what would O’Day cost? Former Indian Joe Smith signed a deal with the Angels in 2014 worth $15 million over the course of three years, but he was 29 years old at the time. O’Day is 32, with more miles on his arm. The Tribe would be smart to offer him two years, but if he wanted a third, it would likely be too risky. He made $4.25 million in 2015, and his value certainly hasn’t declined.
A $10 million/two-year deal would likely be a solid investment for the Indians, given that their biggest issue with re-signing Smith was not his cost, but the additional year he wanted on his contract. Because they are similar pitchers in every way, it seems reasonable to think that the Indians would be willing to tender O’Day a contract much like the one they offered Smith after the 2013 season.
O’Day is the stabilization that the Tribe needs in their bullpen, and it’s hard to argue with his consistency. Francona hasn’t had a reliable eighth-inning arm in a while, and the presence of one more dominant late-inning reliever might be just what the team needs to make their bullpen unstoppable.