The Orioles have been criticized by fans and media members alike for their repeated failures to act quickly when opportunities have been presented. This off-season, Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette are on a mission to make the Orioles look like major players again. After a flurry of impressive minor league signings, they made the controversial decision to add depth to the rotation with Jaret Wright by dealing away one of their best relievers. Just a few days later, the Orioles have helped negate the loss of Chris Britton with the addition of Jamie Walker for a reported three years/$11.5 million.
Jamie Walker, 35, is unanimously considered the best left-handed reliever in the free agent market. He's coming off a career year that saw him post a 2.81 ERA in 48 innings, but it has taken Walker a long time to get his first big contract. In fact, after stints in the minor league systems of Houston, Kansas City and Cleveland, it wasn't until 2002 that Walker was in the major leagues to stay. Since then, he has been a staple of the Tigers' bullpen, never posting an ERA over 3.71. Walker has often been used as a specialist, since he has held lefties to a .229 batting average in his career. He also has impeccable control, walking only eight batters this season. Walker doesn't have overwhelming stuff and it shows up in his average strikeout rate, but he is deceptive and throws four quality pitches- a high 80's fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. The lone red flag in his statistical profile is a high home run rate, which may further limit his usage because he would be particularly vulnerable with runners on base.
For nearly $4 million annually, the Orioles have added a key piece to their bullpen through 2009. Walker may already be 35 years old, but his arm has been kept fresh by limited usage. His reliance on deception also makes him more likely to age well. With 122 appearances in the past two years, but only 96.2 innings pitched, it's obvious that Walker won't be making many multi-inning appearances; so the Orioles still have a lot of innings to fill to improve the second worst bullpen ERA in the major leagues. Nevertheless, it is certainly encouraging to see the newfound aggressiveness of the O's front office.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com