The Baltimore Orioles traded Jim Johnson earlier this offseason. It wasn’t that much of a surprise for a team a bit strapped for cash, but it remains a point of contention among the fanbase as to why they got rid of a fan favorite. That gripe that many have with the organization remains due to the fact that the Orioles have yet to find a suitable replacement for the ninth inning to replace Johnson, who was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics earlier this offseason.
The club was close to a deal with Grant Balfour before they backed off due to concerns over his physical and flirted with Fernando Rodney for a bit before he signed with the Seattle Mariners. With almost no obvious options remaining on the market, and the O’s unlikely to pull the trigger on a possible trade for a reliever, it looks like they’ll fill the vacancy left by Johnson with an internal option.
It’s just a matter of who.
Who? is the real question for an Orioles team that many have voiced their displeasure with, due to a lack of spending this offseason. Whether a team needs to spend in order to be successful is neither here nor there, but it is curious that the O’s didn’t do much to upgrade their bullpen, outside of signing lefty Ryan Webb. He’s a solid addition, to be sure, but the closer vacancy at this point in the winter is somewhat concerning.
When looking at the candidates to close, one would likely look at the two obvious options: Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. When it comes down to it, though, there really only is one option here and that’s Hunter. Even before the Orioles failed to sign any of the available closers on the market, many were pointing to Hunter as the favorite, something that seems even more likely now that Rodney and Balfour both have deals. Considering the split that O’Day has that dramatically favors him against righties, he’s not a guy you want in the ninth.
Which means it’s very likely going to be Tommy Hunter. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, as long as the O’s can live with the fact that they’re handing the ball to a guy with virtually no closing experience. Not that he doesn’t have the stuff to be a success at the back end of ballgames. He found consistent success in a relief role last year, posting a 2.81 ERA in 68 appearances. His velocity was up much higher than it had been in previous years, with his fastball living in the upper 90s and his cutter jumping up to the low 90s for the first time in his career.
At this point, there’s no reason to think it’ll be anyone but Tommy Hunter for the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth in 2014. They haven’t officially confirmed it to this point, but that’s very likely going to be the result. And that’s something that the Orioles should be just fine with rolling with as they try and get back into the playoffs in the new campaign.