Simply asking the question will invite a myriad of responses ranging from a bucket of baseballs to a sampling of Old Bay — and hopefully nothing more malicious than those barbs — but I’m going to do it anyway.
What would you do with struggling Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg if you were executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter?
His outing in Toronto on Sunday was particularly disastrous as Gregg entered in the sixth inning with a chance to keep the Orioles in a close 3-2 ballgame. Instead, he allowed the first six hitters he faced to reach, turning a one-run deficit into an 8-2 lead for the Blue Jays against what could only be described as a “B” lineup going to the plate for Baltimore.
Gregg has made it clear he’s unhappy with no longer being the closer, and Showalter doesn’t view the 33-year-old as one of his best options despite using him in a high-leverage situation with two runners on base that were left behind in the sixth by starter Brian Matusz on Sunday. New closer Jim Johnson, veterans Luis Ayala and Matt Lindstrom, and young Pedro Strop all appear to have leapfrogged Gregg in the manager’s late-inning hierarchy of trust, and Gregg’s 12.27 earned run average in his first 3 1/3 innings of work hasn’t done anything to change that notion.
It appears Gregg would benefit from a change of scenery after being booed by the home crowd during player introductions on Opening Day. There’s little point in debating the merits of former executive Andy MacPhail signing Gregg to a two-year, $10 million contract two offseasons ago to become the Orioles’ new closer. Everyone can see it was a poor decision, just as it was the year before when left-hander Michael Gonzalez was inked to a two-year, $12 contract.
Many point to Gregg’s $5.8 million salary as the reason why he will remain in Baltimore, but the money is already committed whether you keep him around or not. If the Orioles no longer view Gregg as one of their seven best relievers, there is little argument to continue what’s become an ugly situation for what used to be a solid-enough relief pitcher. With potential long-relief man Tsuyoshi Wada working his way back from an elbow injury and lefty Zach Phillips waiting at Triple-A Norfolk, there are options at Duquette’s disposal to replace Gregg if the Orioles choose that course of action.
Ultimately, it’s not Gregg’s fault the Orioles overvalued a reliever with decent save totals but lacking the peripheral numbers — his walks and hits per inning pitched had increased four straight years prior to coming to Baltimore — to justify a $10 million contract.
But the club is now faced with the question of what to do with the disenchanted reliever, who has done himself no favors in making excuses for his struggles and recently admitting to being tired in a two-inning stint against the Yankees last week.
Releasing him might satisfy a fan base out for metaphorical blood, but it leaves the Orioles on the hook for his entire salary with no chance of any type of return.
His trade value is lower now than it’s ever been despite the San Francisco Giants potentially looking for a late-inning reliever after learning that closer Brian Wilson will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season. Even finding a team to take Gregg would be a challenge at this point, let alone trying to get something of value in return or to entice an organization to pay a significant portion of his remaining salary.
Perhaps the best move is to wait as the Orioles did with Gonzalez a year ago. Through the first two months of the 2011 season, the southpaw had a 7.79 ERA and appeared destined to be released after an ugly start to the year. However, Showalter and the Orioles stuck with him — picking their spots to use him in mop-up roles for a significant portion of time — and Gonzalez eventually began pitching more like the guy the club envisioned when signing him, posting a 2.17 ERA in his final three months with the Orioles.
As a result, the Orioles were able to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Strop at the end of August. The hard-throwing, 26-year-old Strop now appears to be a potential late-inning option moving forward.
So, before completely writing him off and cutting ties with Gregg, Duquette should take a long look at what happened last year.
History may not repeat itself and the Orioles may not be able to get anything for Gregg between now and the trade deadline, but the slim possibility is enough reason to stash him away in the bullpen for a little longer. There’s no reason to make a bad investment worse simply because it makes you feel better at the time.
The Orioles can only hope Gregg somehow straightens himself out in the coming days and weeks.
For the sanity of all parties involved.