Last year the Orioles piled up 93 wins despite keeping Ryan Flaherty on the roster all year in accordance with Rule-5 protocol. That too may be becoming a part of the winning on a budget formula. While not particularly useful to last year’s Orioles, Flaherty evidenced some power and upside along with an ability to play multiple positions, so the argument could absolutely be made that Flaherty could be a part of the Orioles’ future.
With TJ McFarland the formula is not so easy. Ideally the O’s would like to have McFarland in the role of “janitor”. He could pitch those games that are out of hand one way or the other and hold down mop up duties. Every roster has one of those guys. The problem is that the Orioles now have at least 3 of those guys. When Showalter looks to his bullpen in a close game (which is most for these Orioles) and when the starters are out early, there are at least 3 guys that he can’t feel comfortable handing the ball to. The result so far has been the overuse of Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz and closer Jim Johnson. The practice is unsustainable, and the ability of the Orioles to do anything about it begins and ends with McFarland for now.
Unless they’re ready to give up on Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter and/or Troy Patton, they’re stuck with those guys too. At least in those guys there are reasons to believe they’ll eventually “get it”. In McFarland, a soft thrower without tremendous “stuff” it’s becoming more and more difficult to fathom what it is that the Orioles and specifically Duquette are seeing that makes him so intriguing that he’s worth a wasted roster spot for the entire season. What about McFarland, other than years of team control on the cheap, makes him worth compromising chances to win this year with an eye toward the future?
For now it seems that they’ll get especially active (and creative) in filling their bullpen while using the absence of a 5th starter to their advantage. The Orioles called up Zach Britton for a start this week, and sent him down immediately after to bring in Zach Clark for emergency bullpen use. Whether or not they’ll use him in a game that’s on the line remains to be seen. My best guess is that the next time the 5th starter spot is up they’ll bring up Jair Jurjens or Steve Johnson and then send them back down the following day for Alex Burnett or Josh Stinson and then use the remaining players to cover the 3rd time the 5th spot comes and goes.
I’d expect that revolving door to continue spinning until one of those starters performs well enough to command a permanent spot in the rotation. But that’s not a solution; it’s a short-term (and highly complicated) fix. Sooner or later the O’s are going to have to make some tough decisions regarding McFarland and/or someone else. Sooner or later they’ll have to find a couple of more reliable bullpen arms, and sooner or later they’ll have to figure out what to do with Strop, Hunter and Patton. Otherwise they’re likely to see the arms of the guys they actually trust fall off pretty soon.