Orioles activating Garcia puts unneeded strain on bullpen

August 06, 2015 | Luke Jones

Maybe the 22-year-old Jason Garcia blossoms into an All-Star closer one day.

The Rule 5 pick possesses a high-90s fastball and a promising slider, but future upside is all he offers now as the Orioles entered Thursday 5 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East and only a game back of the second wild card. It creates another hole in the bullpen after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette justified last week’s puzzling trade of Tommy Hunter as a way to create a spot for the talented Mychal Givens, who was optioned back to Double-A Bowie to make room for Garcia on Thursday.

In 13 2/3 innings with Baltimore earlier this year, Garcia pitched to a 5.93 ERA and walked 11 batters before being sent to the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis in mid-May. The right-hander posted a 4.20 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and nine walks in 15 innings for Bowie during his rehab assignment, which expired on Thursday. The right-hander must spend at least 90 days on the active roster in order to lose his Rule 5 status for next season, meaning the Orioles couldn’t simply wait to activate him until Sept. 1 when rosters expand.

Not only does it reinforce the mixed signals stemming from the Hunter trade that felt more like a salary dump instead of a move to improve a club in the midst of a playoff race, but it’s fair to question whether Garcia’s upside is even worth it in the end.

The Orioles bullpen currently houses Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Chaz Roe, who were all obtained for little cost. O’Day was a waiver claim after the 2011 season, Brach was acquired for little more than a spare part in the minors two winters ago, and Roe was inked to a minor-league deal last December.

For an organization showing an ability to find impact relievers seemingly out of nowhere for cheap, is it prudent to essentially play a man down in the bullpen for the next 3 1/2 weeks?

Yes, it’s unlikely that manager Buck Showalter will even entertain the thought of using Garcia in a close game, but T.J. McFarland — or anyone else the Orioles might recall in his place if and when there’s a need for a fresh arm — now moves up the pecking order. The lefty and former Rule 5 selection sports an unhealthy 1.83 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 15 1/3 innings this season.

The trickle-down effect might lead to more strain on the Orioles’ most reliable relievers and could even cost the club a game or two at some point, which is an uncomfortable margin for error in a tight race.

As was the case with the Hunter trade, this may not end up hurting the Orioles down the stretch, but it very well could, making the decision fair to question.

That’s why many fans are once again scratching their heads over a club that traded for a rental outfield upgrade a week ago and is aiming for a third trip to the postseason in four years.

This move may not be a big deal, but it makes contending harder than it needs to be.

You just hope Garcia’s upside is ultimately worth it.