Or for you non-Japanese speakers, “Welcome back, Koji.”
Late tonight (Wednesday), the Baltimore Sun announced that the Baltimore Orioles and Koji Uehara have agreed to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2012. The specifics of the contract aren’t know at this time, but it said to be laced with escalator clauses depending on his role in the bullpen. Frequent forum poster Don shares what he’s heard about the terms of the contract.
In various roles out of the bullpen in what was only his second MLB season, Uehara quickly became the Birds’ best option out of the pen, going 1-2 with 13 saves, a 2.86 ERA, and a 0.955 WHIP. Uehara ended the season with the best ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and strikeout to walk ratio. Koji ended the 2010 season as the Oriole’s closer, converting 13 of 15 saves.
Even though the Orioles parted way with closer-candidate David Hernandez in order to acquire Mark Reynolds, there is still a huge question mark at the position. Uehara, Alfredo Simon, Mike Gonzalez, and Jim Johnson are all candidates for the closer job as well as other late-inning duties.
Since Koji finished the season as the closer and with the better numbers, he is the clear front-runner for the position. However, Mike Gonzalez is slated to make six million dollars in 2011, way to much to pay a set-up man on a last-place team. Alfredo Simon was also lights-out during his time as closer before suffering a hamstring injury which gave Koji the opportunity to close.
To make things even more complicated, the Orioles were said to have offered Blue Jays closer Kevin Gregg a two-year deal worth $8-10 million, also entirely too much to pay a 7th or 8th inning pitcher. Gregg saved 37 games for Toronto in 2010 with a 3.51 ERA.
The signing of Koji as well as the offer to Kevin Gregg lowers the available money for the Orioles to sign other position players, such as a first baseman which is much needed.
On the other side, the signing of Koji and the possible signing of Gregg gives the Orioles more trade options out of the bullpen to acquire big names such as Prince Fielder.
This post was written by Tim Anderson, you can follow Tim on Twitter @sportsnickelTim.