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BALTIMORE ORIOLES
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Signed RHP Darren O'Day to a four-year deal worth $32 million. [12/7]

When you get right down to it, most every criticism of most every contract is rooted in sustainability. Sometimes the deal is too long, or with a team that presents a suboptimal environment; sometimes the player just isn't that good in the first place, or has a skill set that makes them more prone to attrition. Whatever the case or the form, it's all circles back to sustainability. O'Day found that out the hard way on Monday, when he agreed to a deal inferior to the one signed last winter by Andrew Miller, his former O's teammate who is younger and equipped with a more conventional (read: safer) skill set.

Pitcher/Metric

O'Day 2013-15

Miller 2012-14

IP

196

133.3

ERA+

227

160

SO/BB

4.46

3.74

FIP

3.13

2.37

WARP

4.3

3.2

FA Contract Sum

$31 million

$36 million

If there's one thing that makes people more weary of a reliever than age, it's an unusual approach. The 33-year-old O'Day doesn't throw hard like the 30-year-old Miller. His hottest fastball last September rounded to 89.4 mph—again, that was his fastest, not his average. To frame it another way, last season O'Day tied for the second-lowest peak velocity among full-time relievers with more than 40 innings. Add in his side-arm release point, and you have a composite sketch of an oddball reliever—one whose staying power is almost certainly going to be shorter than his flame-throwing peers.

But a sketch can tell you only so much, and it's through up-close observation that the differences between O'Day and the standard fastball-slider, side-arming reliever become apparent. While he is better against righties, he's not what what you would categorize as a right-handed specialist. What's more is he doesn't fall victim to limited looks. Instead O'Day provides more angles than Wilkie Collins: suboptimal velocity or not, he'll throw his four-seamer up in the zone; he'll pound the knees with his sinker; and he'll use his slider as a chase pitch against righties, as well as a back-door strike-stealer against lefties. Oh, and O'Day does all the above while staying on the field, as he's thrown at least 60 innings in four consecutive seasons, and in five of the last six.

In short, O'Day is not a gimmick pitcher; he is, rather, a legitimate late-inning reliever—albeit one who, as we established, is older and odder than the standard model. As such, it's both surprising and unsurprising that the Orioles outbid the Dodgers and Nationals for his services; what team is more likely to roll the dice on a departure from the norm than the one most familiar with them?

Retaining O'Day makes sense for reasons that go beyond nostalgia and loyalty. Dan Duquette has to know that pairing O'Day with Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Brian Matusz, and Brad Brach gives Buck Showalter a talented, deep bullpen that ought to be a team strength. Showalter ran his bullpen in an aggressive manner last season, opting for fewer innings and more appearances, so having another vet late-inning option could make it easier on his nerves when Britton is unavailable for a high-leverage spot. Of course, the other benefit is that a shutdown bullpen allows Duquette leeway on upgrading his rotation. This has become known as the Royals Way, but it's important to remember that the Orioles were the strategy's progenitors years ago, back when only title the Royals held was industry punchline.

None of that means the Fightin' Showalters can afford to proceed as assembled. Baltimore's projected lineup contains Christian Walker, L.J. Hoes, and Henry Urrutia at three of the four corner positions. Duquette excels at finding upgrades, especially of the marginal nature, and he should be able to attain a few before spring hits. Otherwise? Signing O'Day seems like a worthwhile gamble for a team who needs to take a few in order to compete in 2016 and beyond. —R.J. Anderson

DETROIT TIGERS
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Signed RHP Mark Lowe to a two-year deal worth $13 million. [12/7]

Lowe's career resurgence rolls on. There was a time, a couple of springs ago, when he was deemed inferior to Josh Lueke. He's since refined his mechanics, resulting in a career-best walk rate in 2015 and, by extension, a guaranteed multi-year deal—not bad for someone who entered the spring as a non-roster invitee. Those control gains haven't affected his raw stuff, as he still pumps mid-to-upper-90s fastballs with an upper-80s slider that serves as his off-speed pitch. Predictably, Lowe's problems with left-handed hitters remain, leaving him a better fit in middle relief than anywhere. Tigers fans, think of Lowe as an in-control Al Albuquerque and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. —R.J. Anderson

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Signed RHP Joakim Soria to a three-year deal worth $25 million. [12/7]
Reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with RHP Chris Young worth $11.5 million. [12/7]

A day after losing Ryan Madson to the A's, the Royals respond by bringing back an old friend.

Soria never received a proper send-off from Kansas City, given he missed 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. He departed afterward, beginning a three-season voyage that saw him pitch for as many teams. Along the way, Soria reasserted himself as a flexible late-inning option, one who has closed and set-up on good and bad teams alike. Consider his experience and versatility crucial attributes here, because it's possible that he'll spend time in various roles over the course of the contract: first as a bridge to Wade Davis, and later, after Davis departs (presumably following the 2017 season), as the closer.

As was the case back in the day, Soria employs a deeper arsenal than the typical reliever. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s (average-at-best velocity for a late-inning reliever), yet he complements his modest heat with a pair of breaking balls and a changeup—each good enough to make him an effective option against lefties and righties alike. He throws a ton of strikes, and the one real concern from a statistical perspective his proneness to the home-run ball—something that seemed to flare up only during his time in Detroit.

You might wonder why the Royals decided to pay Soria when they could have retained Madson for less money. The answer almost certainly boils down to health, an area where Madson falls short in comparison to just about everyone and everything. Granted, Soria has his own durability issues: last season was the first time since he left Kansas City that he topped 50 innings. Still, the Royals can take solace in knowing that Soria has been hearty and hale more often than Madson in recent years.

With the back-end of his bullpen solidified, expect Dayton Moore to focus next on adding a mid-rotation starter.

Young split last season between the rotation and bullpen, starting in 18 of his 34 appearances. His below-average stuff continues to defy the scouting scale, and he continues to find success against big-league hitters with the his tried and true approach. Young doesn't miss many bats or generate many ground balls, and he's never going to lead the league in walk rate. Yet he excels by pitching up in the zone and taking advantage of his deep release point. It's not the prettiest or most exciting formula, but it's borne results whenever he's been healthy. Whether Young can stay hearty and hale for two more years is anyone's guess; luckily, the cost is close to trifling by today's standards, meaning the Royals aren't making a huge bet on his body holding up into his late-30s.

How might the Royals use Young in 2016? Presumably in the same swingman role as last year. With Johnny Cueto leaving and Jason Vargas out until late in the season, the Royals could stand to add another starter before spring. If, by extension, that means Young opens the year in a bullpen role, then so be it. As last season proved, it's better to have someone like Young—who has shown he can make the transition to and from the rotation on a whim—as a fallback plan than some other random pitcher. —R.J. Anderson

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Signed RHP Ryan Madson to a three-year deal worth $22 million. [12/6]

The Oakland Athletics had the second worst reliever DRA in baseball last season. Of players that pitched more than 50 innings last season, Ryan Madson had the 20th best DRA. The filling of an obvious need will not be in question, but some will wonder whether giving a 35 year old reliever, who just finished his first healthy season since 2011, three years and 22 million dollars is the savviest of moves. On the one hand, reliever health is an even bigger mystery than general pitcher health, and one could argue that teams might as well grab good relievers when they are healthy. On the other hand, adding in known health concerns, such as Madson’s past elbow troubles, to an already risky baseline is not a positive. Given the inflation we are seeing this offseason, Madson’s contract is somewhat in line with the three years and $18.5 million Luke Gregerson received from the Houston Astros last offseason (while Madson is older, he has been the better pitcher when healthy). The disappointing thing from the team’s perspective is that there was no discount for the health or age concerns.

Beyond the contract cost is the opportunity cost and the Athletics are certainly a team not without other areas in need of upgrade. Trading away Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez and the rumors of their desire to trade away Brett Lawrie leave plenty of room for improvement in the infield and the rotation. That said, it is not clear that as big an upgrade as Madson should be in relief will be available at either of those positions for that price. Ultimately, the Athletics have zagged so much in the past that when they zig, such as addressing an obvious need at a market price, we (as people analyzing the move) are forced to wonder what is really going on, but that feels like it is more telling of us than it is of the deal itself. —Jeff Quinton

CHICAGO CUBS
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Reportedly agree to terms with RHP Trevor Cahill to a one-year deal worth $4.25 million. [12/7]

The Cubs utilized a unique strategy with many of their bullpen arms towards the end of their season, an approach that came in quite handy in the postseason. It was a move that mainly came out of necessity, as manager Joe Maddon started to pull starters Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel earlier than one would expect, choosing to turn to starters-turned-relievers like Clayton Richard, Travis Wood, and Trevor Cahill. With the latter reportedly returning on a one-year deal, the Cubs appear to have the trio returning in 2016.

Cahill stated early in the offseason his desire to find a starting role, however in what capacity he’ll be used on the North Side next summer isn’t entirely clear. Since the deal wasn’t official at the time he addressed the media, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer wasn’t able to talk about Cahill specifically. However, he did say that both Richard and Wood would be stretched out in the spring and while his name wasn’t mentioned by Hoyer, it’s a safe bet Cahill will take a similar route.

“It’s a huge advantage to be able to do that,” Hoyer said about having pitchers who had recently started coming out of the pen. “You don’t know when you’ll have injuries, but also the fact that our guys can go 35-40 pitches and not feel like we were pushing them, they were ready to do that. (Relievers going multiple innings), that’s a big advantage to be able to do that, so I think we’ll definitely stretch a lot of guys out in spring training and take a look.”

While it’s possible that Cahill wins a spot in the rotation next spring, that certainly isn’t the most likely outcome. When coming out of the bullpen with the Cubs, Cahill largely dumped his cutter and increased usage of both his changeup and curveball, while continuing to rely heavily on his four-seamer. It was an incredibly small sample of 17 innings in the regular season, but it resulted in a ton of strikeouts (34.8 percent), groundballs (61.8 percent), and ultimately, success. Perhaps a change in pitch mix would work as a starter as well, or maybe the Cubs identified some mechanical tweaks that could lead to success for Cahill out of the rotation. But right now that’s purely speculation.

By adding John Lackey, the Cubs have started the process of getting more innings out of their starters, but bringing Cahill back accomplishes other stated goals as well. They create depth, or ‘redundancy’ as Epstein put it back in October, and insurance for starters at the back end of their rotation in case of either injury or shorter outings. —Sahadev Sharma

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Signed LHP Oliver Perez to a two-year, $7 million contract. [12/4]

Matt Thornton, who posted an eye-catching 2.18 ERA over 41 â…“ relief innings in Washington last season, was always going to be a little bit too expensive for the Nationals to keep around. (This despite his still-excellent but less conspicuous 3.01 DRA; we’ll alert you when the league decides to move away from ERA.) That’s fine, in general—the Washington ‘pen was pretty decent last year, and 24-year-old Felipe Rivero showed signs of promise as another flashy relief arm from the left side—but it’s still not the best of ideas to enter Spring Training with just one decent lefty arm (Matt Grace and Nick Lee don’t count yet).

Enter Oliver Perez. You may remember Perez as a middling-to-poor lefty starter for the Mets. In fact, that’s how I remembered him, too, until I took a look at his DRAs as a reliever for the last four years: 3.34, 4.66, 3.76, 4.33. Now, those aren’t world-shattering numbers, but they aren’t terrible either, and it’s not like the Nationals signed Perez for some earth-shattering price: he has to be worth only about a win over the next two years to be decent value. And there’s a solid chance he’ll get there, too, if used effectively: last year, lefties hit him for a TAv of just .193, which is 20 points better (for him) than the league average. Sure, he’s a little old (35 next August), but he’s hit 40 innings in each of the last three seasons, and Washington could have done a fair bit worse, for more money, to replace Thornton’s spot on their roster. —Rian Watt