Do O's need $6 million closer?

In the wake of the news that Mike Gonzalez and the Orioles have agreed on a two-year, $12 million contract, let's revisit R.J. Anderson's take on the prospective deal:

    Bobby Cox rode Gonzalez pretty tough this season; using him in a career high 80 games (previous high: 54) as he pitched 74.1 innings (54) and threw 1,307 pitches. This from a guy who threw just over 1,830 pitches in the previous three seasons combined – most of which he missed with injuries. As for the money itself, it’s no slam dunk. Gonzalez has never been worth $6M in free agent dollars throughout his career and while he should receive a boost from increased leverage, I guess I’m more concerned about Gonzalez’ health than anything. Factor in the loss of next year’s second round pick and I’m not sure I completely approve of giving decent – not great, mind you – cash to a injury prone reliever coming off his heaviest workload.

    Gonzalez figures to be the Orioles’ closer which raises the question: do the Orioles really need a closer? There’s some nice talent in Baltimore, and sure, they have the cash, so why not, right? Plus, there’s an outside chance the Orioles could really make a run in 2011, which would make all of this butter.

Three additional points:

1. I'm generally opposed to non-contending teams giving up much of anything for relief pitchers. They are, in my opinion, the last thing you worry about.

2. That said, the Orioles haven't given up anything yet, except their second-round draft pick next June. They haven't spent a single dime of that $12 million yet, and won't begin spending until next April, when Gonzalez begins drawing his paychecks. Gonzalez is under contract, and the Orioles could wind up paying him just $4 million before trading him in July for two prospects worth $6 million.

3. No, the Orioles aren't likely to make a run in 2011. Not in that division. But it's not inconceivable, is it? Maybe their talented young starting pitchers and outfielders all come together at once, and things are exciting in August of 2011. Far stranger things have happened.

On balance, I think it's difficult to justify Gonzalez's contract for one big reason: last season was the first of his career in which he threw more than 54 innings. If there's a better than 50/50 chance of Gonzalez breaking down at some point while he's in the Orioles' employ, he's not worth $12 million. And I think he's going to break down.