On the heels of signing Derrek Lee, the Orioles have agreed to terms with reliever Kevin Gregg on a two-year deal. According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun (via Orioles Insider), Gregg's deal is worth $10 million and "also includes a club option for 2013 that could vest if Gregg is able to finish a certain number of games during the 2012 season."
Although signing Gregg makes more sense than a Type A free agent like Grant Balfour -- Gregg has Type B status, meaning the O's don't have to surrender a draft pick -- the move continues a puzzling trend of giving mediocre relievers multi-year contracts. Just last year the O's gave Mike Gonzalez a two-year, $12 million deal; even worse, he was a Type A free agent. Gonzalez seemed to right the ship as the 2010 season went along and he got healthier, but there's no chance that he lives up to his contract. The same can probably be said of Gregg.
Doesn't the O's front office remember what happened in the winter of 2006? Sure, Andy MacPhail wasn't with the O's yet and some, if not most, of the front office personnel is different now, but the valuable lesson(s) learned from that disastrous offseason should not be forgotten. That offseason, Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette handed out a combined $41.5 million to Danys Baez (three years, $19 million), Chad Bradford (three years, $10.5 million), and Jamie Walker (three years, $12 million). According to FanGraphs, here's the total wins above replacement each was worth in his time in Baltimore:
Baez: -0.4 WAR (2007: -0.8 WAR; 2009: 0.4 WAR; missed 2008 with injury)
Bradford: 1.6 WAR (1.3 WAR in 2007; 0.6 combined WAR in 2008 with O's and Rays, after a trade)
Walker: -0.5 WAR (2007: 0.7 WAR; 2008: -0.9 WAR; 2009: -0.3 WAR)
For all of that money handed out to hopefully shore up the bullpen, the O's received a combined 0.7 WAR -- not even a full win. The Baez-Bradford-Walker debacle should have taught the O's how not to build a bullpen. Granted, the Gonzalez and Gregg deals are not three-year deals and may not hamstring the O's much from making other moves, if necessary, but it's hard to understand why they'd want to overpay relievers when guys like George Sherrill, Mark Hendrickson, and Will Ohman have been at least relatively effective, cheap bullpen additions in the past couple years. Maybe it's because MacPhail values closing experience and doesn't mind targeting relievers who have piled up saves in the past. Gonzalez had 54 career saves before coming to Baltimore; Gregg has 122. (For what it's worth, Koji Uehara received a two-year, $10 million deal before the 2009 season, but he was signed to be a starter and did start before eventually moving to the bullpen amid injury concerns. He's also been effective in Baltimore, posting a 1.7 WAR in 2009 and a 1.4 WAR in 2010.)
Dave Cameron said it best in a December 2010 post, "Relievers Are Not Worth Multi-Year Deals" (which is certainly worth reading). I don't think MacPhail and the O's have learned that lesson quite yet, but at least they haven't started handing out three-year deals to relievers again.