As his two-year contract with the Orioles nears its conclusion, righty Koji Uehara is restoring some value. He sports a 1.91 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 1.6 BB/9 in 28.3 relief innings and has quietly slipped into the team's closer role.
Uehara, 35, pitched well as a starter in 2009, but his season ended in June due to hamstring and elbow woes. He began this year with more of the same, but has been healthy for the last two months as a late-inning reliever.
Uehara was signed as the Orioles' first-ever Japanese player in January of 2009. HIs two-year, $10MM contract included $6MM worth of incentives for innings pitched and games finished that he was not able to reach. His path with the Orioles was not surprising; in June of 2008 NPB Tracker's Patrick Newman outlined Uehara's injury history and success coming out of the bullpen in '07. The contract indicates the Orioles were aware of the possibility that Uehara would switch to relief at some point.
Teams are more cautious in free agency now than they were two years ago. Plus, Uehara is no longer a mysterious figure. He's an injury-prone right-handed reliever who will be coming off a strong half-season at age 36 – not unlike Brendan Donnelly after the '09 season. Uehara's agent Mark Pieper would do well to get his client a $2MM guarantee this time around.