Kevin Gregg, the hulking, bespectacled reliever who endeared himself to teammates for his brotherly advice and refusal to back down to the opposition — but drew the ire of fans for his ineffectiveness as a well-paid closer — was designated for assignment on Tuesday.
The Orioles have 10 days to trade, release or ask waivers on the 34-year-old right-hander, who was 3-2 with a 4.74 ERA in 40 games this season.
"We're trying to see if we can put him in a place where he can get the ball on a consistent basis and present himself as a good option," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He will be next year for some team."
Gregg signed a two-year, $10 million deal in January 2011 to be the Orioles' closer after saving a career-high 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. But he scuffled, converting just 22 of 29 chances in 2011, and eventually lost the spot to Jim Johnson.
This year, Gregg was booed during Opening Day introductions at Camden Yards, and he eventually found himself pitching in middle and long relief. He was effective at times — he allowed just one earned run in July — but couldn't maintain consistency. He allowed runs in three of his final five appearances for the Orioles, but he also had pitched just twice since Aug. 29.
"I'm a guy that the more that I pitch, the better I feel. I was put into a situation, before my last outing, that I pitched two games in 15 days or so," Gregg said. "That's not an easy situation for any pitcher to be in. It wasn't a situation I felt good in, and it wasn't a situation that benefitted the team. It just wasn't good for either side."
Despite his troubles, Gregg was one of the most respected veterans in the clubhouse for his straight-shooting logic, his accessibility and his toughness. Perhaps his shining moment with the Orioles was when he jawed and then brawled with Boston's David Ortiz last season, taking a you-can't-push-us-around stance.
"Oh man, [shoot]," said reliever Pedro Strop when he heard Gregg had been designated. "For me, it's a front office decision, but he was a great teammate and a good help for me. Every time I had a question about pitching that was tricking me, I'd ask him. We always talked a lot in the bullpen, joking around. It's like wow, I'm surprised."
Showalter said Gregg's clubhouse presence was one of the reasons he remained on the roster all season, but ultimately the Orioles needed a spot for an outfielder in the wake of Nick Markakis' injury, and Gregg's innings were replaceable. The team selected the contracts of outfielders Endy Chavez and L.J. Hoes on Tuesday, also designating Triple-A infielder Ryan Adams for assignment.
"We just feel like we had some options down there that potentially can offset the loss of Kevin," Showalter said. "He made a contribution on and off the field to our team, and he will be missed."
More than anything, Gregg said he was "really disappointed" that he would not be able to be with his teammates as they try to finish their unexpected run to the playoffs.
"This is a team that hadn't been in contention in a long time," he said. "We hadn't been this close to the postseason, and it's something I really took pride in, in trying to help out these guys make the push to the playoffs. And not to be included in continuing the chase to the postseason is really disappointing. It's something I have no control over. But, yes, it's disappointing not to be a part of that now."
The constant booing from the home crowd rankled Gregg, especially this year, but he also knew that when he signed his deal it would come with expectations.
"Sometimes, free agency doesn't work for either side. It wasn't that I wasn't well received here. I signed with Baltimore because I saw the potential here. It was exciting to me when I came here," Gregg said. "It just didn't work out. It wasn't a good situation for me. I didn't thrive in the situation. And it wasn't benefitting the team either in the end."