A pitcher you haven't heard of got $15.5 million - Tillman and other starters should rejoice - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

A pitcher you haven’t heard of got $15.5 million — Tillman and other starters should rejoice

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

There needs to be no hand-wringing that the Orioles won’t end up with two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.

I don’t know if they turned in an official written proposal to Ohtani’s agent to express how they would use the 23-year-old pitcher/outfielder, but it doesn’t matter. Ohtani wasn’t coming to Baltimore for various reasons, with a primary one being the city’s location on the East Coast. No eastern U.S. city made his Top Seven cut, including Boston and New York.

But if you want to harbor a little indignation today because the Orioles have yet to buy a starting pitcher or three, you can center it towards a development involving another starter who pitched in Japan last year.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals signed right-hander Miles Mikolas to a two-year deal reportedly worth $15.5 million.

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That’s not particularly good news for Orioles’ fans – and I’m being kind.

First, the Orioles had legitimate interest in Mikolas, who spent the past three years pitching for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League. From what I was told, the Orioles thought Mikolas, who was 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA in Japan, was a high-upside, low-risk alternative to this year’s MLB free-agent class. They saw him as a potential middle of the rotation starter.

Although I don’t know for sure, I can only imagine the Orioles were a bit surprised by his ultimate selling price.

I say that because: 1. The contract value was a bit surprising. MLBTradrumors.com predicted earlier this offseason that Mikolas would land a two-year, $10 million deal (with the San Diego Padres). And he got more $5.5 million more. 2. The Orioles always seem surprised by the going rate for free agents.

And that’s really why I think the Mikolas contract is a bad omen for the Orioles.

Who knows how he’ll perform in the majors this time around, but the deal shows what teams are willing to pay for rotation help, even for unproven MLB starters.

Consider this: Before going to Japan, Mikolas, a seventh-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2009, was 4-6 with a 5.32 ERA in 37 games (10 starts) for the Padres and Texas Rangers. That’s his big league track record. He turns 30 in August.

For comparison sake, free agent right-hander Chris Tillman, a second-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2006, is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in 203 games for the Orioles. That’s his big league track record. He turns 30 in April.

Yes, Tillman had a disastrous season last year – 1-7, 7.84 ERA in 24 games (19 starts) – after beginning the season on the disabled list with a shoulder ailment. But he’s had legitimate success in the majors previously.

Maybe Mikolas will have a better 2018 than Tillman, but I don’t think anyone can say that with certainty, considering his previous MLB track record and the learning curve from Japan to the U.S.

And so that begs the question: What is Tillman worth this offseason? The easy answer is likely far more than the Orioles think.

Several members of the organization would like Tillman back, but the prevailing thought is it should be at a significant discount based on his rough 2017 (he made $10.05 million last year). So, you figure a guaranteed base of a few million and reachable incentives that would push up the value a few more million if he stays healthy and eats innings (performance-based incentives such as wins or a certain ERA level are not permitted).

That all makes sense in theory. But it looks like that’s not going to be the going rate for a guy with Tillman’s track record, even after an abysmal recent campaign.

MLBTRaderumors.com, which ranked Tillman as the 47th best player in this free-agent class and Mikolas as the 50th, suggests that Tillman will sign a one-year, $10 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.

You can look at that two ways: $10 million for a guy with a 7-plus ERA? Or, $10 million for a guy that made 30 or more starts in four straight seasons before last year’s shipwreck?

If the Orioles look at it as the former, then Tillman’s gone. And that’s fine. But then you’re going to have pay somebody else – make that three more somebodies – similar money.

How do I know? Because Miles Mikolas just got $15.5 million for two years. Enough said.

Maybe Tillman will end up with a multi-year deal, but his camp seems to be focusing on a one-year, make-good contract and another bite at the free-agent apple in 2019.

Let’s face it, if he had another name, Tillman probably would be the Orioles’ top target this winter: A guy not yet 30 with a good track record in the AL East and at Camden Yards coming off a poor season and not looking for a long-term deal. That’s a Dan Duquette Slam Dunk.

But it’s possible that right to dunk just got more expensive.

Or at least it’s not going to be nearly as cheap as the Orioles had hoped. And here’s the disconcerting part for the Orioles: Take out Tillman and put in another starting pitching target and do the math again.

Miles Mikolas is worth $15.5 million for two years. So how much is Alex Cobb going to get on the open market? Tyler Chatwood? Lance Lynn? Jason Vargas?

The bottom line is the Orioles don’t like to play above their comfort zone.

But they are gonna have to pay to play in 2018 – or pray three of every five days next season. Again.

 

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. JParsley

    December 6, 2017 at 8:20 am

    so far praying hasn’t worked often enough, so they better break out the check book and sign some quality pitchers. this may be our last chance for a while to have a winning season with all the potential free agents. I also would like to see Lorenzo Cain in the outfield, he would thrive in a smaller outfield, maybe move the aging (slowing) Jones to a corner position.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 9:10 am

      I don’t see how you throw a lot of money at a Cain when the priority is obvious. I think he’d help. But he’s a luxury in my opinion. I’d fill right with a one-year lefty veteran. A Cain light.

  2. Ben1

    December 6, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Then why didn’t St. Louis sign Tillman and why, then, is he still unsigned? He is just too scary.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 9:11 am

      Everyone is still unsigned besides Mikolas. Just wait and see.

  3. giggs32

    December 6, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Dan,
    This off-season is going to be a disaster of epic proportions. Minor leagues are void of top prospects, especially pitching. 3 glaring holes in the rotation. Pending free agents next year with no plan to resign them or get good value by trading them. Oh and the GM and manager are in limbo too! Orioles are on the non-plan plan which means a directionless, disfunctioning organization thanks to an owner with no clue what he is doing. Get ready for another long string of losing seasons in Baltimore. It’s painfully obvious. Is anyone in the organization grasping this? It seems all of baseball sees this train wreck, how come they don’t?

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 10:59 am

      I think plenty in the organization see it coming as well. It’s how to best handle it that likely is the problem. You have a GM (and to a lesser extent) a manager who needs to win now. And that can alter plans for sure.

      • giggs32

        December 6, 2017 at 1:40 pm

        Okay Dan but they are choosing not to address the elephant in the room. If you know you can’t sign Machado and Britton, then you have to trade them and get some sort of value. This is stupidity and stubbornness not addressing it one way or the other. If they don’t, they will get nothing back for losing their two best players. That sets the franchise back 10 years or so! It is complete lunacy to handle your business this way.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      Well, it is hard to argue with that point. Getting nothing for those two would be criminal unless it comes with a World Series ring. And that seems unfathomable at this point.

  4. phildell

    December 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Signings like this always leave me wondering what a team sees in one guy (Mikolas) versus another guy with a much better history (Tillman)?
    What it proves to me is that no one knows where any of these free agents will wind up. My guess is that the O’s, as always, will play the waiting game to see how the market is set and sign guys that no one else wants and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. At the end of the day, we’ll continue to root for whoever is wearing the black and orange.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I think more than anything what it shows is that pitching will be costly this year and waiting for the market to come to them seems like a disastrous philosophy given the dire rotation need.

    • phildell

      December 6, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      But that’s what they do! They wait and that’s what’s so frustrating. Given the dire rotation needs, it would be nice to see them be more proactive.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 8:40 pm

      Agreed

  5. garyintheloo

    December 6, 2017 at 9:59 am

    I think giggs32 has several good points. So why don’t the Os jump out front in a slow moving market? Waiting for bargains to drop into your lap won’t work this year because anything falling will be rotten.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I couldn’t be more with ya Gary.

  6. GSISDANNO

    December 6, 2017 at 11:01 am

    These owners are out of their minds. Why don’t they understand that pitchers are high-risk investments. I can’t imagine what the Cardinals are thinking. It is very depressing.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      Supply and demand. Demand is huge for rotation help and quality starters are unicorns nowadays.

  7. TxBirdFan

    December 6, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Since it’s the holiday season I’m going to flip the conversation and be optimistic the O’s brass will figure it out and fill these key gaps. Besides, St Louis is a HUGE baseball town and they can afford to overpay. (aka – watch G. Stanton discussions). I️ predict we’ll have standout years from pitchers we least expected, and both Adam and Manny will get off to hot starts at the plate, contrary to last year. I️ also think there really is a Santa and we’ll have lots of snow here in Texas this winter.

  8. Boog Robinson Robinson

    December 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Face it folks … we’re not going to get any significant help from the outside … and it’s not Danny Duqs fault either.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      I’d imagine you will be correct Boog. Some help. But significant?

  9. Orial

    December 6, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I would like to see Tillman given another chance but not for 10 million. I just hope the O’s don’t get obsessed with him as the market passes them by-he’s not worth it.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      But it’s all about the going rate. They can’t get caught up in what’s worth it. They have 2 starters. An overpay is damn near unavoidable if they want to compete in 2018.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      December 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      I’d give Tilly 10 million on a one year deal in a heartbeat.

      • Birdman

        December 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

        Boog, have you been hitting the holiday eggnog early?

        • Boog Robinson Robinson

          December 7, 2017 at 5:41 am

          What’s 10 million in today’s market? And you’re risking only one year … worth a shot considering the alternatives.

  10. PA Bird Lover

    December 6, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Obviously there needs to be a philosophy change for the way Management thinks.
    We need minimum 3 starters. If money is not available for guys who may be able to pitch and win at Camden, then it’s time for a fire sale. Buying free agents or trading for pitchers who have great track records is the only way to winning.
    If PA has a passion to hold onto his franchise he will need to understand the cost of doing business with players is going insane, but to play he needs to pay. The O’s are between a rock and a hard spot. Money is the answer.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      Again, they have spent money. In fact no team has spent since in free agency what the Orioles spent on Chris Davis ($161M). But the pitching philosophy is that anything over three years is a serious risk. Frankly, it makes sense. But you aren’t going to get consistently good starters with that philosophy. And if you can’t develop your own, well, you get what the Orioles have.

    • PA Bird Lover

      December 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Yes Dan they have spent money, but there investment strategies haven’t been wise. Davis and Trumbo both are streaky players who are way over payed and now can’t be unloaded because both had bad years. Perhaps they should try buying a crystal ball.

  11. ATCguy

    December 6, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve said it time & time again, because I truly believe it. Regardless of what they (ownership/management) say, in Baltimore it’s not about winning… it’s about the business model. Regardless of the team record, the big question seems to be, “was the team profitable”? If so, they have no incentive to jump into the bidding wars for the talent that is needed to get over the hump.

    There’s an example of this team out on the west coast… they’re called the Oakland A’s. Maybe not in every aspect (DD doesn’t keep flipping players the way BB does)… but so long as the team can be somewhat competitive, tease the fan base, and put on a decent enough show to keep them buying tickets & concessions… then the real goal of making money (which is what any business wants to do) will be accomplished.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      I appreciate you commenting. Always do. And please continue. But I have to call BS on this narrative. The Orioles have been a Top 10 payroll in baseball the previous two seasons and top half each of the past 5. They have spent. Way way way more than the A’s. Not comparable. Now, have they spent wisely? No. Do they live on the fringes of the pitching free agent market? Yes. But that’s more about the history of bad investments for long-term pitching contracts than not spending money. They had four starting pitchers who made $10M or more last year (3 of which they paid). There are a lot faults you can have with this organization, like certain philosophies handcuffing development, but not spending money — like the A’s — isn’t one of them. Not at this moment or recently anyway.

  12. bv22

    December 6, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    $15.5M/2 is $7.75M/year, so what’s so shocking about that? Is it shocking that the guy has pitched in Japan and is getting that salary since he plays an in-demand position? Crapbaldo made $12.5M, Tillman $10M, and Miley made almost $9M all to be warm bodies in the rotation and who were all completely useless in their own way. Mikolas pitched successfully in one of the better int’l leagues for 3 years and is making less than all 3 of those salaries; I would say that’s a steal for St. Louis. If Mikolas set the market that low, wouldn’t that mean the market for Vargas, Lynn, Cobb, and Chatwood would all be a bit lower as a result? On 105.7, they’ve talked about $12.5 million being the going rate for a league average pitcher nowadays, which makes me think that the Mikolas deal is a steal, and that $12.5 million wouldn’t buy a Vargas, Lynn, Cobb, or Chatwood who are all slightly above league average in my opinion.

    If the O’s are going to cheap out on pitching, then they need to start thinking of other ways to negate the impact of the bad pitching they acquire such as moving the fences back , opening up the foul territories a little bit if possible, and acquiring quality defensive outfielders. Creating more easy outs this way may help us win with league average pitchers or at least make them last longer in a game until the bullpen can take over. Just look at how much trouble the O’s have trying to win in the AL Central and AL West because of stadiums with bigger fields of play. It’s not like the O’s are selling out OPACY, so removing a few rows of seats wouldn’t severely impact the bottom line.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 5:31 pm

      The guy was well below a major league average as a big leaguer. He hasn’t thrown a pitch here since 2014 when he had a 6.44 ERA in 10 starts. So that’s a steal???

      • bv22

        December 7, 2017 at 10:57 am

        It’s less money to get the same performance or better out of him than that they got out of Ubaldo, Miley, and Tillman last year. There have been a handful of players who were initially bad/awful here, went to Japan for a year or more to play, and then came back as better players (Thames being the most recent one) ; who’s to say that isn’t the case for Mikolas (hence, his upside)? And your initial post implied that pitching is a premium position in demand with low supply; basic economics is if supply is low and demand is high, prices go up. ….. The O’s signed Koji to 2 years and $10M in 2009 and had no idea how he was going to perform; wouldn’t inflation alone for a contract 10 years later cover the difference of $2.5M between Uehara’s 2009 contract coming out of Japan and Mikolas’ contract in 2018 coming out of Japan? If not inflation, then maybe the prior MLB and MiLB experience or the fact that Mikolas is a few years younger than Uehara was in 2009 is the reason for difference in contract value? I’ll give you that “steal” may not be the right word, but I don’t think the contract Mikolas got is all that outrageous as your post implies.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Koji was slightly different because he was a star in Japan. He was that country’s Andy Pettitte, it was once explained to me. A really good P on a really good team. Perhaps a better comparison is Wei-Yin Chen who was younger and left-handed and also a successful foreigner (Taiwan) in Japan. And he got 3 years and $13.4M in 2012. I don’t think Mikolas’ deal was outrageous. Just a little surprising. I think the Orioles were willing to go $10-$12 million for 2. But $15.5M, to me anyway, shows what teams are willing to pay for starters. One last thing: Good for Mikolas. Cool story.

  13. Ezrine Tire Award

    December 6, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Danny Boy allow me to digress from the subject at hand and inquire as to why everyone thinks we can’t (or won’t) sign Manny? I haven’t heard a cogent reason why that’s not possible. Enlighten me O Oracle of O’s.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      The most they have ponied up is $161 million for one player. And that hasn’t exactly worked out. Machado is looking at maybe double that. I’m not sure what they can afford. But I think it’s fair to say they won’t go there. And I can’t see him taking a “discount” to stay.

  14. JParsley

    December 6, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    I figured it out. sign Palmeiro put him at first and put Davis in right. yeah that will put us in the WS for sure. thank you and your welcome

    • Dan Connolly

      December 6, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      Orioles already have him: Preston.

  15. Cedar

    December 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    What’s the risk to signing Tillman to a one year deal (especially if that’s what he is looking for). Worst case scenario he’s a bust and the money comes off the books. Best case, he bounces back and if the O’s aren’t in contention he’s another trade chip.

  16. Bkr555

    December 7, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Look…Tillman may have been a descent pitcher when he was younger…but he is damaged goods now. He lost at least 2 MPH on his fastball. His control and ability to hit a spot is terrible and he has no ability to keep a hitter off balance. I don’t care what his career numbers have been. He is a terrible pitcher now. Do not resign him and waste the money. I can’t believe you guys are even considering this.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 7, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      He turns 30 in April. And that’s not a bad age for a pitcher — assuming that pitcher stays healthy. He had a good year the previous season. He could be damaged goods. He could have had one bad year. That’s the debate.

      • John in Cincy

        December 8, 2017 at 3:46 pm

        I can’t see Tillman getting much of a base salary wherever he ends up signing given the uncertainty about his arm, but rather lots of incentives tacked on. 2018 is going to be a platform year for him to prove he still has anything left.

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