Spoiler alert: O's aren't buying high-end pitching this week - or this offseason - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Spoiler alert: O’s aren’t buying high-end pitching this week — or this offseason

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Baseball’s annual winter meetings start in earnest today here at the Swan and Dolphin resort and, for the next few days, you are going to hear a whole lot of rumors about trades and free agents.

And you’re going to hear the Orioles attached to just about every starting pitcher that is or could be available.

Let me save you the trouble of daydreaming. Spoiler alert: It’s gonna make you angry.

The Orioles aren’t buying one of the top starters available on the free agent market. They aren’t. You can accept that now or wait until it becomes official.

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But Jake Arrieta isn’t coming back to the Orioles and Yu Darvish isn’t joining them, either. Neither is Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, the second tier of free-agent starters.

All of those guys are going to get four years (or more) on the open market. And the Orioles aren’t giving four years to a free-agent starting pitcher. That’s the reality. Hate to be a buzzkill.

Almost no one in the organization endorses such a deal based on how often those contracts crash and burn. The Ubaldo Jimenez pact (four years, $50 million, and a thousand disappointments) is still smoldering in the warehouse.

Even if the Orioles would offer four years and an enticing sum for a free-agent pitcher – and I repeat, ain’t gonna happen – the pitchers who can command that are in demand. And, all things being equal, pitchers in demand don’t choose Camden Yards unless they are getting a significant financial boost in comparison with other suitors.

The problem here is that the Orioles need three starters for their rotation. That’s a point difficult to argue (maybe Miguel Castro or Mike Wright can handle the fifth spot, but the club would be better served if those two, and Gabriel Ynoa, were Plans B, C and D).

The bigger problem is that the Orioles’ true free agent targets this offseason were in the third (and solid) tier: Tyler Chatwood, Miles Mikolas, Mike Fiers and Andrew Cashner.

The only one that is still a free agent is Cashner. The other three quickly were scooped up.

Chatwood, who survived Coors Field to put up respectable overall numbers, signed a three-year, $38 million deal with the Chicago Cubs – that’s more than the Orioles expected to pay.

Mikolas, who returned to the majors after three years in Japan, signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals – that’s more than the Orioles expected to pay.

Sense a pattern?

Well, Fiers, who was non-tendered by the Houston Astros, broke that pattern. He signed a one-year deal worth $6 million with the Detroit Tigers. That’s actually a lesser contract than what the Orioles anticipated. Reportedly, they made a two-year offer to Fiers. But he was more interested in a one-year, pillow contract that could put him in a better financial spot (via arbitration) next year. No coincidence that he picked a home stadium that is known as a pitcher’s park.

That leaves Cashner as the highest rated starter that the Orioles can afford/will make a legitimate run at – and he has warts (including a rapidly disappearing strikeout rate). But there is interest there on the Orioles’ side. We’ll see if it is mutual.

After that, the Orioles will be looking at guys with track records that, for one reason or another, probably won’t be getting multi-year deals: old friends Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Vargas, Hector Santiago.

I know that’s not what Orioles’ fans were hoping for, but that’s this free agent market and the reality of the club’s philosophy.

Honestly, I get the reluctance to offer four years or more to free agent pitchers. It often is a disaster. But this team’s window is almost closed. If they are taking one more shot, well, then they have to take a real shot and overpay Cobb or Lynn or Arrieta (I’m not endorsing big money on Darvish). Again, though, just a daydream.

There is one other possibility here. Trading for a starting pitcher or two. If you are looking at the Orioles’ 2018 season half full, that’s your best bet.

Who do they have to trade? Well, that’s another good question. They don’t have many options that wouldn’t significantly hurt the 2018 club – whether it’d be a member of the bullpen or third baseman Manny Machado. And dealing the organization’s few top prospects for pitching seems foolish given the abundance of Orioles’ pending free agents next winter.

Taking on another team’s bad contract – likely a starter that received four or more years and has faltered since – is a possibility. Again, though, that type of pitcher is a gamble, not a sure thing that is needed for the upcoming season.

Yes, this is not a pretty picture for the first day of the meetings. Sorry. You can ignore it if you like. You can hold out hope that the Orioles buy Cobb and Arrieta, re-sign Tillman and have a legit rotation by the time they leave Disney World on Thursday.

That’s your prerogative. Maybe it will be the happiest place on Earth for the Orioles.

But I’m not buying it. And the Orioles aren’t buying top-tier pitching.

51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. akerfan2

    December 11, 2017 at 7:33 am

    if only there was an ace level pitcher that was worth twenty two million over two years that we couldve at least attempted to sign.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 7:49 am

      Not even worth mentioning imo. He absolutely wasn’t coming to Baltimore. He was going West Coast. I’m not one who is satisfied by being in the game. That one doesn’t bother me.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 11, 2017 at 11:04 am

        It bothers me that they didn’t even make the slightest attempt to pursue Ohtani. Sure, he almost certainly wouldn’t have come here. But what’s the harm in trying? If the Orioles aren’t going to pay big money for free agent starters, why not show interest in an ace-caliber pitcher who can be acquired for a dirt-cheap contract (plus the posting fee)? This is a team that had the worst rotation in the majors last year, and the worst in franchise history. They should be pursuing every avenue to acquire pitching help, especially someone as talented as Ohtani. Not to mention he also possibly could’ve helped a DH spot that had terrible production in 2017.

        Yes, Ohtani would’ve ended up turning them down because the Orioles aren’t on the West Coast. But the Orioles couldn’t have known that for sure in the initial stages of the process. Failing to even make an attempt is (as I think Buster Olney put it) the front office equivalent of not running out a ground ball.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 11:29 am

      We will have to disagree. You don’t run out a strikeout. I don’t care about how it looks. The reality was known. Why waste time to make a show? Fans would rip that too. This one registers as a shoulder shrug for me.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 11, 2017 at 1:05 pm

        To me, it just comes across as the Orioles’ FO having sort of a defeatist attitude. “Ohtani doesn’t want to come here, so we shouldn’t bother making an attempt.” Or, “The best FA pitchers are going to make a lot of money, so we shouldn’t make an offer.” Or, “A lot of pitchers think Camden Yards is a bad place to pitch, so there’s nothing we can do about it.” Or, “We don’t like the international amateur signing process and posting process, so we’re not going to pursue those avenues.”

        It just seems like the Orioles are cutting themselves off at the knees and eliminating themselves from a lot of good opportunities to acquire pitching talent. And then they wonder why their starting rotation struggles so much?

        You’re right that this is the reality of how the Orioles operate. And that’s unfortunate. It just doesn’t send a good message to the fans or the players.

        • bigdaddydk

          December 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

          This is how I see it too. I look at it like the front office saying that a low percentage shot isn’t worth taking. That puts me in mind of a basketball player not heaving a full court shot at the buzzer because it’s not likely to go in. Statistically, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I agree with you that the team needs to market Baltimore and OPACY differently to quell some of the negative perception for pitchers. There are worse band box stadiums than OPACY but this idea persists that you can’t successfully pitch there. Maybe some of the issue that perpetuates that is that the O’s haven’t had great pitching overall.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      I think it absolutely is Ohtani doesn’t want to come here so we’re not going to make an offer. And I’m OK with that. What’s the other message that should have been sent? We know we’re not going to get him but we are going to apply anyway to say we did? Who does that appease. Have you ever heard an Orioles fan — or player — say we had no shot at a player but gosh I’m glad we went through the motions anyway? Can you get that on a T-shirt? I think fans want something to complain about. I get it. But to me there’s a whole lot more legitimate stuff to rail in than no offer to Ohtani.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 11, 2017 at 4:00 pm

        It’s not just about Ohtani himself. We agree that he wouldn’t have come here. What bothered me was Duquette’s comment that the Orioles are philosophically opposed to the posting process and thus will never get involved in bidding for posted players from Japan. It’s just another example of the Orioles handcuffing themselves and not using every opportunity available to find pitching help.

  2. Marshall

    December 11, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Is Brach for Harvey a fair deal?

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 8:34 am

      It’s a risk based on health. Could be good. Could be terrible. I think you can probably get someone more stable for Brach. But maybe not with the upside of Harvey.

      • Marsh42

        December 11, 2017 at 8:36 am

        Dan, who would you target in a Brach deal?

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

      That’s a hard question to answer because I don’t know who is truly available. I’d like to think you can get a solid starter for him, but probably one about to be a free agent after 2018 too.

  3. Marsh42

    December 11, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Sadly Dan, you are right but, it won’t be for the reasons most will lament. This is NOT on Duquette. This is on Ownership. I find myself being a Duquette defender by default. While I am not the biggest fan, he is so often blamed for things he has no control over. Let’s not forget no one wanted his job before he was hired. There is good reason for that. Angelos has been on of the largest obstacles in this club moving forward. He doesn’t want to spend internationally he only spends on players he wants and undercuts the front office by removing them from negotiations. Also, how many trades has he agreed to then changed his mind and backed out? We have a poor business reputation and it starts at the top.

    Blame Duquette for the prospects let go for nothing that are thriving elsewhere but the lack of spending this and every offseason, is not on him. His history would suggest, if left up to him he is not scared of the big deal.

    • Djowen

      December 11, 2017 at 9:05 am

      I agree 100%. The O’s are a bottom feeding team that only takes other teams leftovers. Peter Angelos doesn’t have the guts to do what is needed to win in today’s MLB. Our only hope is that his son is a little more risk taker then his father is.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 9:53 am

      Marsh: this is where I’m forced to defend. The Orioles have had a top 15 payroll for the past 5 years. Top 10 last two. Duquette has had obstacles he’s had to deal with — like ownership policy on international scouting and four-year deals for pitchers — but money has not been the biggest problem. And you are wrong on countless trades that Angelos approved and backed out on. He has veto power. That’s his right. And if a GM paints it as otherwise that’s incorrect. Deals aren’t done until ownership approves. That’s the way it works in some places. I don’t have a major problem with that.

      • Dpsmith22

        December 11, 2017 at 11:06 am

        Thankfully PA nixed the Britton trade. We were being hosed.

      • bv22

        December 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm

        There’s spending money and then there’s spending money wisely. The O’s are good at the first one and awful at the second one. Why they’re awful at the second one would probably make for a great article by someone.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      I sure have tried in that one bv

    • Osfan73

      December 11, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Angelos is sort of the Jerry Jones of MLB….you know with his my way or the highway and screw up a good thing no matter what attitude towards running an organization, with his silly policies, firing a mgr of the year and a pathological need for total control!! At least Jerry wants to win games.

  4. Orial

    December 11, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Morning Dan. You article neither shocks not overly dissappoints me. 4 year deals are highly questionable. Arrieta and Darvish may have seen better days,Cobb/Lynn though decent aren’t worth 20mill 4 year deals. I’m ok with Cashner,Vargas,Jaime Garcia or EVEN Michael Pineda. Gausman,Bundy,maybe Castro and a couple of the above may work. As far as trading Manny–I really have to wonder if O’s could get proper value back being that those teams would more than likely be renting him for only a season.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 9:54 am

      I get it. But people would still pay for Machado. He’s a difference maker.

  5. Steve Cockey

    December 11, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Since substantial improvements aren’t happening, why not go the nostalgia route for the team’s final “run” with this group? Sign Gonzo, Tillman, Feldman and trade for Markakis. At least there’d be some sentimental value.

    • Bancells Moustache

      December 11, 2017 at 9:35 am

      I like it! Hell, grab Nate McClouth and Mark Reynolds while we’re at it

      • bigdaddydk

        December 11, 2017 at 9:52 am

        I hear Palmeiro is looking to get back in the game.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Steve is sorta joking. But those are three names worth watching.

    • Raymo

      December 13, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      Late response, but I never again want to hear of Scott Feldman having anything to do with the Orioles. I still have a bad taste in my mouth.

  6. Paul Folkemer

    December 11, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I think the talk of Camden Yards being an unappealing place to pitch is kind of overblown. It’s not like it’s Coors Field. It’s really not that much of a hitter’s park at all — yes, it’s a good place for hitting home runs, but by contrast, there aren’t many doubles or triples because the gaps aren’t very big.

    In 2017, Camden Yards was only the 11th-best hitter’s park (tied with Fenway): http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/parkfactor. (Comerica Park, where Mike Fiers just signed because it’s supposedly better for pitchers, was actually the 4th-best hitter’s park.) And if you go back to 2016, Camden Yards was actually more a pitcher’s park than a hitter’s park: http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/parkfactor/_/year/2016

    When the Orioles talk to FA pitchers, I hope they’re doing their best to dispel the myth that their ballpark is a bad place for pitchers. It can actually be a good fit, especially for ground-ball pitchers.

    • phildell

      December 11, 2017 at 9:45 am

      Thank you Paul. I don’t care what ballpark you’re pitching in, it’s all about 3 things..location, location, and location. How many times have we’ve seen 0-2, 1-2 pitches thrown right down the middle of the plate and end up 10 rows deep? Any pitcher worth a damn wouldn’t be concerned about pitching here…and more importantly, neither would his agent. The problem isn’t the ballpark. The problem is the lack of effective pitchers.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 10:03 am

      But it is chicken and the egg. That perception becomes reality. Look at the way Miley pitched. Not attacking the zone. I remember Hellickson when he was traded trying to downplay OPaCY yet you could tell he wanted nothing to do with it. They can PR it all they want. The ball flies out in the summer and every pitcher sees it.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 11, 2017 at 10:57 am

        In that case, I think it’s the Orioles’ responsibility to change that perception. They have the stats on their side on this one. They need to emphasize to pitchers that they don’t have to change their approach or be afraid to attack the strike zone. Yes, you’ll give up home runs. But gappers that would be doubles or triples in other parks will turn into outs at OPACY.

        Last year, almost every Orioles starter had a better ERA at Camden Yards than on the road. Even Miley was a run better at home than on the road.

        Now, pitchers might have plenty of other reasons to avoid Baltimore — noncompetitive offers, not wanting to face the Yankees and Red Sox lineups all year, etc. But the ballpark isn’t really the problem. That’s the message that the Orioles need to get through to FA pitchers.

    • Bancells Moustache

      December 11, 2017 at 10:58 am

      It’s the home runs that are the problem though. When a guy gives up a triple, the whole ballpark doesn’t see him standing alone on the mound with his shoulders slumped. Paul I’m not arguing with you on the numbers, I just have a tough time believing your average big league pitcher, when looking for a team to join, is checking out charts thinking “Man, I’ll NEVER give up a triple there!” They are watching footage of Stanton, Judge, Davis, Machado et al hit balls that are going to land on the Bromo-Seltzer tower and then googling what the summers are like in Seattle.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      December 11, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Paul. What park ISN’T a good fit for ground ball pitchers? That argument makes no sense.

      • Paul Folkemer

        December 11, 2017 at 3:44 pm

        That’s my point, Boog. A ground ball pitcher can generally do well in most or all ballparks, so why should a ground ball pitcher be afraid of coming to Camden Yards? It would be no worse for him than anyplace else.

        A fly ball pitcher might have a little more trouble, with more fly balls turning into homers, but it’s not necessarily a death knell, either. Chris Tillman is a fly ball pitcher who pitched very well for years at OPACY.

  7. bigdaddydk

    December 11, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Being risk-adverse can be beneficial, but it also means lots of missed opportunities. To be risk-adverse, you have to be able to develop from within. We’ve developed some good position players (Machado, Schoop, Joseph, Mancini) but we’ve not developed the arms we’ve needed. Going back a few years, looking at some pitchers taken in drafts that didn’t pan out, it’s easy to see where being risk-adverse and not developing the talent has put the team into the position it’s in. Matusz was supposed to be a good starting pitcher. So was Hobgood. Neither panned out, one crashing and burning even more spectacularly than the other for a first-rounder. There are certainly no guarantees in the MLB amateur draft, but I have to wonder where the problem lies. Is it in player selection or player development? If the former, then we need better scouting. If the latter, we need better coaching in the minors. We seem to crank out relievers like they’re candy rolling off of an assembly line, but the elusive starting pitcher still isn’t quite there. Yes, Bundy and Gausman could still be mainstays of our rotation. I hope so. But we end up grabbing a lot of retreads and cast-offs from other teams to fill spots that we haven’t developed yet. We should be a couple of years away from Harvey and a few other minor league pitchers making a debut at the big show. I’m concerned that desperation and the unwillingness to spend big now may rush some of these kids to the majors instead of letting them get some seasoning in AAA for an extra season. It’s not so much arming now for the long run but taking advantage of a rapidly closing window of opportunity, and at the same time allowing the team’s somewhat respectable (finally) minor league talent to be ready for the majors.

    Truthfully, though. At this point, what the team needs is league average pitching to be competitive. Pitching isn’t going to get cheaper, so acquiring a Cobb, Lynn, Chatwood type would be preferable to bringing back Miley, Ubaldo, and Hellickson (and I shudder to think that those all could be possible) and they could bridge the gap between now and the young arms waiting in the minors. I just cannot see being so adverse to taking a risk that you let everyone pass by with virtually no legitimate chance of competing for their services. Knowing that this is how the O’s do things, I wish I could play poker against their front office.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 10:06 am

      I can’t argue with any of this Big Daddy. Well reasoned. If this were the Tap Room, I’d be tossing a drink chip your way.

      • bigdaddydk

        December 11, 2017 at 11:10 am

        I appreciate that, kind sir. In the interim, I’ll have a cold bottle of home brew when I get home this afternoon.

  8. GSISDANNO

    December 11, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Honestly, I don’t blame the Orioles for not overspending for a pitcher. There are so many bad pitching contracts out there. David Price is the prime example. Price hasn’t been worth a whole lot to the Sox and I am sure they wish they could get out from under that deal.
    Pitching is a crapshoot. The Orioles’ farm system has developed very few pitching prospects in recent years and that needs to change.
    The worst thing about pitching that it can fall apart in a very short time. In 2015, the Mets went to the World Series with their rotation of Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard and Marx. Everyone thought the Mets were set for years to come. Every one of those pitchers suffered an injury or two. Matt Harvey may never pitch again for the Mets.
    Good luck to the Orioles finding pitchers to fill their staff.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Again. Truth-telling.

    • bv22

      December 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      I’ve been wondering if the O’s have considered offering Davis to Boston for Price in return, and maybe split the difference in contract value. Boston is wanting for power and a first baseman, and we’re wanting for a stud pitcher and to get out from under Davis’ contract. Price doesn’t seem too happy in Boston and Davis has become a source of frustration for the fanbase here. A change of scenery for both players may be a win-win for everyone. It’s even better that Price has an opt-out option after 2018; it’s better in that we unload Davis and we get a stud pitcher for one year while the band is still together. If Price leaves and Davis is no longer in the picture, that means more dinero that’s available to keep Manny. If Price stays past 2018, at least we have a #1 for the next 4 years after 2018.

  9. Dpsmith22

    December 11, 2017 at 11:11 am

    All of these reasons are good reasons why a good GM would NEVER have let his team need 3-5 starters, going into the off-season. He allowed the deck to be stacked against him.

    This fact and the lack of upgrades to the rotation in 17, are 2 big reasons why Duquette is the problem. PA has his issues, no doubt, but the fact remains that poor roster management and bad acquisitions, have put this franchise in this position.

    I hope they trade Machado/Britton/O’Day/Trumbum. With the young position players coming, the right trades can make this a very short, intermission between winning seasons.

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 11:30 am

      The right trades is the key tho. It’s not a slam dunk.

      • Dpsmith22

        December 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

        No Dan your right. With Duquette and PA at the helm, nothing, is a sure thing. However, going into this season with Ynoa, Wright, Miley, etc, is a sure thing. It will be a last place finish.

  10. akerfan2

    December 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    i know rebuilding isnt fun, its a much more enjoyable time going into a season thinking we could make the playoffs, but this group cant be truly telling themselves we have a shot at the playoffs with this pitching staff. you have to sell manny and company

    • Dpsmith22

      December 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Duquette thought he had a chance in 15′ after he let the roster deteriorate. I am sure he thinks he has a shot. Silly as it sounds.

    • bigdaddydk

      December 11, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      “We like our guys.”

    • Dan Connolly

      December 11, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      No need to comment further on this one.

  11. sjm5131

    December 11, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Fiers rejecting our offer evokes the days of Syd Thrift and confederate money. The fact that free agent starting pitchers won’t come here, even when offered more money, doesn’t bode well. Any pitcher that signs here has nowhere else to go.

    My question is, does this change how ownership/management view the outlook for 2018 and beyond? Even if they could re-sign Machado, what good would it do without any pitching?

    Does the prospect of trotting out the same rotation as last year make a rebuilding effort easier to stomach? From a marketing standpoint, shouldn’t that reality make a rebuild easier to sell to fans?

  12. Bancells Moustache

    December 11, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    New York Daily News spreading rumors of potential Matt Harvey to Baltimore trade. I an unsure how to receive this…

  13. OsFanStuckInNY

    December 12, 2017 at 6:57 am

    So, how much will it cost to resign Jiminez, Wiley, & Tillman? Why not, at this point?

    • OsFanStuckInNY

      December 12, 2017 at 6:58 am

      And they’ll save money on uniforms.

    • bigdaddydk

      December 12, 2017 at 7:01 am

      My fear is that this is what’s coming. Tillman I’d consider just because, except for last year, he’s been solid. He’d be a good one on a show-me, incentive-laden deal. I’m worried that without a more aggressive posture (which DD did say something about yesterday, but who knows what aggressive means to him) the team is looking at the same old bunch of retreads again with similar results.

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