What to do with the struggling Chris Tillman? I say re-sign him right now for 2018 - Seriously - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

What to do with the struggling Chris Tillman? I say re-sign him right now for 2018 — Seriously

With the anticipated news ultimately announced Saturday that the Orioles are putting struggling right-hander Chris Tillman into the bullpen, I figured I’d freshen the piece I wrote Friday night.

Same thoughts, same indignation, just a little more clarity now on his situation.

Tillman, once the de facto ace of this staff, is in the midst of the ultimate train wreck of a season. He missed April due to a nagging shoulder injury, and has not looked like his steady self since returning.

He’s currently 1-7 with an unsightly 8.10 ERA and an even uglier 2.04 WHIP – meaning he’s allowed twice as many baserunners as he’s logged innings.

After giving up seven runs (five earned) in two innings Thursday, the Orioles knew they had to make a move with Tillman.

Placing him on the DL wasn’t an option. He’s been adamant that he is healthy. Tests have revealed no injury and his velocity is back into the 92-94 mph range. The Orioles can’t DL him without his permission – and Orioles manager Buck Showalter said they wouldn’t go that route.

It didn’t seem right to DFA him and eat several million left on his contract; that’s an unceremonious end to the rotation’s best starter since Mike Mussina. He doesn’t deserve that – especially when the Orioles didn’t DFA Ubaldo Jimenez or Wade Miley.

So, the Orioles chose to remove him from the rotation and put him into the bullpen, despite Tillman having never pitched in relief in 194 big league appearances.

It’s probably the best choice, though not an ideal situation, either. I’m not sure he’ll be particularly good in relief. His first inning is often his most problematic.


But there is one thing I absolutely, positively would do with him right now.

I’d sign Tillman, a pending free agent, to a 2018 contract today. Or this week. No question in my mind.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette should go to Tillman’s agent soon with a one-year offer for 2018.

Make it reasonable, make it worth Tillman’s time to consider: $6, $7, $8 million with some incentives to grow it to his contract this year. Throw in a team option for 2019, with a reasonable buyout.

Send this message to Tillman: Your 2017 may be a disaster, but you’ve done your part for this organization through the years, and so we want you back in the rotation next year. You don’t have to worry about what this season is doing to your free-agent value. You won’t have to prove to other teams you are healthy. You can go to the bullpen and keep working. Maybe you won’t even pitch much in September when rosters expand, but you won’t have to worry about it, and stress about what that means to your future.

Yes, I understand what his numbers say. And I understand that no one knows why he’s been so bad, and so there is a legitimate risk that maybe he’s done, maybe this is it for his career.

But he’s 29. He’s the ultimate battler. No way this guy gives up and walks away from baseball.

So, he’ll be pitching somewhere next year. And the Orioles have three rotation spots to fill since Tillman, Jimenez and Jeremy Hellickson are free agents and Wade Miley likely will be.

The free-agent pitcher’s market is fairly typical this winter: A couple big names – Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, maybe a Masahiro Tanaka or Johnny Cueto – an aging veteran such as Jason Vargas, who has had a strong year, and a bunch of middling starters who can fill the back-end of a rotation at an inflated salary.

Which pool do you expect the Orioles to be fishing in? Exactly.

The largest free-agent deal they’ve ever given to a starter was four years and $50 million to Jimenez, and we all know how that turned out.

Yet the Orioles will be desperately seeking starters this winter. So much that they might even consider Miley’s $12 million option.

So why not do something proactive now? Something obviously risky, but with someone who has been successful for you in the past.

Some of you may get stuck on the guaranteed part of the deal, how could anyone offer a guy with an 8 ERA $6 million or, gulp, $8 million – still a 20 percent paycut from 2017 — to get it done now, when there’s a chance you could get him for less in the offseason?

But there’s also a chance Tillman decides to have a clean break from Baltimore and takes a deal to pitch away from Camden Yards, a hitter’s haven. Maybe go to the National League and try to recoup his value on a one-year deal. If all things were even, I’d imagine he’d take a “pillow” contract in a pitcher’s park.

The problem, though, is that he’d have to wait until this offseason to get that accomplished. He’d have to endure the remainder of this season, perhaps toiling in the bullpen for two months, while not knowing his situation. Tillman and his wife just had their first child; that’s an anxious enough time for anyone.

So, something stable in an unstable period probably would be appreciated. As would the sentiment that the club still believes in Tillman despite this season’s performance.

The Orioles don’t work this way, however. They almost never have. There have been exceptions – Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy — but the rule has been wait for the market to determine the value; don’t determine it yourself.

And guys like Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop and Zach Britton, and, yes, Tillman, have watched their income potential soar beyond what the Orioles are comfortable with paying.

This is the opposite suggestion, of course. Take a risk the other way. That Tillman, at 29, still has plenty left in the tank. That 2017 was a confluence of injury and anxiety and lack of confidence and whatever else, but that it is the aberration and not the norm.

It sounds crazy. And I can’t imagine the Orioles would go for it. But sometimes it’s worth taking a risk.

The alternative is searching for a guy like Tillman this offseason, and maybe saving a little less money for a pitcher that could be a bigger unknown at Camden Yards.



  1. Winger

    August 4, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    I’m with you on this. If Ubaldo is still pitching you have to give Tilly a chance(re: Caleb) Caleb was crap last year but we stuck with him. Seems to have worked out. I’d have Castro be his DRP(Designated Relief Pitcher) and let him rip.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      The difference of course is Tillman could walk on his own and Joseph was under team control. But I totally get your point.

  2. Mphilbin

    August 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Yes Dan couldn’t agree more (love your site by the way). This organization, that hasn’t exactly been top of the bottle at developing pitching, should really be getting on the creative side to think in terms of assembling as many arms as possible – they are already blowing a fraction of what Tillman might cost on a team friendly deal with Trumbo, Davis, and last four years Ubaldo.

    Don’t want to steal your thunder but I was thinking the same thing….move and see if we can get him on a reasonable deal and maybe he has the proverbial “bounce back”

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks MP. Glad you are checking us out. Get creative and take a risk.

  3. OriolesSuperFan79

    August 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Dan, I agree completely. This year is an outlier in Tillman’s career, which couldn’t come at a worse time. Maybe he has a mechanical problem…maybe the horrible contract year is weighing on him mentally, thus compounding the problem. The Orioles should buy low and, like you said, give him some stability…maybe that makes a difference and he turns it around. I also agree with Winger…have Castro ready in the ‘pen if he continues to struggle (I’d like to see Castro be stretched out and possibly fill one of the upcoming open rotation slots next year).

    • Mphilbin

      August 4, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      Do I like the term “buy low” – you need to if your farm system can’t “produce low”

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      That might be the plan for Castro. I’d be surprised if it weren’t.

  4. AlaskanOsFan

    August 4, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    I thought I had heard recently that Cueto was having TJ surgery again? Could be wrong..my way crazy plan would be to test the trade market with Chris Davis for SPs in the offseason..we MUST resign Manny and Trey has proven he can play ALL faucets of the game and we will be just fine with him at first….and I just woke up from my “dream”..pour me another please!

    One other thought..is Blier thought to be ODay’s successor? or could he be an SP option?

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm

      Do me a favor Alaska. Don’t post that at SanFranBaseball.com. They will kill ya. And I don’t want to lose ya. Cueto had a mild forearm strain. No surgery. Bleier could be a starting candidate next spring. But as a lefty he’s not an O’Day replacement.

  5. woody

    August 4, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    I’m with you Dan. Tilly wouldn’t be the first to let a free-agency year affect him (assuming its not simply his injury/lack of pre-season). If its not him, then we’ll be taking a punt on some other guy – i’ll happily take the punt on a bounceback. And you’re dead right, if the stress is taking its tole, then addressing the situation now might get us some value for the remainder of the season.

    The danger is however, if he’s totally useless then bullpen isn’t an option – its a gamble to put any length in the contract other than options.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      Yeah. And I doubt the Orioles would do length. There could be something wrong here. Which is why a short deal now makes sense.

  6. cobragt23

    August 4, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I like the idea of signing Tilly now with a low bit incentive loaded contract. knowing DD bargain hunting skills I think this is worth the risk. should DD also look at signing Hellickson also before the end of the season so were not just renting another player?
    love the site Dan.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Cobra. I think they’ll want to see how Hellickson fits with Camden Yards before making that call.

  7. LoudounBird

    August 4, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Dan – agree with MP love the site; any rumblings on…dare I say signing, or attempting to sign Schoop?

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks. And no except that Duq says he’ll revisit it this offseason

  8. LoudounBird

    August 4, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    Given his current body of work thi is an inexcusable comment – but I will be disappointed if they don’t do something creative with Tilley – he is pumping it 94MPH – he might figure it out….as opposed to Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson – color me interested

    • Dan Connolly

      August 4, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      Yeah. He’s proven. I know what he is doing now. I know the concern that maybe this doesn’t improve. But I can’t imagine this guy doesn’t figure it out at some point. Somewhere.

      • LoudounBird

        August 4, 2017 at 8:13 pm

        Yes – this guy has been a SOLID at least #3 – not an Ace, not a Chris Sale dominant stopper – but other than this 2017 train wreck very solid – I think you hit a chord here they should put heavy feelers out and see if a proactive move gets them some lightening in a bottle – boy was I hoping for a dominant Tillman, Gausamn, Bundy trifecta….

  9. Osfan73

    August 4, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Since Tillman’s velocity seems to be back and he says he feels good my only guess is it has to be lack of fastball command, he’s looked almost wild in missing his spots at times, and without that Tillman gets bombed because he’s just not an overpowering type of pitcher and thus depends on deception with offspeed stuff. That only works with good FB location. I read earlier this was one of Gausman’s problems. As we’ve seen with him lately command is fixable so there’s no reason to think Tillman can’t do the same.
    All that said the Os typically don’t indulge in big pitching contracts except for Ubaldo of course. So it seems to be a case of better the devil you know….maybe it would be better offering him a 1 year deal in light of a weak upcoming FA pitching market. Id like to see him figure it out because if nothing else he has been remarkably durable, healthy and always ready every 5th day while with us.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 5, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      Tillman’s command has been an issue at times over the years, but it always seems to right itself. It just hasn’t in 2017

  10. Creatively_19

    August 5, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I very much agree with you on resigning Tillman, but I must also adamantly argue that at least for the time being Miguel Castro be given his next start

    • Dan Connolly

      August 5, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      I think Castro will definitely get a chance to start in 2018. As for this year, he may get a look but I’m not sure they feel he is sufficiently stretched out. Or that they want to lose him as a bullpen weapon for the remainder of the season.

  11. Ludwig37

    August 5, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Dan, in watching Tillman pitch, his pitching motion has changed. He is either hurt, or this is something that the current pitching coach has changed. If you review our ERA this year, it is the worst. What can cause that, I will tell you. Every time the Orioles get a new pitching coach, ERA goes up. We can thank Brady Anderson for running Wallace & Chiti out of town. I heard Buck say, McDowell talks to Wallace a lot, but nothing has changed but our ERA, the worst in baseball. In Tillmans case, this is his walk year, but his worst pitching wise. Just like when Weiters got hurt, and we signed him for one year. I would offer a one year deal with incentives. Castro should be given a chance to start. I think Tillman would take a one year deal to see if he could up his value to sign a long term deal. I keep hoping that the current pitching staff can turn things around this year under McDowell. Btw, anybody check Atlanta’s ERA lately.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 5, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      I hear ya. But Wallace was getting out of the full-time pitching coach duties regardless. Took a toll on him and his family.

  12. Hoodsie

    August 5, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Great site, great question as well. I’ve been all over the place on Tilly and what to do. You made a great point on where the Orioles fish in the off season for pitching and that observation swayed me. I guess you have to offer him something small ( or even medium) for a year. If things go great offer an extension during the season and if it goes badly then try to move him to bullpen or new zip code. If he decides not to sign a one year deal we’ll be fishing in the kiddie pool anyway.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 5, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks. And, yeah, I just don’t see a big $ pitching purchase. Not the mo.

  13. OsFanStuckInNY

    August 5, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    So you figure time off and “job security” for another year will do what the O’s pitching coaches and Tillman can’t: correct whatever has gone very very bad?

    I think the odds are quite good that Tillman could find success with an NL team. I think the odds are equally unfavorable that he turns it around here. Several million dollars here, several million there, it might start to add up — sooner or later.

    I still think put him on waivers, try to work a deal to get something in return, and move on. Better for him this way, too, I think. Save the money for better odds of return in the win column.

  14. Ben1

    August 5, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Angelos not THAT generous. Seems DD thinks fans like HR more than wins so he overpays for big bats but not pitchers. Miley has become real ugly in pitch count and no one knows whats up with Tilly. Time to cut bait with Ubaldo, Wade, AND Tilly. I suggest go with 2 FA and do a Norfolk shuttle with youngsters.

  15. Jonathan

    August 6, 2017 at 10:13 am

    I was hoping you were going to provide some insightful analysis of why he is a good investment for the future, not loyalty to the past. Something like, “….despite his numbers, _______ has looked strong….”


    August 6, 2017 at 10:30 am

    I guess it’s a good idea. But something needs to change. He cannot overpower hitters the way he used to. I also wonder if he has lost movement on his pitches. I hope he can get it back but there is something seriously wrong. Going to the bullpen won’t help. I don’t know what happened to this guy.

  17. cowhand214

    August 6, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    It’s certainly a difficult situation. Baseball is a mystifying game sometimes and never more so than when it comes to starting pitchers and their struggles. Tillman has every reason to want to pitch well: professionalism, pride, competitiveness, team spirit and, of course, money. And yet his season is a disaster. In my mind though the salient point is that he probably will bounce back and we should give him the opportunity to do that in Baltimore if that’s what he wants.

    Pitching is at an absurd premium (the understatement of the century) and the price tags on any free agent pitchers will likely cause us to choke on either dollars or years if not both. There’s risk inherent to any signing but if you’re looking for the bounce back year or the veteran trying to figure it out, if that’s the only part of the market we’re likely to be playing in anyway, than why not do that for one of our own people: a proven quantity who knows us and we know him.

    If it works, then great. If it doesn’t work…well, just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean it was a bad decision.

  18. The Wedge

    August 7, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I’d have absolutely no problem with this. Tilly’s been a rock for this team throughout its resurgence, and it would be something of a good will gesture to bring him back on a semi-“prove it” deal. Plus, he’s a Buck nugget, so we know that’ll have some influence.

    I’m willing to chalk up this season as an aberration and that we’ll see more of a progression to his mean in ’18. For $6M or so, that’s a pretty solid deal.

  19. Zevrolious

    August 7, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Dan – it’s a great idea but like you said, the O’s would never do it. It goes against every fiber of their being. I’ve never seen a more risk-averse team. from their physicals to their international approach this team won’t even buy the bottle rather yet try to catch the lightning. wouldnt a flyer on Greg Holland look fantastic?

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