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

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.

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.




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