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.
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.
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