Three weeks from today, pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Sarasota, Fla. It’s fair to wonder if the starting rotation, which looks as it did when last season ended, will change between now and Feb 12.
While new general manager Mike Elias has added four infielders and one reliever, Austin Brice, to the 40-man staff, the starters that finished the 115-loss season are still on hand, and no potential challengers have been brought in.
Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb are the likely starters for the season-opening series at Yankee Stadium in late March, but who would come after them?
Last season, it was David Hess and Yefry Ramirez. In 21 games, all but two of them starts, Hess managed a 3-10 record and 4.88 ERA. His 1.384 WHIP was the lowest among the regular starters, which includes Kevin Gausman, who was traded July 31.
Ramirez was 1-8 with a 5.92 ERA and a 1.531 WHIP. He walked five batters per nine innings.
There are other contenders.
Jimmy Yacabonis had a 5.40 ERA in 12 games, seven of them starts. Yacabonis had not started as a professional before last season, and perhaps Elias and manager Brandon Hyde want to see how he looks as a starter.
Josh Rogers, who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Zach Britton trade, got three late-season starts and had an 8.40 ERA before he reached his innings’ limit and was shut down.
John Means was added when Cashner and Cobb had to end their seasons early because of injuries, Means pitched creditably for Triple-A Norfolk as a starter (3.48 ERA) after his promotion from Double-A Bowie. He got one relief appearance in the season’s final week, but he could be a candidate.
Rogers and Means are left-handed, the only left-handers among the potential starters.
Then there’s Luis Ortiz, who was picked up in the Jonathan Schoop trade from Milwaukee. He allowed more baserunners (10) than he recorded outs (7) in two appearances, one of them a start that was cut short by a season-ending hamstring injury.
Another pitcher who’ll likely be looked at closely is Dillon Tate, who came along with Rogers in the Britton trade. Tate was added to the 40-man roster. Tate had a 5.75 ERA in seven starts for Bowie and could begin the season at Norfolk.
Sean Gilmartin, who pitched in long relief but who has started in the big leagues, was taken off the 40-man roster after the season but was re-signed to a minor league contract. Perhaps he’ll get a look, too.
The most promising pitcher in the high minors is left-hander Keegan Akin, who was 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA for the Baysox, but he doesn’t appear ready for the majors, yet.
If these names don’t bowl you over, that’s to be expected. Perhaps you were hoping that Elias would sign a free-agent starter or two to augment the staff.
The Orioles do have some promising pitchers: Michael Baumann, DL Hall, and Zac Lowther and Alex Wells, but none of them pitched above High-A Frederick, and Hall was at Low-A Delmarva.
And, of course, there’s Hunter Harvey, who the Orioles are hoping finally stays healthy all season and makes his major league debut, six years after he was the team’s No. 1 draft choice.
There are still scores of free-agent starters available, and many of them have already pitched for the Orioles: Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Jeremy Hellickson, Edwin Jackson, Wade Miley and Chris Tillman.
Gonzalez is unlikely to pitch until well into this season after shoulder surgery, and the Orioles aren’t going to chase after Miley, who re-energized his career with a strong season in Milwaukee.
Elias would probably wait longer before signing a bigger name hoping for a bounce-back season — Marco Estrada, Doug Fister, Francisco Liriano and James Shields.
Those pitchers have substantial records of accomplishments but had a rough 2018. If the Orioles could sign one or two of them for a low guarantee, that’s a possibility, but probably not until after camp opens.
For Elias and Hyde, they want to see what Bundy, Hess, Ramirez and the other young pitchers can do in 2019. They’ll need Cashner and Cobb and maybe some other veterans to make sure they can get through the season.