Believe it or not, spring training begins in just over five weeks. Pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida on February, 11 with position players to follow five days later.
Over the holidays, the Orioles did sign a free-agent pitcher, right-hander Kohl Stewart, formerly of the Minnesota Twins to give them another candidate to join the starting rotation.
At last month’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, manager Brandon Hyde indicated he would prefer eight viable rotation alternatives.
While Hyde surely could come up with eight possible starters from those who’ll report to camp, more is obviously better.
Nearly all the top free-agent starters have found homes for 2020. But there are still some second-tier starters on the market, including Alex Wood and Ivan Nova. Both are likely to command contracts far beyond the Orioles’ financial model.
So are most of the recognizable names on the free-agent list. While many in the restive fan base would be happy if the Orioles took a flyer on a couple of those names, most have recent injury histories or have underperformed.
They went that route a year ago when they signed Nate Karns for $800,000, which is what Stewart signed for. Karns missed much of 2017 and all of 2018, and they hoped he could help anchor their rotation. Instead, he pitched 5 1/3 innings before a forearm injury finished his time with the Orioles.
The Orioles could try that again, or they could sign one of the names on the list who won’t command a huge salary, doesn’t have a recent injury history and didn’t have an awful 2019.
If they re-signed Andrew Cashner, who had a fine first half of the season before being sent to Boston for two teenaged Dominican Summer League prospects in mid-July, they could beef up their rotation.
Cashner was 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles before his trade, but had a 6.20 ERA in 25 appearances with Boston, just six of them starts.
If they re-signed Cashner, he could join Alex Cobb and John Means and give the Orioles some badly needed credibility in the rotation.
With Cashner, Cobb, Means and likely Asher Wojciechowski, Hyde would only have to come up with a fifth starter from a host of candidates, including Stewart, David Hess, Rule 5 draft choices Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker and a number of non-roster starters.
Surely, the Orioles would prefer to let Keegan Akin start his 2020 in Triple-A Norfolk and work on his control.
Last season, the Orioles auditioned Ty Blach, Tom Eshelman, Luis Ortiz and Chandler Shepherd, none of whom is on the 40-man, but perhaps one can make the roster.
It would be much easier for Hyde to come up with one starter than two, but signing Cashner, who enjoyed his time with the Orioles, might be more difficult than it appears.
When he originally signed with the Orioles on February 15, 2018, Cashner agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract.
This time, he’ll likely have to settle for a one-year deal at much less. It would be interesting to see if there is interest by either side.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias would have to offer Cashner much more than he offered Karns or Stewart to sign, and the 33-year-old right-hander would have to agree to take far less than he did two years ago.
If Cashner re-signed and pitched well with the Orioles, they’ll again try to trade him, and he’d know that before agreeing to terms.
While a Cashner return probably wouldn’t excite the fans, it would settle the rotation, put less pressure on a young bullpen and keep the Orioles from putting a starter or two in a position they’re not ready for.
Don Larsen as an Oriole: On New Year’s Day, Don Larsen, who was primarily known as the only man to pitch a perfect game in the World Series, died at 90.
Larsen had two stints with the Orioles. He was one of the few surviving members of the first Orioles team, having moved from St. Louis with the Browns for the 1954 season. He also pitched for the team in 1965.
In 1954, Larsen had a 3-21 record and 4.37 ERA for the Orioles before being shipped to the New York Yankees in a 17-player trade, the biggest in baseball history.
That trade, which took three weeks to complete, sent Larsen, infielder Billy Hunter, who also survives, and pitcher Bob Turley to New York. Among those coming to the Orioles were catcher Gus Triandos, infielder Willy Miranda and outfielder Gene Woodling.
The Orioles released Larsen just before the start of the 1966 season.