It makes sense for Orioles to sign veteran starters - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

It makes sense for Orioles to sign veteran starters

Felix Hernandez
Photo credit: Kim Klement - USA Today Sports

Since the end of last season and the beginning of spring training, the Orioles have turned over 30 percent of their 40-man roster. Twelve players have been added, and that’s not including Trey Mancini and Richie Martin, who were on the 60-day injured list.

Despite the turnover, most of the attention has been on three additions who aren’t on the 40-man roster, particularly two new signings who have had some glory days in the major leagues.

The Orioles have added right-handers Matt Harvey (31), whose signing has yet to be announced, and Felix Hernández (34)– two pitchers who were dominant in the their prime. They’ve also brought back left-hander Wade LeBlanc (36). All three agreed to minor league contracts.

None of veterans has had recent success. Hernández didn’t pitch at all last season.

But barring a fruitless pursuit of a star such as Trevor Bauer, who signed with the world champion Dodgers, much of the free-agent pitching market was full of players who had little success last season or didn’t pitch at all.

Some of the more recognizable names who haven’t been signed are Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Mike Leake, Jake Odorizzi and Rick Porcello. Presumably, those pitchers would rather sign one-year contracts with a contending team, and their asking price is probably too high for the Orioles, who are looking for starting pitchers who can eat up innings while their young pitchers continue their development.

When starter Alex Cobb was traded, it opened a spot and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias signed LeBlanc, Hernández and Harvey.

After a 60-game season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Orioles want starting depth in 2021. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who are expected to join  John Means in the rotation, have started only 12 major league games. It seems unrealistic to expect them to start 30 times and work 150-to-170 innings.

Elias has signed a few modestly priced veterans to augment Akin, Kremer and Means, and perhaps Jorge López, Bruce Zimmermann and non-roster invite Thomas Eshelman.

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He also selected two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, who could be contenders for the rotation.

Later in the season, three pitchers who were added to the 40-man roster — Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells — might be ready to join the team. Having the veterans available at the start of the season buys the Orioles time.

Elias is taking the long view, although that might be tough for fans who are eager for his rebuild to start showing results.

When Andy MacPhail took over the Orioles’ top baseball operations job in June 2007, the team was on its way to a 10th consecutive losing season. Although they had a talented young outfielder in Nick Markakis and second baseman in Brian Roberts, they had little else. Just before MacPhail was hired, the team had drafted catcher Matt Wieters.

MacPhail added key pieces in trades — Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Tommy Hunter, Adam Jones and Chris Tillman — and drafted Manny Machado. Those players set up the successful run from 2012-2016. He also hired Buck Showalter as manager in 2010.

But during MacPhail’s time, which ended in 2011, the Orioles lost 93, 93, 98, 96 and 93 games.

Social media wasn’t the force that it is today, but there were impatient fans who called him “MacFail.”

He left his successor, Dan Duquette, with an excellent base. Many of the players fans are eager to watch — Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle — were acquired by Duquette, as were two top pitching prospects — DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.

Elias has acknowledged that he wasn’t starting from square one. But there aren’t enough players to contend. He had to start an international scouting program, one that Duquette wasn’t able to implement, and he had to have a minor league staff to nurture the prospects.

It’s impossible to say whether Elias will be successful in rebuilding the team because a judgment can’t be made in just two seasons. But low-priced acquisitions who may just be placeholders won’t interfere with the prospects’ development.

Elias should be judged on how the players on the 40-man roster perform. Twenty-one of them were added under Duquette, and 18 of them were acquired by Elias. (Davis was acquired by MacPhail.)

Duquette signed a pitcher as accomplished as Hernández, Johan Santana, during spring training in 2014. He never pitched for the Orioles because of injury.

Even during the team’s run the last decade, they never signed a top-shelf pitcher. They signed Cobb, Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez, who had good track records, but they didn’t perform well for the Orioles.

A number of free-agent pitchers don’t want to sign with the Orioles because Camden Yards is considered a hitters’ ballpark, and a one-year contract might mean no contract the following year.

A year from now, the Orioles should have more promising starting options and the need for low-priced veterans should be lower.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Phil770

    February 16, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent summary and great reminder of the challenges faced in player acquisition and development. Everyone has plusses and minuses. I was surprised that McPhail’s W-L was so weak.

  2. dlgruber1

    February 16, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    The pitchers you mentioned as yet unsigned, Hamels, Gonzalez, Porcello and others, if they really wanna pitch for a contender, would be wise to consider Baltimore if no other offers are coming there way. If they sign with Baltimore and have any measure of success at all then the contenders will come calling at the trade deadline. It would be a win-win for all parties involved. Let’s face it, there all at the point in their careers where they can’t be too picky if they want to continue to pitch in the majors.

  3. millboy

    February 16, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks again Rich for the perspective…with spring training here now let’s appreciate what is in front of us and enjoy watching these youngsters grow into major leaguers knowing some will take that next step forward and some that won’t.

  4. BirdsCaps

    February 16, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t mind the two signings. Use them as a veteran presence, and if they are productive, flip them at the deadline. I would like to see them sign one of the less washed up pitchers mentioned in the article, as they would likely have a higher return at the deadline.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 16, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    I now see the light. Elias is concentrating on the future, not the present. Gotcha.

  6. CalsPals

    February 16, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    The has been said multiple tea before, but take out the first five rows in the outfield, part of the right field porch, or they’ll NEVER be able to sign a real free agent pitcher, I’m sure that’ll have to wait until after they extend the lease after two yrs as everyone is saying…go O’s…

  7. Phil770

    February 16, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    CalPals, I agree. Actually, I think the RF porch is less of an issue because of the wall, left and left center are the real issues. In addition to pushing back the the fences, probably need to increase their height as well. I am sure this is one of the items associated with the lease extension, but the State will have to note all of the agreed upon changes and costs, there can’t be piecemeal funding, so it will likely be awhile – not out of the question for next season if there is any semblance of “normal” by the summer.

  8. chico salmon

    February 16, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    Andy McPhail has had such an interesting career as a baseball executive. Clearly a beneficiary of nepotism (I don’t mean that as a criticism, but let’s face it, that’s how he got his start ) he took advantage of his opportunity. Build the Twins into a WS Champ, built the Cubs into a winner. Returned to Baltimore, where he grew up, and made some outstanding trades (Adam Jones, Hardy) some really awful free agent signings and then left to….Philadelphia. Is a fair comp Dave Dombrowski? I don’t think it’s Pat Gillick. I don’t see Andy making the HOF, but he is the consummate baseball insider. It’s 75% accomplishment and 25% popularity. He just might.

  9. Eastern Sho Joe

    February 16, 2021 at 8:30 pm

    I recently posted that I wasn’t going to comment on this site anymore, and intended to not do so.

    However, I have to address how shocked (in a good way), I was when reading the comments that have been made on this thread.

    As I was reading the article I was expecting the comment section to be filled with posts dragging Elias ‘across the coals’ and was pleasantly surprised not to see that. Even Elias’ two biggest critics on here only made slight indirect jeers. lol.

    Kudos to Rich D for writing the article in a way that provided data and details into what the GMs had to work with when starting the job.

    • VICTORTEE

      February 17, 2021 at 8:40 am

      Hey Joe! Did you ever criticize Dan or Andy? Bet you did. If yes, people have a right to criticize your hero Mike.
      BTW a baseball preview mag had this to say about your boy. “His high draft picks as Houston’s farm director were more miss than hit”.
      (Lindy’s Sports Baseball 2021 preview)

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 17, 2021 at 11:04 am

      Thank you, Joe.

  10. Hasta la vista pelota

    February 16, 2021 at 11:15 pm

    I understand the plan, but watching them kill time with these pitchers is a real test of dedication.

  11. ClyOs

    February 17, 2021 at 7:25 am

    Rich, I am one of the impatient fans you refer too, although I choose not to call people names. The reason for my impatience is I’m old enough to remember the Orioles teams that won 7 divisions in 15 years. I saw them go to the World Series 6 times as a boy, but nothing since high school. Now while I understand baseball has changed dramatically since the 70 & 80s, but I would like to see a contender more than once a decade. I mean is a World Series once ever 30 years too much to ask?

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 17, 2021 at 11:04 am

      Hopefully, you’ll see one before 2050.

  12. Orial

    February 17, 2021 at 8:04 am

    Rich I think you kinda answered the question I’ve been wondering–“why don’t the O’s sign some pitchers that can be inserted right into the rotation?”. They’re hoping to latch on with a contender. McHugh,Porcello,Aaron Sanchez would have been nice fits.

  13. VICTORTEE

    February 17, 2021 at 8:35 am

    My complaint about signing the has beens is that they will possibly take starts away from promising young pitchers. Put young pitchers in the rotation and let them pitch. Who cares if Akin or Kremer go 4-15 if they are learning how to pitch. Just don’t yank a young pitcher from the rotation if he has a couple of bad starts in a row.

    • CalsPals

      February 17, 2021 at 11:12 am

      Totally agree Vic, baptism by fire if needed, battle tested…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 17, 2021 at 11:21 am

        I agree with both of you up to the point of overusing a young arm and damaging him physically. I understand that the pitchers of our youth went many more innings way earlier than these boys do , but let’s face it, the older generation weren’t throwing with 100% velocity 100% of the time.

        The strike zone as in the rule book allowed for a more “cerebral” approach to pitching back in the day.

        Build up the young boys arms before putting them out there too much. Can you remember when Tommy John was a pitcher and not a medical procedure?

    • CalsPals

      February 17, 2021 at 2:04 pm

      Agree with the entire conversation, people in charge SHOULD be smart enough to not over throw a youngen, that really isn’t a fun line, I wouldn’t think there would be a problem of limiting them at various times of the season, I don’t think it would be in their best interest to say X number of innings & call it a season…they’ve babied Harvey to where he thinks he’s better than what he is, the last two yrs he’s never had to pitch out of a jam, don’t get me wrong, he’s good, but I don’t think as great as everyone else claims, at least till he shows pitching out of a tight spot…go O’s…

  14. NormOs

    February 17, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder why these guys would sign with the O’s, maybe it’s the lure of pitching at Camden Yards or maybe it’s the O’s “GREAT” infield defense……….Anybody?

    • Georgia Oriole

      February 17, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      With the Orioles, there’s a chance to be an everyday player in the majors. That doesn’t exist for most of the jobs out there.

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