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The deadline for submitting figures for arbitration-eligible players is on Friday, and with that deadline approaching perhaps there’ll be some traction in the Orioles’ search for another starting pitcher.
It seems clear that if the Orioles are going to add an accomplished starting pitcher, it will come by trade and not by signing a free agent.
They’ve shown no inclination to participate in the higher end of the free-agent market, and some of those lower-priced free-agent starters —Lucas Giolito, Sean Manaea — have recently committed elsewhere.
The Orioles have 13 players eligible for arbitration, and if they’re not signed by Friday, players and clubs have to exchange figures. While most of those who are eligible—Danny Coulombe, Austin Hays, Cole Irvin, John Means, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Ryan O’Hearn, Cionel Pérez, Anthony Santander, Dillon Tate, Ramón Urías, Jacob Webb and Tyler Wells — should sign by Friday, those who don’t will be scheduled for arbitration hearings.
Some of the pitchers who have been linked to the Orioles in trade talks—Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, Miami’s Jesús Luzardo and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes — are eligible for arbitration.
The most frequent chatter involves Cease, who earned $5.7 million in 2023 and could get an $8.8 million salary in 2024, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
Bieber, who’s eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, could get $12.2 million, Luzardo, who still has three seasons before he can be a free agent, $5.9 million and Burnes, another free agent in waiting, $15.1 million.
Cease has two years before free agency, and he reportedly has lots of suitors.
According to Bookies.com, the Orioles are the second most likely team to trade for the 28-year-old right-hander, who was 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 33 games in 2023. In 2022, Cease was 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA in 32 starts.
There are lots of good reasons for the Orioles to be enamored with Cease.
He hasn’t missed a start in his five-season major league career. He’s pitched in 123 games—all starts—and while he’s averaged four walks per nine innings and twice led the American League in walks and wild pitches, he’s struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings.
Bookies.com calculates the Orioles as having a 22.2 percent chance of obtaining Cease in a trade, just behind Cincinnati at 23.5 percent.
The Atlanta Braves, who acquired Chris Sale from the Boston Red Sox just before the New Year, are still given a 20 percent chance at dealing for Cease with the New York Mets 9.1 percent and Los Angeles Dodgers 7.7 percent given the next best odds. The field is given 21.2 percent, and Cease staying with the White Sox has been assigned 15.4 percent.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the New York Yankees and Orioles have “sincere” interest in acquiring Cease. He says that the Dodgers, Red Sox and Cardinals could also be in the mix.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggests that the Yankees are interested in Bieber and Luzardo.
Friday isn’t a real deadline for a deal to be done, but it could make things easier. Presumably, the Orioles or any other acquiring team would like the opportunity to come to terms with Cease without inheriting an arbitration case.
The Orioles have said that they don’t bargain after arbitration figures are exchanged but have signed players to multiple-year contracts (Means) or one-year deals with options (Trey Mancini or Austin Voth) before going the arbitration route.
There’s still more than a month before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, and the White Sox may not feel compelled to trade Cease just yet.
Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are the top two remaining free-agent starters, and if they’re signed by one of the teams interested in Cease, that could shrink the number of contenders for him in trade talks.
The Yankees have recently been linked with Snell, and free-agent right-hander Marcus Stroman has supposedly indicated interest in pitching with them, too.
Even if the Yankees remain in the hunt for Cease, the Orioles, who have the top farm system in baseball, would seem to have the best chance of putting together a package to snare Cease.
Cincinnati has the fifth-highest ranked farm system, and the Dodgers have the sixth. The Yankees’ farm system is ranked 21st, according to MLB Pipeline.
For all of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ accomplishments in his five-plus seasons with the Orioles, he has yet to pull off a blockbuster trade.
While he’s dealt lesser prospects (shortstop Darrel Hernaiz to Oakland for left-hander Cole Irvin, and infielder César Prieto and left-hander Drew Rom to St. Louis for starter Jack Flaherty), he hasn’t moved a top-line prospect.
Most of the Orioles’ best prospects are infielders and outfielders, and while having a top-shelf starter like Cease for multiple seasons is tempting, draining the farm system is something he doesn’t want to do.
This could be an interesting few days for the Orioles—if the White Sox—or maybe others decide it’s time to make a deal.
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