Orioles: Quick Hits (Pitching)

As snow pours down over the Baltimore Metro, the Orioles are preparing to begin Spring Training in Sarasota, Florida.

Here we provide some quick thoughts on a number of topics relating to O’s pitching (both the staff which currently exists, and the oft-mentioned external options).

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

Topic 1) AJ Burnett signs with Philadelphia

Burnett’s 1 year $16M contract with the Phillies is substantial, but not surprising. In 2013, Burnett’s WAR according to FanGraphs was 4.0, equating to a worth of $19.9M in production. At 37 years old in ’14, Burnett could certainly regress; but the risk to Philadelphia on a 1 year deal is fairly minimal. If Burnett had signed for multiple years, you would have to be paying him more in-line with what you expect his production to be going forward. When you are paying him just for ’14, you can ‘overspend.’ To the benefit of Philadelphia, you can make a reasonable argument that the Phillies did not do that to obtain him.

Orioles Hangout (OH) Managing Editor Michael Williams wrote tonight that OH heard the O’s had offered 2 years, $30M. If that is accurate, I think it is fair to say the Orioles made an aggressive offer. However, we have yet to see that reported elsewhere. Tonight, MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli joined ‘Sports Tonight with Rob & Mike‘ here on BSL Radio. Ghiroli said she would have advocated for the O’s to offer more than the $16M Burnett signed for, and make the veteran turn down more from the O’s. It will be interesting to learn if that is what happened, and if the O’s definitively made Burnett turn down a better offer from Baltimore.

For those of you squeamish at $16M or more, consider the following. In theory, the O’s would have been signing Burnett because he would have elevated the O’s from the 83 win team (that you can argue they currently are) with maybe a 5-7% chance of reaching the post-season, to a 85-86 win team with a 10% chance of reaching the post-season. Complete with the added benefit of not giving up the draft pick. Regardless of what contract the O’s did offer Burnett, or Burnett’s desire to stay in the National League – the bottom-line is that the O’s were not able to obtain the most attractive available candidate. So, where to from here?

Topic 2) Giving up draft pick compensation for Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana

Before we discuss for the 1Millonth time this Winter the merits of giving up the #17 overall pick to sign either Jimenez, or Santana; we have to discuss why the O’s are in position of having to consider the proposition of doing so.

ERA and Quality Starts aren’t the best ways to evaluate pitchers or pitching staffs – but they can give you a rough estimate. Anyone who sees that the O’s were 23rd overall in baseball in ERA, and 24th overall in Quality Starts – understands that the O’s pitching has to improve in ’14 if Baltimore wants to dream of contention. The Orioles are certainly aware of this. How many times this Winter has Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette stated that the organization would like to obtain a starter? Too many to count.

Knowing the need, why hasn’t the issue been addressed? It is not as if attractive options did not exist. The O’s might never have been able to convince guys like Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, and Josh Johnson not to go West (and to the National League), but between them – Scott Kazmir, Bartolo Colon, Matt Garza, Burnett*, Paul Maholm, Feldman, Hammel – there were options to improve the rotation (well, at-least add depth and potentially improve the rotation) at a limited cost (Garza at a higher, but still affordable cost), without giving up the draft pick. 

*Some would also include Bronson Arroyo in this list. I could have been comfortable with Arroyo on a 1 year deal. I was strongly opposed to Arroyo on a 2 year deal. I’m more disappointed to learn that the O’s made ‘a competitive offer‘ for Arroyo vs. having not landed him.

A number of the previously aforementioned pitchers and the contracts they received would have been preferential vs. the signing of either Jimenez or Santana.

That’s not to say I’m opposed to signing either.  I’m just puzzled by the process which has led to this point. Dealing with the here and now, if the O’s want to add a potential difference maker, the options are limited to these two starters. The compensatory concerns have depressed the market for both pitchers. The opportunity exists to buy at a relative low.

Here are my questions with this. How much does the signing of either pitcher, move the needle for the O’s? I’d argue the signing of either, would be similar to what the signing of Burnett would have been. Taking an 83 win team, with a 5-7% chance at the post-season to a 85-86 win team with a 10% chance at the post-season. You are improved, no doubt. Improved enough to give up the pick? That is a position you can argue, but I would lean towards yes.

Based on the O’s spending (or lack thereof) this Winter, many Orioles fans probably have a hard time believing the O’s will obtain either starter. I know I do. However, in a world where the O’s hypothetically obtain one of them – wouldn’t it make sense for the O’s to also pursue the other? You would be signing one of the pitchers to further increase the odds of competing in ’14. Neither pitcher by himself makes the O’s a post-season favorite. If you’ve given up the 1st round pick for one, why not give up the 2nd round pick for the other?

You say money doesn’t grow on trees? Of course not, but as discussed the compensatory issues have depressed the market for both starters. I’m now seeing people suggest the prospective contracts for Jimenez and Santana are both individually $48-$60M over 3 to 4 years. All I’m suggesting here is that if you commit to signing one, there is a good argument to be made to committing to signing the other and really going for it.

So, again we think signing either one is unlikely, and we realize that signing both is basically unfathomable based on how the O’s operate. The O’s salary is currently $83M, and they’ve made clear their internally imposed ‘Salary Cap’ is going to be around $100M. To sign both, they would have to blow past that cap.  As a thought exercise though, I think it is interesting to consider the ramifications of signing both. With that exercise, I would suggest reading the recent article from BSL Orioles Analyst Patrick Dougherty on Ownership Economics. (I would argue that Patrick’s article shows the signing of both starters is potential feasible, but would probably not provide the greatest Return on Investment.)

Topic 3) What about a trade?

There are two very attractive starters in Justin Masterson, and Homer Bailey that are potentially available. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that extension talks between the Indians and Justin Masterson “have been shelved” while the sides work on a one-year deal. Even though he is a Pending FA, I would think Cleveland is unlikely to move Masterson; since they have post-season aspirations for 2014 (and may already be losing Jimenez from their rotation last year).

However, if the Indians were wiling to trade Masterson prior to the season, what would you be willing to offer Cleveland? What extension deal would you offer Masterson, if he was obtained?

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick had a similar report about Bailey, passing on that there is an enormous gap between Bailey and the Reds in their contract talks.

I’m a huge fan the ability of both starters, but acknowledge that trading what would be necessary to obtain them, is unlikely at best. Also, if the O’s were to give up significant value via trade, they would likely want to sign the obtained starter to an extension. That would also be difficult.

These two names aside, is there another starter out there with upside that would be more easily obtainable?

Topic 4)
Any other Free Agents of interest?

BSL Orioles Analyst Jeff Long made a decent argument the other day for Chris Capuano. It’s not a sexy move, but could be worthwhile. Another guy that does not move the needle a ton, but could improve the rotation as a whole. If Capuano was the 5th starter to begin the year, Gausman could be at AAA getting additional experience, and Britton could be in the bullpen not being counted on to start. There is value there. When I remember the 2013 Orioles used 14 starters, it doesn’t take a lot to convince me that additional options should be added.

Topic 5) Will the O’s obtain Korean Pitcher Suk-Min Yoon?

Yoon is an interesting target. When the off-season began, NBC Sports / Hardball Talk had Yoon as the 40th best available Free Agent. MLB Trade Rumors had a good profile of Yoon, which you can find here. Thursday, Dan Kurtz from mykbo.net (Korean Baseball Organization) will join ‘The Lance Rinker Show‘ on BSL Radio to discuss Yoon.

If Yoon is obtained, my sense is he will be used as a reliever. I liked the YouTube videos I have seen of him prior to his shoulder injury. Control looked like it could be an issue, but his mechanics looked good, and he was getting a lot of movement and chases. He looked to have an atypical assortment of pitches. There is a noticeable difference in the latest video of him though. Hopefully another Winter of rehab, and he gets closer to his prior stuff. If he passes the O’s physical, that is a good sign.

The MLBTR profile linked above suggested a 2 year $10M contract. If the O’s sign him, it will be interesting to see what he gets.

Topic 6) What are some keys to the O’s possibly surprising, based on the existing pitching staff?

Without another starter added, the 5th starters figures to either be Gausman or Britton. You would expect both to make plenty of starts in ’14. Either one pitching like a league average 5th starter would help and is certainly possible. Both (particularly Gausman) would have the potential to be better than that. Obviously the better Gausman could be, the more the O’s could surprise. If another starter is not added, it might not be hyperbole to say that Gausman’s performance in ’14 could be the largest variable to how the Orioles finish.

Without another starter added, you are going to look for stability from what is here. It is reasonable to think that Chen / Gonzalez / and Norris could combine for 540 innings. That would be a good start to building a competitive rotation.

Webb has often been described this Winter as ‘Johnson light.’ The O’s bullpen has some quality arms, but also potentially has some match-up problems. Right now, it is presumed that Tommy Hunter is going to become the O’s Closer. I think Webb can potentially surprise and become ‘the guy.’ You can argue (with merit) that a Closer is over-rated, and that the O’s would be better off just rotating their arms in the highest leverage opportunities. I can see some of the validity of that argument. So, maybe what matters most is that Webb does a reasonable job of replacing Johnson (of course, even though a number of Johnson’s 2013 peripherals were similar to his outstanding 2012 season; Johnson was less valuable due to the high number of blown saves).

If you begin ranking Orioles players in-terms of who they could least afford to lose to a longer-term injury; it would not take long to get to Chris Tillman. Another way the O’s could surprise in ’14, is if Tillman proves to have some additional ceiling.

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About the author

Chris Stoner   

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.

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