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Orioles: Filling Out The Rotation

Dan Duquette stated the obvious last Saturday when the Baltimore Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations spoke to fans at FanFest.

“We have work to do to address some of the deficiencies on our ballclub,” Duquette said. “We’re going to continue to build our pitching staff, most notably the starting pitching.”

The Orioles have just two of five rotation spots filled even though pitchers and catchers are scheduled to hold their first spring training workout in Sarasota on Feb. 14. That is just 16 days away.

It is anyone’s guess who will join Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman on the starting staff by the time the regular season begins March 29 when the Minnesota Twins visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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

Miguel Castro figures to have a leg up on one of the spots, even though the 23-year-old has made only one major league start. That came last Sept. 30 when he allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings of a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays following 75 relief appearances over three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies and Orioles.

Even if the Orioles have enough faith in Castro to use him a starter, they still need to find two more arms to fill out the rotation.

Trading for a pitcher appears unlikely because the Orioles lack the prospects that would bring a quality starter in return. They also don’t appear to be in the running for the top two starters remaining on the glacially paced free agent market (Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta) or even the two hurlers on the next tier of the open market (Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn).

Thus, the Orioles’ best hope is landing someone from a rather uninspiring group that includes left-handers Jaime Garcia and Jason Vargas as well as Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman.

The Orioles obviously know Tillman better than anyone. He has spent his entire nine-year career in Baltimore and remains on such good terms with the organization that the Orioles are allowing him to work out at their Sarasota facility.

Tillman had a disastrous 2017 season, going 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA/6.93 FIP in 24 games while batting shoulder soreness. However, in a five-year span from 2012-16, he compiled a 65-33 record with a 3.81 ERA/4.27 FIP.

(My BSL colleague Bob Harkins recently looked at Tillman more in-depth here.)

Garcia spent time with three teams last year — compiling a 5-10 record with a 4.41 ERA/4.25 FIP in 27 starts with the Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees — after playing his first eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. He did have a fine, albeit abbreviated, 2015 season, going 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA/3.00 FIP in 20 starts but has struggled since.

Vargas led the AL in wins and was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career last season when he had an 18-11 record with a 4.16 ERA/4.67 FIP in 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals. However, Vargas’s ERA was 2.62 ERA in 17 starts in the first half but 6.38 ERA in 15 second-half starts.

Cashner had a solid 2017 for the Texas Rangers, finishing 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA/4.61 FIP in 28 starts. However, in the previous two seasons, he had a combined 11-27 record with a 4.72 ERA/4.27 FIP in 59 games.

Castro will get every chance to make the team in spring training as he is out of minor league options and would need to clear waivers if the Orioles attempt to send him to Class AAA Norfolk. In the same situation are rotation candidates Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa, which means they also figure to get a long look this spring.

As of today, Rule 5 selection Nestor Cortes would also be in the mix.

“Zero. Less than zero,” is how one talent evaluator answered when asked what the Orioles’ chances of contending would be if even two of those four pitchers were to begin the season as starters.

Another talent evaluator believes the Orioles have no choice but open their wallet for starting pitching if they want a chance to win before shortstop Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach potentially become free agents in December.

Compounding the Orioles’ problems are they would also like to add a veteran catcher and a left-handed hitting outfielder in addition to a pair of starters.

“They really need to sign Darvish or Arrieta or, at the very least, either Cobb or Lynn and another starter from the next tier,” the evaluator said. “They don’t have nearly enough in-house options. The best thing that could happen is for the free agent market to continue to be slow and hope they can find a bargain or two after spring training beings.

“That scenario isn’t impossible, especially this winter, but it still seems unlikely. They are going to need a reliable starting pitcher to fall into their lap in some form or another, though.”

 

Let’s be clear, the Orioles are not going to be signing Darvish or Arrieta.

In a recent radio interview with 105.7 The Fan; O’s Manager Buck Showalter was quoted as saying, “Have you seen what those guys (Lynn, and Cobb) are looking for? I wouldn’t pay them what they are asking for.”

These are comments worth looking at further.

It’s one thing to not compete at the top of the Free Agent market with Darvish and Arrieta.

It’s another thing when Lynn and Cobb are deemed too expensive.

Lynn turns 31 in May.
During 2012-15, he had an fWAR between 2.8 and 3.7 each season.
His 2016 season was lost to injury.
In 2017, he had a 1.4 fWAR, and threw 186.1 innings. Approximating $10.9M in production.

MLBTR has been projecting a 4 year $60M contract for the veteran.

Cobb turned 30 in October.
He’s coming off a 2.4 fWAR season. 
In 2012-14, his fWAR per year was 2.2, 2.5, and 2.8.

FanRag’s John Heyman says Cobb is looking for $70-$80M over 4 to 5 years.

 

History shows us that extended Free Agent contracts for mid-tier 30+ year old starters doesn’t have a great track record of success.

It’s quite understandable to look at Lynn’s peripherals and wonder if he could be successful in the American League East.

Ultimately though, these are viable ML starters, and there is some legitimate upside with Cobb.

The Orioles have three holes within their rotation, and yet the organization maintains they plan to contend here in ’18.

The contracts Lynn and Cobb will get somewhere, will be examples of what it takes to sign mid-tier SP in 2018.

The Orioles organization can choose not to play at the level; and that’s fine. However, if the O’s enter the year with at-least two of Castro / Cortes / Wright / and Ynoa in their rotation – then they cannot feign surprise if it ends up being the disaster it looks like on paper here in January.

Additionally, if the organization knows that they will not be signing Lynn and/or Cobb; why not be more aggressive with the next-tier of options identified above?

Baltimore has had a semi-successful strategy the last few years of grouping FA options together and signing the player which falls to them. This off-season, there is a slow market across the game. That changes the calculus some, as does the fact that the O’s should seemingly be looking to fill multiple holes.

When you have multiple holes, should you be waiting out the market for third-tier options?

The more all-encompassing thought is this:

- If Lynn and Cobb are too expensive to get involved with…
– If you are waiting out the market on guys like Garcia, Vargas, and Cashner…

Are you really serious about doing what is necessary to contend in ’18?

If the answer is no, the logical conclusion is to move Machado for the best available offer, and start the process of accumulating assets to help with rebuilding efforts.

If the answer is yes, tangible results are required. 

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John Perrotto

John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath. He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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