The Orioles have a lot of options for the starting rotation next season. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman all pitched well enough to be penciled in, and they have a number of options among Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Steve Johnson. But even with these eight options, it really would behoove the Orioles to bring in at least one additional arm via trade or free agency. We'll save the trades for another day (and maybe another writer, since trades REALLY aren't my thing), but what about free agents?
You can check the entire list of free agents at MLB Trade Rumors. The starting pitchers list is long but mostly garbage, and also includes guys who will probably retire (like Jamie Moyer). But when I whittled down the list to players that could actually improve the team in 2013, here is what I came up with: Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy ($22M option w/ CWS), Anibal Sanchez, and Joe Saunders.
There are three other guys with options that would make the list if they were declined, but I don't see it happening. They are: Gavin Floyd ($9.5M w/ CWS), James Shields ($9M w/ TBR), and Dan Haren ($15.5M w/ LAA). Jake Peavy's option is so big (the payout is $4M, so it's an $18M decision) that I can't see the White Sox picking it up, so I included him on list of possibilities.
Please note that I said those pitchers COULD improve the team, but I don't think they're all a good fit for the Orioles. So I'll get the no's out of the way first:
- Ryan Dempster -- Dempster has been very good over the past few seasons with the Chicago Cubs, but when it came time to trade him last year he clearly wanted to go to California. Now that he's a free agent, I expect he'll do just that. Plus he'll be 36 years old in 2013 and, while it was a small sample size, he didn't exactly like the world on fire after being traded to the American League Texas Rangers.
- Hiroki Kuroda -- Kuroda performed very well for the New York Yankees this season, putting up a 3.32 ERA and a 3.27 K/B. In fact, he's been above average every year since coming to the MLB. My problem is that he'll be 38 years old in 2013, and while he may have a few more good years to go, I'd rather take the risk on a younger player.
- Brandon McCarthy -- I like Brandon McCarthy a lot, and he probably wouldn't be too expensive to sign, but after he was hit in the head and had to undergo surgery for a skull fracture, among other things, he seems too risky. There is no way to know what he'll be like next year. If the Orioles could sign him to a cheap or incentive-laden contract that allowed them to also sign another starting pitcher, I would be on board for that.
- Zack Greinke -- This one is obvious. Greinke has a history of being a very good pitcher and he's hitting free agency at age 29, which means he should have a lot left in the tank. The thing about Greinke is that he'll most likely have a number of suitors, which means if the Orioles want him they'll have to pony up real cash. I don't know how much, if any, Peter Angelos has changed his tune, but giving big deals to starting pitchers has never been his style. I can't pretend to know what kind of budgetary limitations the Orioles have, but a five-year deal for Greinke would suit me just fine.
- Jake Peavy -- For years, Jake Peavy dominated as a member of the San Diego Padres, and before you point to Petco Park as the reason, his career splits don't sharply change when he pitches at home or on the road. He is a very good pitcher who happened to pitch in a pitcher's park. After he was traded to the White Sox he had two injury-filled seasons in which he didn't look like the Peavy of old, but he was back to form in 2012. Peavy averaged nearly seven innings pitcher per game over 32 starts with a 3.37 ERA. He'll be 32 in 2013 and could be an injury concern, but if the Orioles could sign him to a three year deal, that'd be keen.
- Shaun Marcum -- Marcum spent 4+ seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays in which he put up an
OPS+ERA+ of 113 with a walk rate of under 3 per nine innings. He has spent the last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers with similar results to his time in the American League. He'll be 31 in 2013 and while he probably won't put up a line similar to Greinke or Peavy, there are a lot worse options than two years of him on the pitching staff.
- Anibal Sanchez -- Up until his trade to the Detroit Tigers this season, Sanchez spent his entire career with the Marlins. His numbers have fluctuated back and forth, but over the last three seasons he's been an above average pitcher who averages over six innings pitched per game.
- Joe Saunders -- I'll always have a soft spot for Saunders. Hometown boy traded to his childhood team during the playoff stretch, pitches solidly throughout September and puts up two very strong starts in the playoffs, including the team's first playoff win in 15 years. What's not to like about that story? But the fact it, Saunders is very average. He won't pitch over a full season the way he did for seven starts in September. But he's a lefty, and he's local, and if he wants to come back for a year or so with the understanding that he might have to move to the bullpen, then I wouldn't mind him at all.
- Jeremy Guthrie -- My heart almost put Guts in the column above, but I couldn't do it. I love Guthrie and I still believe he could be a solid back of the rotation guy. But after seeing him fall apart in Colorado and knowing that he's capable of putting up a mediocre season, I can't advocate him over any of the above named pitchers. Guthrie pitched great in Kansas City, and I heard around the internet that hey want to sign him to a contract. If he can get something good from them, he should take it. I also think that bringing Guthrie back is kind of like bringing back the ghosts of losing, which is absurd I know. But a cheap, one-year deal would be OK.
- Edwin Jackson -- Jackson is pretty much the definition of a league-average pitcher, as he proved again this year with the Washington Nationals. Last off-season there were people (not on this site) clamoring for him to be signed to a four-year deal. That was ridiculous then and remains so now. But two years, or one year with an option, isn't totally crazy. He'll only be 29 next season, and even good teams need players like Edwin Jackson.