Even if the Orioles had found themselves in the hunt for Masahiro Tanaka, which we know they never would have done, it seems unlikely that there was ever any chance at all that they would have laid out a total of $175,000,000 in guaranteed money to bring him into the fold. Now he's signed with the Yankees. It's over. We can agonize about the next player they won't sign.
Media speculation over the last couple of weeks has been that waiting for the Tanaka domino to fall has held up the rest of the free agent starting pitching market. There are two big reasons for this. One is that many teams who were interested in Tanaka were unlikely to go spending whatever money they'd earmarked to try to get Tanaka. The other is that agents probably wanted to wait to market their players to teams after knowing what Tanaka commanded.
No agent worth his commission would want to be the guy who inked his player to a below-market deal that would get blown away by Tanaka's money. Imagine if someone had signed for something like five years and $80 million and now Tanaka has banked nearly double that.
Who's left? The top tier of the pitching market consists of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. Of those three, Jimenez and Santana will require the signing team to surrender a draft pick. They are all going to get a lot of money, if not exactly Tanaka money.
I would break down the pros and cons of each of these three pitchers if I thought there was even a 1% chance that the Orioles were going to sign any of them. After all, all the teams who wanted a starter and had near-Tanaka-level money earmarked will be splashing in that pool now.
Grantland's Jonah Keri, who never passes up a chance to call Orioles owner Peter Angelos cheap, laid out one speculative scenario for how the hot stove will shake out now that Tanaka is in the fold with the Yankees. In this game of musical chairs, the Orioles end up with Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher they've been linked to here and there as the off-season has progressed.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for Arroyo is that his name is three letters short of "Andre Royo", the actor who played Bubbles on The Wire. This is fitting. The Orioles may be about at the level of trying to pass off counterfeit, coffee-stained ten-dollar bills in order to get their fix. One imagines that agents will be fully aware that (link NSFW) money be green and money feel like money, but it couldn't hurt to try, could it?
The arguments in favor of Arroyo are the same as they were two weeks ago when the Orioles were said to be "interested" in him. He has been a remarkably consistent innings-eater, one who actually eats innings rather than just one who isn't a great pitcher and gets labeled that because you can't say anything else good about them.
When you have a pitcher who takes the mound for every scheduled start, even if he has a lackluster ERA - Arroyo's had a 4.05 over the past eight years with the Reds - that spares you from emergency starts from disaster-level pitching. It also spares you from worse than that, like Freddy Garcia having to stick around for ten starts. That happened last year. Arroyo hasn't thrown fewer than 199 innings since 2004.
It's fair to question how much his performance would be affected by having to face American League lineups - particularly ones in the East, in East ballparks - every time out. Throwing up a 4+ ERA while facing pitchers is less than inspiring. Arroyo's strikeout rate, never high, has fallen in recent years, though so has his walk rate, which spent the last three years at or below a 2.0 BB/9. Not handing out free passes is nice.
For the past five years, there's been a significant gap between Arroyo's ERA and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), with his ERA coming in much lower than FIP. This may just be a function of how he pitches. The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is about on the level of Oriole Park at Camden Yards when it comes to allowing home runs, so while Arroyo allows a lot of those, there's no reason to fear that would get worse.
At the start of the off-season, MLBTR projected Arroyo would receive a two-year, $24 million contract. Because we're Orioles fans, there's that instant reaction of horror, "That's too much money!" It almost assuredly is too much money - and he might even get more than that, because their projections have been low for many of the free agents.
The reality is that a team in the Orioles situation that wants to get better for next year has to spend too much money on somebody. Otherwise it's just spinning wheels, hoping that players like Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis return to closer to hoped-for form and hoping that players like Chris Davis and Manny Machado don't regress even a tiny bit. Even a mediocre innings eater costs money, and money ain't got no owners, only spenders.
There are plenty of reasons to balk at the Garza/Jimenez/Santana tier of pitchers, who will also cost too much money, and more years to boot. But the Orioles need to do something to ensure their patchwork rotation situation will not carry on for another year. The soon-to-be 37-year-old Arroyo isn't the flashiest choice, and there's risk involved even in a short contract for him, but he's probably the most cost-effective potential upgrade out there.
The Orioles have spent all off-season missing out. Now that Tanaka is off the board, it's time for them to make sure they don't keep on missing out.