It seems like a forgone conclusion that the Orioles starting rotation is going to be some combination of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez. Last year's most consistent member of that staff, Wei-Yin Chen, signed with the Miami Marlins a little more than a week ago. So, the team is left in the same spot it has been since October, looking for that fifth piece.
There were big free agent names like David Price, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann bounded about, but those were contracts that the O's weren't going to come anywhere close to matching. Even the middle tier guys like Chen, Scott Kazmir or Mike Leake never even seemed all that likely.
We come to the leftovers. Yovani Gallardo has been mentioned a lot, but he would cause the Birds to give up their first round draft pick, and they don't seem too into that idea. Doug Fister is an interesting and, relatively, low risk option, but he is pushing for two guaranteed years on a deal at $11 million per season. Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum both represent former studs looking to reclaim their glory, but could turn out to be duds. There is no clear cut best solution.
But what is clear is that the Orioles currently have 22 pitchers on their 40-man roster. Surely, there has to be one man (other than the aforementioned starters) that can step into that slot in the team...right?
The longshot lefties
This debate is starting to feel like a broken record. It seems as though every season the Birds are looking for a fifth starter and every year two names get brought up as a possible solution: Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland. Why?
With Matusz I think it is that feeling of not wanting to give up on such a high draft pick. You don't envision a future LOOGY when selecting a college pitcher fourth overall, but he has proven that there isn't much else for him to do.
As a starter, the pitcher, out of the University of San Diego, has a 21-33 record over 68 games and 345.2 innings. In that time he has amassed an ERA of 5.51, a WHIP of 1.57 and a batting average against of .290 as a starter. Not to mention that righties crush him to the tune of a .299/.369/.484 slash line. He simply can't get through the necessary five or six innings.
McFarland has been the go-to long relief guy for the organization since they picked him up in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft. He has been OK in limited action, pitching to a 3.89 ERA over 173.2 big league innings. However, he has made just two starts and right-handed hitters knock him around too (.312/.379/.427).
If you actually want your bullpen to make it through a full season, neither of these southpaws will cut it.
The three contenders
If the Orioles were to stay in-house with this selection, it will probably come down to one of the three W's: Tyler Wilson, Vance Worley and Mike Wright, with Worley being the likely favorite at this point, but it's pretty darn close.
Wilson and Wright both impressed at different points in their debut season with the O's, but they both also experienced some significant struggles.
For Wilson, the high point came in a 7.2-inning performance against Oakland in early August. He struck out three Athletics, while allowing two walks, six hits and two runs to earn the win. However, the next time he started for the big club (a month and a half later) he gave up six runs on eight hits and two walks over just 4.1 innings. His tendency to both walk and strike out about three batters per nine innings in the MLB so far is a bit worrisome, especially when coupled with his high-80s/low-90s fastball.
It was a famous beginning to life in the majors for Wright. He started things with back-to-back scoreless outings. First, he nabbed a win against the Angels after throwing up 7.1 clean innings and allowing just four hits to go along with six strikeouts. Then, he followed that with seven more innings of no-run baseball his next time out, but the offense wasnt there to support him and got saddled with the "no decision". However, it was a struggle after that. He ended the season with a 6.48 ERA as a starter over nine starts and 41.2 innings. Spring Training may be most important for him.
Worley is by far the most experienced and he is still young at 28 years old. In his career, he has a 3.86 ERA with a 28-26 record over 468.1 innings as a starter with the Phillies, Twins and Pirates. There is little to get too excited about with him. His game is not sexy, but he can get the job done when called upon. Back in 2011, he took third-place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA over 25 games (21 starts). Don't expect those numbers, but something near his career ERA and being able to get through six innings routinely would be a huge boost for the Birds.
As mentioned before, if the O's stay in-house, it will likely be one of the three mentioned a moment ago, but let me give you one name to keep an eye on during Spring Training: Chris Jones.
The 27-year-old left-hander has been in the Orioles organization since 2013. Before that he was in the Indians system and then the Braves. But it has been with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides where he has really started to catch some eyes, at least enough to be on the 40-man roster.
Last season, he appeared in 30 games and made 22 starts, ultimately pitching to a 2.94 ERA overall and an 8-8 record. He struck out only 105 batters over 150 innings but also only walked 29 opponents. the problem with him may be that he has been a tad lucky. His batting average against was .273 and lefties especially killed him to the tune of a .305 batting average. All of this in the International League, which tends to favor pitchers a little bit.
Again, he is unlikely to stick, but it is food for thought.
Summing it up
If I had to put my money on it, I would say the safe bet is on Worley to be the fifth starter on Opening Day, but all of these guys will probably get a chance at some point or another. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette are masters of shifting a roster around.
In the end, it is going to matter a whole heck of a lot more what the first two or three guys in the rotation do than what the fifth guy contributes. Here is to hoping that, as a unit, they can avoid the issues that plagued Tillman and Bud Norris in 2015.