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Orioles rumors: Chris Tillman extension has had “preliminary talks”

The Orioles will be better off if they can keep Chris Tillman beyond next year. They took at least the first step towards that today.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If the Orioles are going to maintain hopes of competing beyond the next couple of seasons, there are players they will need to try to keep around. First and foremost of these is, of course, Manny Machado, but not to be forgotten is starting pitcher Chris Tillman, who will be a free agent following next season.

The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina reported on Tuesday evening that, according to an industry source, the Orioles had “preliminary talks” with Tillman’s camp concerning the possibility of working out an extension with the lone member of the cavalry who actually came to the rescue.

You can’t get much more clear about not expecting anything imminent from “preliminary talks,” which Encina also characterized as “introductory in nature.” So obviously that’s just the first step in what could be a long road.

The two sides will have a lot to work out. Years, dollars, whether there would be anything like a no trade clause or an opt out clause, or even just the amount of a bonus Tillman would receive if he ever gets Cy Young consideration. That’s a lot of hurdles to jump over to get a deal done.

Still, the first step is at least knowing there’s some mutual interest in having a contract worked out. If Tillman was dead set on 2017 being his last year in an Orioles uniform, there would be no talks; if the Orioles were certain Tillman wouldn’t be around beyond next year, there would be no talks. It’s something that’s not meaningful, yet it’s not meaningless either.

For the Orioles, the question will probably come down to a simple one: How much will it cost? If I was Tillman or Tillman’s agent, I’d be looking pretty hard at the four year, $82.5 million contract the Red Sox gave to Rick Porcello early in the 2015 season.

While Porcello has gone on, since that extension, to win the Cy Young thanks to being a good pitcher on a team that scored 878 runs, at the time he signed it, Porcello had only one career season with an ERA below 3.96, as well as just one season with more than 182 innings pitched. Right then, that was his most recent season: 2014. Porcello was also pretty bad immediately after signing that extension in the 2015 season.

Tillman’s career results compare favorably to anything that Porcello had done at the time he received that extension. Does that mean Tillman will be demanding, or sure to get, $20 million per year? Maybe not.

That sounds like a lot of money per year for Tillman, and it is. But the Orioles have wasted $20 million per year on worse pitchers than Tillman. They will do so again next year with the combined $33 million set to be paid to Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, and Wade Miley.

If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. A team is better off with one $20 million pitcher who is good but not yet great than with two $10 million pitchers who aren’t even good enough to be called mediocre. Rich Hill just got $16 million per year for one good season in which he made 20 starts, for crying out loud, and he’ll be 37 by next Opening Day.

Maybe Hill will be good, maybe he won’t. The fact is that teams have to pay for even a reasonable hope of quality.

You can count me as tentatively in favor of the idea of a Tillman extension, absent some kind of absurd demand like if Tillman thinks he should get David Price money or Jon Lester money or some such.

Tillman, if he becomes a free agent after the next season, is likely to be among the younger and better options available. Former Oriole Jake Arrieta will be the headliner, and if New York’s Masahiro Tanaka exercises his opt-out, he’d probably garner more attention than Tillman. Same with Yu Darvish. That’s your top tier. Tillman’s probably the top of the next tier.

I mean, just look at this list of next year’s free agent pitchers. It’s not as bad as this year. There’s more quality at the very top. But when you think about the possibility that the Orioles may need to look to that market to fill three vacancies in the rotation, well, it doesn’t make you feel very good.

If they’re able to keep Tillman in the fold for a price that’s fair to both sides, that’s good news. Then you can start to look into the near future to a rotation that keeps Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and, if he’s able to keep building up his innings and stay healthy, Dylan Bundy. That’s 60% of a potentially good rotation getting you towards a time when a starting pitcher might actually bubble up from the farm again.

Here’s hoping that the preliminary talks end up bearing fruit.