Before the Orioles shook up their offseason by trading starter Yovani Gallardo for outfielder Seth Smith, they had both too many and not enough starting pitchers. The Gallardo trade solves the too many problem, but the O’s still need to find a way to improve the depth that’s available to them for the upcoming season.
The line that’s been repeated for a while from the mainstream Orioles writers has been something about having six starters for five spots. This was often said in such a way that it should seem to be enviable. If the O’s had six good starters, maybe it would have been.
Anyone who actually watched the Orioles rotation last year knows that the Orioles have not ever been at a point where they have had six good choices to fill the five spots of their 2017 rotation.
What they did have is two definites in Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, one “as long as he’s healthy” in Dylan Bundy, and three guys who all have major concerns that they could be dead weight: Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
There was always going to be a tough decision to make about what to do with the worst-performing of the struggling trio at the end of spring training. Having a $9-12 million guy who was supposed to be a starter in the bullpen isn’t a good situation. Neither is having to just cut them outright and have nothing but dead money.
When the O’s signed Gallardo, he was billed as a durable innings eater. Gallardo’s Orioles career lasted all of four starts before his durability turned into a disabled list stay. This, after the dreaded Orioles physical counseled caution regarding Gallardo’s shoulder. Signing him at all does not look so good in retrospect.
Trading Gallardo now is a plus, though. Given his 2016 injury concerns and performance, he was the most likely to end up as the odd man out when it all came down to it. Days later, I’m still amazed that the Orioles managed to get a useful player for him in Smith and save themselves a little cash in the process as well. That hasn’t stopped seeming too good to be true.
A problem that the Orioles still face even after trading Gallardo is that they have no depth for their starting rotation. One awkward step in a pothole, one liner off the shin, one too-hard sneeze, or an elbow or shoulder going pop, and the Orioles are in a bind because right now their only potential answers to fill in are Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright.
That’s only getting into the potential for injuries. With Miley and Jimenez still around, we can’t rule out that Memorial Day could roll around with one of those guys doing so poorly that the O’s just can’t keep running him out there because they’re giving no reason to hope for a turnaround.
When your depth is Wilson and Wright, you don’t actually have depth. We saw that demonstrated sufficiently in the 2016 season. Having one of those two make a bunch of starts is bad enough. Both being pressed into service is worse.
Unless something changes, that’s the O’s backup plan for the upcoming season, too. They need to sign somebody. Fortunately, the Gallardo trade should give them more opportunity to do this because they can pitch a less crowded rotation picture to free agents who are looking for a place where they can audition for a role elsewhere in another year.
This only goes so far, though. The O’s might be able to pick the best of the rest who will settle for a minor league contract with a big league spring training invite, but unless there’s an injury, they won’t have a chance at anyone who insists he belongs in an MLB rotation at a salary of at least a few million bucks for 2017.
There’s nothing the Orioles can do to change that, unless they’re willing to put Bundy in the bullpen for the first six weeks of the season - which is a whole different article for another day.
Fellow Camden Chatter Tyler Young stumped for the O’s to take a chance on one of three injury-plagued pitchers in a late November article: Henderson Alvarez, Brett Anderson, and Nathan Eovaldi. All remain unsigned.
Eovaldi is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he’s not going to help immediately, but Alvarez and Anderson pitched little in 2016 and may ultimately have to settle for minor league deals.
Others still out on the free agent market include annual “please don’t trade for him” guy Jorge de la Rosa, former Orioles Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, more recent former Orioles Bud Norris and Vance Worley, and one 2016 reclamation project signing who actually was somewhat reclaimed in Doug Fister.
Most of these guys are probably in the category of those who, rightly, believe they shouldn’t have to settle for less than a spot directly in somebody’s big league rotation. The idea of a Hammel reunion might be nice - hey, wasn’t 2012 fun? - but he just started 30 games for the team that won the World Series and pitched non-horribly. This is not the team he will be looking to join, and so the O’s will have to seek depth elsewhere.
It takes time to build up real depth. The right minor league signing can help if you get lucky, like when the Orioles found Miguel Gonzalez five years ago. Many pitchers have come through the O’s on minor league deals since Gonzalez and none have helped the rotation.
A couple of years ago, the O’s were on track to have some depth for their 2016 and 2017 rotations, but then they traded Steven Brault for Travis Snider and Zach Davies for Gerardo Parra. There’s nothing they can do about those trades now, but they still hurt.
The Orioles may not be able to fix their rotation depth problem between now and the start of spring training, but they’re going to have to do their best to do what they can about it. And probably cross their fingers and pray really hard to any divine powers in which they may believe just to be safe.