There was a natural impulse to run away screaming from most of the Orioles starting pitchers in the 2017 season. With the exceptions of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, they were bad in a way to make you feel like they may well be bad forever. The team certainly was bad as long as the bad pitchers were pitching. One advantage of the O's having four starting pitchers about to become free agents is that we don't have to see them again.
Someone should tell the Orioles this, though, because a Monday rumor from The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina says something very different than what we might hope, with the team reaching out to the agents for both Chris Tillman and Wade Miley about possible returns. This is hardly an exciting revelation. Maybe the only thing worse than the 2017 Orioles rotation would be seeing it again in 2018.
In this space yesterday, I wrote that the Orioles don't seem to be serious about trying to improve their starting rotation. That was in reference to their apparent unwillingness to spend Alex Cobb money, whatever that may be, to attempt to make things better from a league-worst starting rotation. Now, there is this about Tillman and Miley.
Most hypotheses are not so quickly proven. I can probably say it with more certainty now: The Orioles aren't serious about trying to improve their starting rotation. A team that actually wanted to get better would not be checking itself out of any second-tier free agent and checking itself in to two of the worst starting pitchers in MLB this season.
Encina described the O's overtures to Tillman's and Miley's representatives as "regarding the possibilities of returning to the team on one-year, low-base salary, high-incentive deals." If those names must be discussed at all, at least they are being discussed in that context.
My horror about this rumor is more about Miley's name than Tillman's. The only reason the Orioles should have to talk to Miley ever again is if he left something in his locker and they need to know where to send it. They have now seen Miley make 43 starts for the team, in which he has posted a 5.75 ERA and a 1.689 WHIP while averaging fewer than five innings per game started. The team immediately improves with his departure. Even if Miley came back for one dollar, that wouldn't be worth it.
One of the more depressing things about trying to imagine improvement for next year's team is knowing that whoever told Dan Duquette that it was a good idea to acquire Miley probably still works for the team - and Duquette, who pulled the trigger on the trade, is certainly still the GM. This brain trust is supposed to fix the mess it made? Maybe it can, but not with the pitchers they already inaccurately assessed would help the Orioles.
Fortunately, Encina says that a Tillman return appears "more likely" than one with Miley. He even suggests that some National League club, considering the general shortage of left-handed pitching available, might go for a multi-year deal for Miley. I will be happy if someone else makes that bet.
With that said, there's nothing inherently bad about thinking about bringing Tillman back for another shot. The Orioles have more of a track record with Tillman not being a horrible pitcher.
There is, of course, the still-unresolved question of whether the shoulder problem that began to affect Tillman during the 2016 season, leading to an offseason PRP injection and a disrupted 2017 routine that turned into a disastrous 2017 season, is still plaguing him. Tillman and the Orioles insisted that Tillman was healthy, but the results speak for themselves. Health or not, something was wrong.
If the O's really believe that a significant part of his problem was the whole "not having a normal offseason" thing, which is mentioned regularly in beat writer articles, they could certainly do worse than giving Tillman a chance to boost his stock in familiar territory.
It's almost impossible for Tillman to be worse than he was this season. It's a challenge for even a bad pitcher to have a 7.84 ERA in 93 innings over 24 games.
I've said that phrase before about Orioles starting pitching: "It's hard to be worse." The Orioles have managed, for two consecutive seasons now, to be worse when I thought it would be hard for them to be worse. But in Tillman's case, it would be really, really hard for him to be worse. Not that I will feel a whole lot better if he pitches for the Orioles next year and shaves two runs off of his ERA. He can be better and still be pretty bad.
Whether we like it or not, the Orioles are going to have three holes to fill in the starting rotation this offseason. They have enough money to sign two second-tier free agents, if they have the nerve, though they're already signaling that they don't.
Internal options appear to be few, although who ever knows what that's worth after Parker Bridwell was given away to Anaheim and then posted a 3.64 ERA in 21 games. Do the Orioles even know what a good pitcher looks like, or how to make a lesser pitcher better? The decisions that they have made over the last two years cause one to wonder.
What it all adds up to is that there's probably going to be room for some guy on an incentive-laden contract to come in and compete for a spot in the 2018 rotation, or even to be given one from the get-go. That guy might as well be Tillman. Reclamation projects aren't inherently bad, as long as there's a plan in place for if you fail to reclaim them. Whether the Orioles have such a backup plan remains to be seen.
We can hope that these are only cursory inquiries about Miley and to a lesser extent Tillman. Maybe it wouldn't even be news if it wasn't for the fact that Monday was an off day for the World Series and the Ravens didn't play a game on Sunday, meaning that The Sun surely needed something to put in the Sports page. Maybe nothing will come of any of it.
My standard advice regarding baseball rumors remains: Probably nothing will happen. In this case, nothing happening is preferable to seeing the majority of the 2017 Orioles rotation becoming the majority of the 2018 Orioles rotation.