There is a familiar pattern for how the Orioles go through the offseason. Early on, there are stories here and there about players who interest them, players who might even improve the Orioles if they signed here. Then, those players start signing while the Orioles do nothing.
That pattern is starting up again as we head towards baseball's Winter Meetings. Three weeks ago, the Orioles were interested in Tyler Chatwood. He seemed like he might be in their price range. Nothing ever happened with that, and on Thursday the Cubs announced that they had signed Chatwood. He will receive $38 million over three years from Chicago.
That's an eye-popping number if you judge him only by his results. He has never pitched more than 158 innings in a season, and, despite pitching the bulk of his innings in the National League, has only had an ERA below 4 twice. He hit the free agent market about to turn 28, having just posted a 4.69 ERA.
What's appealing about Chatwood, in spite of his mediocre-at-best strikeout rates and bad walk rates, is a feeling that if he can only get out of Coors Field, he will be good. When you look at his 2017 home ERA of 6.01 and his road ERA of 3.49, it’s no wonder people think that.
This isn’t a one year aberration, either: In 2016, Chatwood’s home ERA was again over 6 while on the road, he posted a 1.69 ERA. Those are numbers that get your attention. So does a ground ball rate that was 57.2% in 2016 and 58.1% in 2017.
With the Cubs willing to offer Chatwood almost $13 million per season, the Orioles probably never had much of a chance here. They may not have even ever seriously gotten involved once the price tag was revealed. MLB Trade Rumors had predicted Chatwood would receive a three year deal worth only $20 million; he even significantly exceeded a three year, $30 million prediction made by Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.
Even if the Orioles somehow offered the same money as the Cubs, it’s not hard to figure that the Cubs would have been a more appealing destination. Oriole Park at Camden Yards may be a great place to watch a game, but it’s not a great place to pitch.
As for the two teams current situations, well, the Cubs won the World Series two seasons ago and won their division last year. The Orioles just finished in last place and are facing the great free agent exodus in one year’s time. The Cubs fix pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, who the Orioles could never polish. The Orioles... don’t fix pitchers.
The fact that Chatwood got more money than expected is not a good omen for the skittish Orioles actually managing to build a good or even decent rotation with this free agent market being available to them. Lower-tier free agents like Miles Mikolas and Mike Minor, who also signed this week, are also exceeding contract expectations.
If you can’t develop pitchers, you’ll eventually have to pay for them, and that’s a bad time. Chatwood might have been an answer for the O’s. They were interested, nothing happened, and now he’s joined the Cubs.