Pitchers and catchers are expected to report to spring training in less than 24 hours and Orioles fans are still expected to take it on faith that the team will do something to attempt to improve the rotation before the season begins. There are a lot of pitchers still out there to sign, which at least gives some reason to believe that the Orioles aren’t just going to end up signing the next Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo.
Another possibility is that the Orioles could reach onto the trade market in their search for rotation help. Two names floated by MASN’s Roch Kubatko are Astros pitcher Collin McHugh and Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. According to Kubatko, the O’s are still engaged with agents in addition to trade discussions with multiple teams, including those two.
These names are interesting to hear if only because they are different ones than the second- and third-tier free agent names we’ve been hearing for months, the ones who are either medical risks or “too expensive” or the Orioles are just too risk-averse after the Jimenez disaster to sign them.
If you’re not feeling particularly optimistic about the chances of the 2018 Orioles, the idea of giving up even a little of their minimal prospect stock to chase a foolish dream is probably not an appealing one. If they want to take a longshot stab at competing in 2018, that’s fine, but it’s better to sign someone who will only cost money. Teams are always making money. Getting prospects is not as automatic.
This is a reasonable stance to take, given where the team appears to be right now. It’s clear, however, that the Orioles themselves may not see themselves this way, so we might as well try to think about what they’re thinking.
My standard rule for baseball rumors is that probably nothing will happen. This appears to be more true than ever for the Orioles this offseason. Don’t panic about possibly trading for McHugh or Odorizzi, or if for some reason you’re the world’s biggest McHugh or Odorizzi fan, don’t get excited about their possibly getting traded to the Orioles, either.
The Astros ability to actually develop starting pitching is one of the things that brought them out of the depths of the American League to an eventual World Series last year. Their polishing of McHugh, who was effectively abandoned by both the Mets and the Rockies in 2013 before being claimed by Houston on waivers and almost immediately pulled up from the depths.
Across four seasons with the Astros, McHugh, a 6’2” righty turning 31 in June, has posted a 3.70 ERA. This is very close to his FIP of 3.60, so there’s reason to believe it’s not some kind of defense-aided or stadium-aided mirage.
Despite that solid track record, the additions of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have pushed McHugh a bit farther towards the fringe, so it makes sense that he might be available with two seasons to go until he becomes a free agent. McHugh’s 2018 salary is still unresolved. He requested $5 million against the Astros $4.55 million.
However, McHugh only started 12 games in 2017 due to what was termed a posterior impingement in his right elbow. You never want to hear about the Orioles acquiring a guy who had an elbow problem, though he did return in July and pitch the rest of the season without issue. McHugh did not have some kind of Chris Tillman-like post-injury collapse: He had a 3.55 ERA in 2017. He also did not pitch more than six innings in any start.
Orioles fans may have some familiarity with Odorizzi because he’s started against the O’s 18 times over his five seasons with the Rays. That’s more than he has faced any other team. Odorizzi is also a 6’2” righty with two years of service time remaining, except he will only be turning 28 in March. His salary is also not settled, with his request of $6.3 million countered by $6.05 million from the Rays.
With a 3.82 ERA over his five seasons with the Rays, he has shown an ability to be successful in the AL East. There’s a lot to like about that.
Odorizzi has started at least 28 games in each of the last four seasons, though he only threw 143.1 innings last season. That’s less exciting because it appears to have been driven by a lot of 90+ pitch, 3-4 inning starts. Though he had a 4.14 ERA that would have been best on the Orioles staff, that was actually a -0.1 bWAR season overall. That’s not helped by the fact that he allowed 30 home runs in his 143.1 innings. In that way, he’s already an Oriole in spirit.
One more red flag may be that Odorizzi’s career home ERA is 3.40 against a road ERA of 4.35. If he’s benefited from half of his starts being in Tropicana Field, that benefit is probably not going to carry over to having half of his games in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The track record of Dan Duquette and his staff in evaluating pitchers for trades and signings has been horrible, so if he trades with either the Astros or Rays to try to fill their rotation holes, it would be a real hold your breath kind of situation, without even getting into whether it’s worthwhile giving up prospects to add to this team at all.
A trade for either McHugh or Odorizzi would at least be a sign that the Orioles do, in fact, recognize that they desperately need to improve on last year’s rotation with pitchers by getting pitchers who may be better than the ones they have around already. That doesn’t mean they should do it just to do something, but considering that doing nothing probably means Mike Wright in the starting rotation...