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How will Yu Darvish’s deal affect the Orioles’ search for a free agent starter?

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Darvish’s six-year contract with the Cubs could set the market for longer deals among the remaining free agent starters. The Orioles still don’t want to go beyond three-year offers.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, we have a dish to nibble on served from the hot stove with the news that pitcher Yu Darvish is set to sign with the Chicago Cubs. It’s been a long wait for the first free agent starter from the upper echelon to agree to a deal this off-season. Maybe this will help to define the future market value for other free agent starters who may be on the Orioles’ wish list.

As unbelievable as it to think about, with spring training beginning today, the Orioles’ rotation remains in virtually the same place it was three months ago with just two starters – Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman – guaranteed spots. So what does the Darvish deal mean for the Orioles’ chances at signing at least one free agent starter?

Darvish has agreed to a six-year, $126 million contract – $34 million less than the early off-season projection made by MLB Trade Rumors. If this deal truly does set the market, it would stand to reason that Dan Duquette might be able to make a bargain signing after all.

The Orioles never dreamed of signing Darvish or the other true ace in the pool, Jake Arrieta, but they have expressed interest in pitchers from the tier below. Duquette is known for waiting out the market in hopes of gaining the best value. As spring training begins, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn remain unsigned.

But even though the total value of the Darvish deal is significantly less than was expected, the length is the same. And that might spell bad news for the Birds’ chances to sign Cobb or Lynn, who should sign for at least four years, according to the MLB Trade Rumors projections.

And that “four” is now the magic number that spooks the team when negotiating with free agent starters. Still stinging from that atrocious four-year contract they gave Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014, the Orioles seem to be maxing out at three-year deals for starters.

And if that’s the case, we return to the next level down for realistic additions – the likes of Andrew Cashner, Jaime Garcia and Jason Vargas. All three are likely to sign somewhere for fewer than three years.

Given his age and successful 2017 results, Cashner may seem to be the best arm of the three. But a closer look should raise red flags high above the warehouse at Camden Yards.

Sure, the 31-year-old Cashner pitched 167 innings and won 11 games with a 3.40 ERA last year, but the drop in his strikeout rate is alarming. His K/9 rate has fallen from 8.0 in 2015 and 7.6 in 2016 to a paltry 4.6 last year. He deserves credit for getting out of jams with balls in play – he has always been a ground ball pitcher, which helps there – but not missing bats will catch up to him quickly.

Garcia, also 31, is coming off a year with just 11 quality starts out of 27 chances resulting in a underwhelming 4.41 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He is a lefty though, which may give him a leg up since the only other southpaw currently in the mix is Rule 5 selection Nestor Cortes.

Linked to the Orioles all off-season, lefty Vargas could still be the favorite to wear the black and orange in 2018. At 35 years old, he could possibly sign for just one year, which would appeal to the wary Orioles. His 4.16 ERA last year was in line with his career 4.17 mark, but he did make the All-Star game last year after an awesome first half and ended up with a 3.8 WAR.

Let’s face it; none of Cashner, Garcia or Vargas alone is going to put the Orioles over the top. Cobb or Lynn might not either, but at least they could give the team some legitimate hope. Jake Odorizzi or Collin McHugh, mentioned in recent trade buzz, would as well but at what cost?

Of course, trying to figure out what this team will do is largely a mystery. For all we know Cortes will be the lefty in the rotation, flanked by Mike Wright and Miguel Castro.