It’s now almost March and baseball’s slow offseason hasn’t completely resolved itself just yet. Three of the big-name pitchers who were free agents remain unsigned even as Opening Day creeps closer and closer: Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn. According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, the Orioles remain in contact with the agents for each.
Whether anything will happen with any of those players and the Orioles or not remains to be seen, but it’s interesting because this is getting into familiar territory for Dan Duquette. He waits out the market until prices drop and then he signs a pitcher.
This strategy would be seen as more of a success if the fruit it yielded was not Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. Given how it has worked out so far, one might better classify the strategy as a failure. What makes this offseason different is that the trio of Arrieta, Cobb, and Lynn appears to be of better quality than prior O’s “big” free agent pitcher signings.
Kubatko reports that the industry believes that the remaining free agent pitchers are lowering the asking prices they’d been sticking to all along and that while the Orioles’ “ideal scenario” is a deal below three years, they haven’t ruled out going to three years.
That’s some goalpost-shifting compared to earlier in the offseason, when the big discussion centered around whether the Orioles would go beyond three years, what reason they had for that stance, and whether it was a good stance. Now they don’t even want to go three years? Sheesh.
The idea that the Orioles might sign Arrieta even if his asking price comes down is beyond my imagination, so I’m just going to move on from that. More likely they want to see if Cobb or Lynn comes down to the price they want to pay, whatever that price happens to be.
While it feels like the O’s “should” have at least $30 million more to spend this offseason based on the previous year’s payroll, they sure haven’t spent the last four months acting like they have that much money available. Maybe they will surprise us as asking prices come down a bit.
There are some similarities between Cobb and Lynn in that they’re both right-handed pitchers who will turn 31 later this year who have had Tommy John surgery within the last three years. Each has had a lower strikeout rate after the surgery compared to before the surgery, though both are also pitching with the same velocity as successful pre-surgery seasons.
Both rejected a qualifying offer from their existing teams, meaning that if the Orioles sign either one, it will cost them a draft pick - though not their top draft pick, as was the case in the previous system.
For those who are believers in the AL East being an unfriendly environment for pitchers, Cobb brings a career track record of success in the division already, with a 3.50 ERA in his 115 career starts with the Rays. That includes a 3.66 ERA in the 2017 season, when Cobb posted a career high in innings, with 179.1. When that’s your career high in innings, you are not an innings eater.
The thing that has always given me pause when considering Cobb this offseason is his home/road split from last season. Cobb’s overall ERA looks great, especially compared to what we saw in the Orioles rotation last year. However, in his 16 road starts, he pitched to a 4.72 ERA. If the environment of Tropicana Field was aiding him, the idea of him suddenly pitching half of his games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is less appealing.
Lynn, a career-long Cardinal, has been more of an innings eater in the past, topping 200 innings twice before getting Tommy John and coming back with 186.1 innings and a 3.43 ERA in the 2017 season. That’s good!
On the other hand, Lynn could be due for some major regression in 2018. His quality 2017 was predicated on a .244 BABIP compared to a career mark of .297. Considering his 2017 season also saw his highest career walk rate and a home run rate that was more than double his best seasons of 2013-14, that’s something that could make you nervous, too.
Three weeks ago, the Orioles seemed poised to give three of their rotation spots to a group of internal options of whom possibly none should be any team’s Plan A as a fifth starter, to say nothing of a third or fourth starter.
Signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman has at least pushed that competition down to the fifth starter spot. Adding Cobb or Lynn would banish that talk entirely, unless there’s an injury to someone else in March.
With the 2018 season possibly being the last hurrah for the current core of Orioles players, I’d sure rather see one of those guys pitching than Mike Wright, although the downside of another busted Duquette free agent signing would visit itself upon the Orioles of the future much more than letting Wright start another dozen games this year.
I wouldn’t want to bet that the Orioles are going to end up signing any of these guys, but it’s still interesting that it’s late February, they remain unsigned, and the Orioles are at least pretending to be in the picture. They all have to land somewhere eventually. Maybe for one of them, that place could still be Baltimore.