If you listen closely, you can hear the slight hissing of the hot stove beginning to ignite. With less than a week to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, one would assume deals will start happening any day now. While some players such as JD Martinez may be threatening to hold out until they see contracts close to the ones they expected before the offseason, I don’t see that happening for the other hundred or so remaining free agents.
It’s been a strange offseason, but waiting out the market to sign players in mid-February is nothing new for Dan Duquette. If anything, it’s kind of his forte. What is new for Duquette though, is the number of choices still remaining on the market. In the past, by the time the Orioles’ front office was willing to sign a pitcher, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel and picking up whatever veteran pitcher was passed on by every other team.
This year, it’s not just the Jimenez’s and Gallardo’s of the world waiting for new deals. Even the top starters like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are still sitting on the market, in addition to the aging middle tier of starters. No one sees the Orioles talking to any of the top arms, but the other guys are right in Duquette’s wheelhouse. If the ownership is willing to pony up, this February actually gives the Orioles options for 30+ year-old starters that are looking for $12-16 million annually. I may regret saying this in a few weeks, but this is Dan Duquette’s time to shine.
Ignoring the aforementioned Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, the Orioles are still looking at a starting pitching market that includes Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Jaime Garcia, and Jason Vargas. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Orioles are in on pretty much all of them plus former Oriole Chris Tillman.
The #Orioles have checked out Lance Lynn, Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Alex Cobb and Chris Tillman, among others. They appear content to wait in hopes of signing someone to a short-term deal. Peter Angelos hesitant to commit to 4-year deal after the Ubaldo Jimenez experience.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) February 7, 2018
I’m not sure what “keeping tabs” actually means, but it’s at least a sign that the Orioles brass is aware that they only have 40% of a rotation. Unfortunately, it’s looking like the Ubaldo deal continues to haunt the Orioles even without him on the team. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case though, I don’t think any of the pitchers listed deserve four years.
Excluding Tillman, whose background Orioles fans are all too familiar with, the new group of Lynn, Cashner, Vargas, and Cobb has a lot in common. First and foremost, while Tillman had an awful 2017 season, each of the other four pitchers had a 2016 season to forget. Cashner was plain bad while Lynn, Cobb, and Vargas were all recovering from Tommy John and missed most, if not all, of the season. All four bounced back for successful 2017 campaigns and now they are hoping to cash in. As Lee Corso likes to say, however, not so fast, my friend.
Lynn, Cashner, and Cobb all had ERA’s in the mid-threes last season and Vargas led the AL in wins. All great stats on the outside, but if you look beyond the periphery, none of them posted FIP’s below 4.00. In fact, all of them posted FIP’s well above their career averages. Under some circumstances, that could be overlooked, but when they are all over 30 and all recovering from poor 2016’s, there is certainly cause for concern.
Parts are slightly depressing, but there are reasons for some for hope as an Orioles fan. Unlike most teams, all four of these guys present obvious upgrades for the Orioles. While most teams look at mid-4 ERA starters as failures, Baltimore would gladly take any of them. The willingness is there if the money is right. We are literally that desperate. And thanks to their aforementioned flaws and the current market, all four pitchers plus Tillman are unlikely to get four year deals from any team, so Angelos won’t be out of the game before it starts.
With mid-February signings of average starters being Duquette’s specialty outside of the Rule 5 draft, I’m probably more confident now than at any point in the offseason that the Orioles will actually sign a starter. Personally I’d like to see Vargas in an Orioles uniform and think he’s the most realistic option. I’d love Cobb as well, but we’ll go one at a time and take what we can get.
Am I crazy or does anyone out there have a similar confidence? The O’s have given us little to trust that they have a plan, but sometimes being a fan means having some good old fashioned blind optimism. If you have someone in mind, argue it out in the comments.