Opening Day is not far off. The Orioles still have one big pile of fifth starter candidates who are either unproven or proven to be bad. As free agent prices plummet, the Orioles would seem to be in a prime position to make a late addition to their rotation. Despite that, they also seem to have been out of the picture as two of the big trio of unsigned pitchers, Lance Lynn and Jake Arrieta, signed this weekend.
There is no point in getting disappointed about Arrieta, because that was obviously never happening, even at the “bargain” of three years and $75 million. Lynn, on the other hand, signed with the Twins for just one year with $12 million guaranteed.
With Lynn setting his eyes on a deal for just one year, it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to figure out why a pitcher in that position would not choose to have his one year, show ‘em what he’s got contract to be one where he pitches a lot of games against AL East teams, with his home games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
A player probably isn’t going to sign with the Orioles in those circumstances, not unless he’s got no other major league alternatives and he’s already comfortable with the team. Lynn is not Chris Tillman: He was actually good last year, and every other year of his career, and he came back from injury and pitched the full season in 2017 looking solid.
There is also another simple fact that the Twins were good last year and look like they’ll contend this year. The Orioles weren’t good and don’t look like they’ll contend. This is the kind of situation that prompted the late O’s GM Syd Thrift to talk about Confederate money.
According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, the Orioles at least stayed in contact with Lynn until somewhat late in the process:
I’d love to break down the Orioles’ negotiations with Lynn and whether he preferred a short-term deal to avoid Camden Yards and a team projected to finish below .500, but I don’t have any details beyond how the club stayed in contact with his representative and appeared open to three guaranteed years but preferred two with a vesting option.
Maybe if the Orioles had made a strong three-year offer rather than dragging their feet just to suggest the possibility of a third guaranteed year, they would have Lynn on the team now and wouldn’t be on the verge of having Mike Wright Jr. start games. As it is, the above paragraph just makes the Orioles seem deaf. Once a guy wants to get the one year and get back on the market, “two years with a vesting option” is not actually a serious offer.
You can make a perfectly reasonable argument for the team to not sign Lynn. Given that everyone who isn’t either a fan of the Orioles or paid by the Orioles doesn’t see much hope of the team being any good this year - and more than a few fans, including this one, are in the same boat - it makes more sense not to surrender one of the team’s high draft picks just to plow another $12+ million into a hopeless cause.
However, the Orioles themselves have already shown that they do not believe this about themselves. By pushing forward with the team that they have, refusing to trade Manny Machado or any of the other pending free agents, the team is committed to 2018. This may very well be delusional for them to think this way, but nonetheless, they have done it.
The Orioles are going to see this thing through, or at least until July, when they can only offer two-month rental trades that have much less potential to improve the franchise for the future.
Operating under the same delusion as the Orioles, pursuing Lynn, or Alex Cobb if you’re more swayed by his AL East track record, has been a necessity. The Orioles aren’t serious if they head towards a desperate must-win season with the only additions to the team being Tillman, Andrew Cashner, and Colby Rasmus.
I’m gloomy about the chances of success for the 2018 Orioles, but I don’t think that the front office is full of clueless, stumbling idiots, so I try to give their thought process credit. I think the situation they are in has forced them to have to talk themselves into a bad plan. That’s not the same thing as having no plan. Some other possible factors at play:
- The Orioles are operating with a significantly lower payroll in 2018 than 2017
This is not a satisfying answer for fans, but if Peter Angelos has closed up the wallet, that’s that. There’s no denying that moves that haven’t worked out have put the Orioles in this position, either costing them pitching prospects in bad trades, like Zach Davies for Gerardo Parra, or costing them money, like Mark Trumbo, whose annual salary is basically the cost of a mid-tier starting pitcher.
Still, as far as this offseason goes, the budget is the budget. Crying over spilled milk solves no problems. Maybe Duquette would have spent some money on Lynn in early February, but if Lynn was still chasing the big bucks that never came back then, Duquette had to move on, and now that money got spent on Cashner and Tillman.
- The Orioles actually like their fifth starter candidates
Here is another unsatisfying answer, considering that the Orioles also liked Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson. They talk themselves into these guys when they must. To me, the group of Wright, Castro, Nestor Cortes, and whoever else is in a similar category.
- The Orioles want to keep a rotation spot clear for Hunter Harvey during the season
The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck wrote this in an article today that discussed how Harvey would remain in big league camp perhaps to the very end:
Manager Buck Showalter laid out Harvey’s schedule for the next 10 days, and it includes a simulated game the next time he comes up in the preseason rotation and a game appearance against the New York Yankees on March 21. ...
“He’s staying,’’ Showalter said. “He’s getting something out of this.”
So, if you want to start seriously wondering whether he’s going to still be on the 25-man roster Opening Day, go to town.
The idea that the Orioles would actually break camp with Harvey on the team when he has never pitched above Delmarva and has thrown a total of 31 innings over the last two seasons is bonkers. I do not hold the front office in such low opinion to believe they would do that.
However, the Harvey hype train has definitely been going through spring training, and it does seem possible - even if it also seems like a bad idea to me - that the Orioles imagine a Harvey arrival during the summer. Having a jabroni in the fifth starter spot in whom there’s little invested who can be shuffled off for Harvey at a moment’s notice may seem like a plus to the O’s.
Are these good explanations? No. They may be the Orioles explanations nonetheless. Better for their fortunes for this season if they try to cash in on one of the remaining desperate starting pitchers.
It’s too late to get Lynn. Cobb is still out there looking for a job. Maybe the Orioles will get serious - actually serious and not just their idea of serious - before someone else snaps him up. Or maybe they will keep acting like Wright might be the answer. I hope they aren’t wrong about all of this.