With just 10 days from Opening Day, we can now likely conclude how the Orioles attacked their most pressing need of the offseason … pitching. Unless there’s a remarkable announcement of an Alex Cobb signing or an out-of-the-blue trade, what you see is what you get.
And what we see isn’t so pretty.
Much had been written since the end of last season about who the Orioles would add to Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy to fill out the five-man rotation and provide needed depth beyond that. Given that teams try to build a stable of an eight or nine starters capable of pitching in the majors to account for injuries and tired arms, the Orioles would surely attempt to bring in a few pitchers who’ve had some prior success.
But instead, they signed just one free agent starter from outside the organization – Andrew Cashner, a pitch-to-contact right-hander that managed a 3.40 ERA last year despite a sickly 4.6 K/9 rate. To complete the rotation, the Orioles are hanging their hats on some combination of the return of Chris Tillman (5.12 ERA the past three years), Rule 5 pickup Nestor Cortes, reliever-turned-starter Miguel Castro, and hold-your-breath-and-pray candidate Mike Wright, Jr.
I don’t have enough fingers to cross to make that work.
Earlier in the offseason when there was still hope, the Orioles were often mentioned along with the Minnesota Twins as suitors for particular starting pitchers. And for good reason since both teams fielded a formidable offense but struggled to find consistent starting pitching.
The Birds and Twinkies joined the Angels and the Mariners at the bottom of the A.L. for the lowest percentage of quality starts (pitching at least six innings and giving up three or fewer earned runs) in the A.L. at just 38 percent.
Sure, the Twins actually made the playoffs while the Orioles sealed their fate as the cellar dwellers of the A.L. East on the last day of the season, but for a while they were bunched together in the race for the second wild card.
It wasn’t until after September 6 that these two clubs started heading in different directions. That morning the Orioles were 71-68 and sat just one-half game behind the 71-67 Twins and one game back of the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild-card spot.
Of course the Twins finished strongly while the Orioles completely fell apart, dropping 19 of their last 23 games. Minnesota went on to win a respectable 85 games and snagged the second wild card.
Despite the 2017 results, the Twins and Orioles still shared the same need to improve their pitching for 2018.
What did the Twins do differently than the Orioles? They chose to spend money. First, they got off to an early start by adding three veteran relievers before the end of the calendar year. Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed, both with experience saving games, will replace Minnesota’s 2017 second-half closer Brandon Kintzler.
Those two contracts cost $12.5 million for this season (Reed is owed another $8.5 million in 2019). While the Orioles certainly didn’t have the same need as the Twins to improve their bullpen, they chose not to spend much money bolstering it to replace Castro should he move to the rotation.
At the time, they didn’t know closer Zach Britton would rupture his Achilles tendon, likely putting him on the shelf until July. But even now, the Orioles are relying on Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo and others with little experience to complete the bullpen.
The Twins also inked lefty Zach Duke to a $2.1 million deal. The Orioles countered with two minor league southpaw signings in Josh Edgin and Joely Rodriguez.
As for the starting rotation, the Twins didn’t have three holes to fill like the Orioles but they did add Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn and Michael Pineda at a cost of $20.3 million in 2018 salaries. Odorizzi was obtained in a trade, Lynn signed a late one-year deal, and Pineda signed a two-year deal backloaded for 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
All three of these starters have had recent success in the majors and should fare better than Cashner, Tillman and your pick of Castro, Cortes or Wright Jr. But they cost money (plus a player in the Odorizzi deal) – something the Orioles ownership decided not to explore much this year even though bargains were available, and remain so, like never before.
And that’s the difference between these two teams who entered the offseason hoping to improve their pitching. The Twins will spend about $35 million in new pitcher salaries in 2018, while the Orioles will spend less than $15 million. The harsh reality is the Orioles don’t seem willing to spend the dough it will take to make a concerted run at a post-season berth this year.