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A closer look at the free agent pitchers still available

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The Orioles have been rumored to be interested in a reunion with Andrew Cashner, but he isn’t the only veteran hurler on the market.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

In what has seemingly become an annual tradition around these parts, the Orioles are once again on the hunt for a veteran starting pitcher as the off-season nears its end.

O’s general manager Mike Elias spoke at the “Hot Stove Banquet” hosted by the Delmarva Shorebirds last week, and he mentioned the team’s interest in adding reinforcements to the pitching staff, per MASN’s Roch Kubatko.

We’ll continue to make moves like that where we have a need, where we don’t have an internal option that is obvious that can provide us that type of stability, and I think at this point we’re mostly focused on possibly reinforcing the pitching staff. So we’re taking a look at that. We’ve got a couple weeks left before spring training and there’s still some options out there.”

“I’d say if we’re going to be adding to the major league pitching staff, I think it would be more likely to come from the free agent market.”

Elias has added a boatload of pitching to the organization this winter, but outside of the two Rule 5 picks it has mostly been the type of players that qualify as “organizational depth” rather than legitimate big league options to this point.

A few days ago, Kubatko reported that Andrew Cashner, in particular, is a player that the Orioles would look to sign provided that the two sides could agree on a price.

A reunion with Cashner would make a lot of sense from the Orioles’ perspective. The 33-year-old has already spent a season-and-a-half with the club, and he just turned in a nice 17-game performance for them in 2019 that saw him post a 123 ERA+ and 2.7 bWAR prior to a July trade to the Boston Red Sox.

Cashner’s time in Boston is likely the reason that he remains unsigned to this point. He pitched in 25 games down the stretch (six starts, 19 relief appearances) and struggled to get outs. His ERA was 6.20, and he was walking opposing hitters at a 4.9 BB/9 rate. The right-hander had outperformed his peripherals as an Oriole, and then did even worse than his peripherals would suggest as a member of the Red Sox. The result is that he will likely have to settle for a one-year “Show Me” contract.

At this point in the winter, the available stable of experienced hurlers is beginning to thin out. Cashner is far from the only familiar name will without a job, but there aren’t too many better than him.

Jason Vargas

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Orioles attempt to choose between Cashner and Vargas. The two were very similar pitchers last season. They each played for two teams. They each tossed about 150 innings apiece. Their final ERA’s settled into the mid-4’s. And FanGraphs attributed them both with 1.8 fWAR for their efforts. Vargas is three-and-a-half years older, though.

Clay Buchholz

Would signing Buchholz only serve as a reminder of the no-hitter that he threw against the Orioles during the 2007 season? Probably, but misery is nothing new for Orioles fans. The bigger concern would be Buchholz’s injury history. The 35-year-old only pitched in 12 games for the Blue Jays last season due to a shoulder issue. He has stated that he will not pitch in the minors in 2020. While that doesn’t mean a spring training invite is off the table, it does limit the flexibility of the team that signs him, and that could be enough to deter the O’s.

Jhoulys Chacin

From 2016 through 2018, Chacin posted fWAR’s of 1.8, 2.3 and 2.4. Then everything fell apart in 2019. He posted a 5.79 ERA in 19 games for the Brewers before being released in August. The Red Sox gave him a minor league deal, and promoted him to the big leagues toward the end of the season, but he didn’t fare much better there. However, there are some things to like. His xFIP was nearly an entire run less than his ERA. And his .307 BABIP was 25 points higher than his career average. With some luck, Chacin could be a good value addition.

Taijuan Walker

Not so long ago, Walker was a top prospect in the Mariners system. But his best big league season came in 2017 as a member of the Diamonbacks rotation. He had Tommy John surgery in April 2018, which has derailed his career a bit. But the big righty is still young at just 27 years of age. It’s curious that no team has taken a chance on him yet this winter. It could mean that he is mulling a few options or waiting for a better one to arrive.

Clayton Richard

Richard has not been a very good pitcher since 2016. He did throw nearly 200 innings for the 2017 Padres, but he also had a 1.515 WHIP and struck out just 6.9 batters per nine innings. His strikeout rate has only deteriorated since then. At 36 years old, it’s unlikely that the southpaw bounces back in any significant way. For that reason, there could be very little competition for his signature, making him the most affordable option of all.

None of the remaining unsigned pitchers is a particularly sexy pick. They each have significant flaws that have allowed them to remain unemployed for this long. Cashner is the most logical choice. Walker perhaps has the most upside. Regardless of who the Orioles sign, it won’t make a massive difference in a season that is sure to be filled with losses. But making the right choice remains important for the future, as it will allow the Orioles to stay the course in regards to their minor league pitchers and maintain some semblance of organizational depth.