With Mike Elias having proclaimed “liftoff” for the Orioles, Camden Chat writers are hoping for some impactful free agent additions to the roster. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be looking through possible signings - some more realistic than others.
Last week, several CC writers, including me, indulged in some dreaming about the Orioles rotation next year, imagining what it would be like if the Orioles signed Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodón, Jacob deGrom, and even the less known quantity of Japanese free agent Kodai Senga. We all know the reasons why that tier of signing probably won’t happen. The O’s will need to get better with lower-priced players. One of the several not-top-tier guys who could make sense as an addition is veteran lefty José Quintana.
Quintana’s 11 MLB seasons have never been terribly relevant to Orioles fans since he’s never played in the AL East. If he had continued pitching like he did in his early seasons with the White Sox, he would be way out of the O’s price range. From 2013-16, Quintana combined for a 3.35 ERA while throwing 200+ innings each year. He did this fairly anonymously, never earning much Cy Young support - probably because the White Sox were bad in these years and Quintana had fewer than ten wins in three of those seasons.
For several years after that, Quintana was on a path of decline, which was most unfortunate for the Cubs, who acquired him in a crosstown trade. By 2021, Quintana had to settle for a one-year contract for $8 million with the Angels. He was bad there, ultimately posting a 6.75 ERA. His command deteriorated and he was giving up bunches of home runs for the first time in his career. In 2022, Quintana had to settle for even less than that: A year, $2 million, the Pirates.
Things got better! Quintana was pitching more like the version of himself from the previous decade, playing his way to a trade out of purgatory and into playoff contention with the Cardinals. Across the whole season, Quintana ended up with a 2.93 ERA in 32 starts, with a nearly identical 2.99 FIP and a 1.213 combined WHIP. If you plugged that performance into the 2022 O’s rotation instead of Jordan Lyles, the O’s would have given up about 30 fewer runs, which would have swung their expected W-L record for four more wins.
It’s never as easy as that. You can’t just wave a magic wand and carry over a pitcher’s performance on one team (or two) onto a different team in a new year. Quintana might not look like the same guy after another year has gone by and moving to pitch half of his games in Camden Yards.
You can look at a lot of Quintana’s 2022 and not come away feeling like it was a fluke. His strikeout and walk rates looked a lot like his better years back with the White Sox. His BABIP was .302, is in line with his career numbers. His velocity, though down by a mile per hour since 2016, has been consistent for the last five years. As a veteran lefty, you can imagine him settling into something of a “crafty lefty” sort of mold.
One concern might be that Quintana’s home run rate really dipped (just eight allowed in 165.2 IP), except even that might not be as much of a concern as it used to be. A lefty starting pitcher in Camden Yards now has Walltimore on his side. It must be nice. Another is that he’s among the more heavy ground ball pitchers for starters - at 46.4% per FanGraphs, he was 13th out of 45 qualified pitchers. The shift ban will be a drag there, though we can hope that the Orioles will have fielders good enough to not suffer too much.
Quintana is also pitching about an inning fewer per game than his prime years. He was dependable in making 32 starts this year, but he wasn’t an innings eater, averaging only a bit more than five innings per start. Even a good team can make use of a guy like that in the back of its rotation.
Since Quintana will be 34 next season and he doesn’t have the multi-year quality of fellow free agent pitcher Chris Bassitt or the career pedigree of Verlander, that’s expected to put him more down in a plausible Orioles price range. At both FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors, the predicted contract for Quintana is two years and $24 million.
Mike Elias has yet to give multiple years guaranteed to a free agent since taking over as Orioles GM. This would be a pretty low-risk way of taking that plunge. It’s not a huge commitment in years or dollars, leaving the O’s room to make other additions. The only thing that would hurt about the signing turning into a bust is if there were disastrous outings harming the chances of 2023 and 2024 Orioles teams who we’d like to see do better than this year’s surprise.
An early projection for 2023 performance is the Steamer model on FanGraphs, which sees some regression for Quintana in the direction of his x-stats from 2022. Quintana had a 3.86 xERA and 3.72 xFIP and is projected for a 3.99 ERA in 2023. That’s not terribly exciting as a signing, but it’s a nice improvement over several of the 2022 O’s rotation guys. He’s likely to be better than at least two of the Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, and Tyler Wells group for this year, even if none of us knows for certain which two of that group will be the best.
Considering the only other lefty option who will be ready on Opening Day is DL Hall, and who even knows what to make of him as a starter, the idea of signing another serious lefty to have in the mix appeals. Quintana could also fill the “veteran presence” kind of role, particularly for the contingent of Orioles from Spanish-speaking countries. That seems to be something they valued this year with the signings of Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos and even the midseason pickup of Jesús Aguilar.
None of those guys played well as Orioles, which doesn’t mean they weren’t quietly playing a role the front office thinks is important. Finding a player to fill that role who’s actually a good player would be a nice change from this past season to the next one.
If the biggest move the Orioles make this offseason is signing Quintana or a pitcher roughly of his tier, it won’t be a very exciting offseason. If he’s the second-most (or maybe even third-most) interesting acquisition, then good things are happening. And if even this signing isn’t “the right price point” or whatever phrase the beat writers will deploy to rationalize about it, then we can be fairly confident the Orioles won’t be signing an impact free agent this winter.