If the Orioles are at all serious about competing for a playoff spot in 2023, then their starting rotation needs some attention this winter. Reports this week have indicated that Mike Elias and his crew concur with that analysis. Ken Rosenthal noted that the team “cannot be ruled out” for pretty much every available pitcher, and Roch Kubatko said that the team is seeking “multiple veteran starting pitchers.”
What no one can really nail down is the quality of pitcher the Orioles are chasing, the money they are willing to spend, or prospects they are open to dealing. If only there was some sort of perfect middle-of-the-road, Goldilocks type of arm that would upgrade the staff without breaking the bank. If only!
Enter: Chris Bassitt.
Bassitt will be 34 years old when the 2023 season rolls around. He has played eight seasons in the majors, starting with the White Sox in 2014, then spending six years with the Athletics before a trade to the Mets prior to last season. Since 2019, he has thrown 140+ innings in a season three times, never posted an ERA+ of worse than 113, been to an All-Star Game (2021), and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting twice (2020 & ‘21).
The veteran makes his living by avoiding hard contact and keeping hitters off-balance with a six-pitch mix, led by his sinker, which averaged 92.8 mph in 2022. Although his sinker usage was actually down last year, he worked the highest ground ball rate of his career at 48.8%. That’s not a bad characteristic to have if the infield behind you is as talented as the one the Orioles could feature next season.
Bassitt had Tommy John back in 2016, which cost him most of that season and the entirety of 2017. But he has been mostly healthy since returning from that surgery, despite some harrowing moments, like in 2021, when he was hit in the head by a line drive. That kept him out for a month. All the while, Bassitt’s pitch velocity has remained steady and shows no signs of slowing down.
FanGraphs published their list of Top 50 free agents earlier in the offseason, along with some notes and predictions for each player. Bassitt ranked 14th on their list, and in their write up they said the following:
The best possible outcome for Bassitt, then, seems like a stint with a progressive organization based in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
The Orioles, based on 2022, would seem to fit the bill there. Young pitchers, like Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish, have seen dramatic improvements recently, and even a veteran like Austin Voth was impressed by the team’s insights. Plus, the dimension changes at Camden Yards do seem to have had the impact that the front office hoped, depressing offense in rather dramatic fashion, although the rest of the division remains a challenge.
Despite the caveats, all of this comes together to paint Bassitt as a dependable mid-rotation starter on a good team. That’s probably the situation he would find himself in by the end of 2023 with a healthy John Means and uber-prospect Grayson Rodriguez ahead of him. But if no other moves came in addition to Bassitt then he would be the team’s ace on Opening Day.
Financially, Bassitt will require some significant investment, but it should be more than palatable if you believe that Bassitt’s contact-oriented approach to pitching will work for your team through his age-36 season or so.
FanGraphs predicts Bassitt will get three years and $51 million ($17 million AAV) while MLB Trade Rumors guesses three years and $60 million ($20 million AAV). Something in that range seems fair. We do’t have much information to go for the market this year. The notable names to sign so far are Tyler Anderson (three years, $39 million) with the Angels, and Mike Clevinger (one year, $12 million) with the White Sox.
Something else to consider with Bassitt is that he did decline the $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Mets in order to reach free agency. If the Orioles were to sign him they would forfeit their third-highest selection in the 2023 amateur draft.
Whether or not the Orioles feel the draft pick forfeiture is a deal breaker depends on a few factors that we won’t really know until the market plays itself out. Taijuan Walker, Sean Manaea, and Jameson Taillon are all likely viewed as lesser pitchers than Bassitt, but they will also come cheaper and without draft picks attached. As an entire package, it could be a close call.