The 2013 Orioles season began with what many considered considerable depth at the Starting Pitcher position. However, as Orioles fans would soon learn – quality matters more than quantity. That poor performance depleted the depth quickly and the Orioles went out on the trade market. They acquired Scott Feldman and Bud Norris through trade and by the end of the season they had a semblance of a decent rotation with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez alongside those two.
Scott Feldman is a free agent, leaving at least one spot open. I would argue for putting either Miguel Gonzalez or Bud Norris in the bullpen as well because both have their limitations as starting pitchers and I think their arsenals would excel in the pen.
Therefore, the Orioles have definitely one, and possibly two slots open in the starting rotation. Looking for in-house candidates, there isn’t much. Kevin Gausman is the best candidate however, as Tucker outlined, he needs some more seasoning to reach his full potential. The next best is probably Zach Britton, but his continued struggles make depending on him a fool’s errand.
Other in-house candidates include Mike Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, and T.J. McFarland. Those three are huge longshots to be ready and effective for the opening day rotation. Maybe later in the year, maybe if another starter gets injured, but if one of those guys starts the year in the starting rotation something has gone horribly wrong. That leaves trade and free agent targets.
The Orioles seem hamstrung with a certain budgetary ceiling. This makes acquiring top flight free agent pitchers very difficult. One can debate the merits of those high priced deals (I personally hate them as the player often never reaches the value of the contract and the backend of those deals can cripple teams) but, no one can debate that the Orioles will not be involved in the bidding process for long term high value deals. Therefore, I wanted to find cheap starting pitchers that would fit into what the Orioles do better than other teams.
2013 was a frustrating season, but one bright spot of the team all season long was the defense. According to fangraphs, the Orioles had the 3rd best UZR in the major leagues, 2nd best in the American League behind the Royals. Parsing out the UZR into the distinct categories the Orioles were really good at – turning double plays. They were 5th in the major leagues and 3rd in the AL in Double Plays Runs above average. Going player by player in the infield, Machado, Flaherty, and Hardy were all in the in top 11 in Double Play Runs above average in the AL in 2013 (minimum 500 innings played). The way I read those stats is that the Orioles should focus on getting Groundball heavy pitchers.
Not exactly a stunning revelation, however with the penchant for turning double plays the Orioles could focus on people that let guys on—which would come cheaper—and get the 2 for 1 they seem so adept at turning.
Therefore, I went and dug into the free agent lists. I wanted to find a couple of candidates with a high GB% that won’t cost much. Considering budget constraints, I think signing only one pitcher to a long term/mid-range and one starter to a one year deal makes the most sense.
With those criteria in mind, here are some free agents I would target. First, I would focus on acquiring A.J. Burnett. Among starting pitchers with a minimum of 100IP, Burnett had the 6th highest GB% at 56.5% to go along with his ERA of 3.30. Burnett is old at age 36 and will likely require a multi-year commitment from the Orioles. However, Burnett seems intent on either retiring or returning to the Pirates if they offer him enough money. Therefore, it may be difficult for the Orioles to sign him, although money may talk here.
The people over at MLB Trade Rumors think Burnett will either sign with the Pirates for one year $12 million or retire. I’d be willing to add in another year—possibly an option year with a buyout—to get Burnett. He really fits the mold of a starting pitcher the Orioles desperately need.
The next free agent starter I would focus on is Tim Hudson. Hudson was 10th in the MLB this year in GB% at 55.8% and a 3.97 ERA. Hudson is 38 and coming off a horrific ankle injury which makes targeting him a little worrisome. However, his high GB% and low price tag makes him an attractive target for the Orioles. MLB Trade Rumors predicts somewhere in the 1 year $9 million for Hudson which is about as high and long I would be willing to go for the Orioles.
Lastly, and most boring, for the higher priced free agent targets I would target the 30 year old Scott Feldman. He had the 33rd best GB% last year in the majors with a rate of 49.6%, and had an ERA of 3.86. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Feldman could see a Guthrie-esque contract of 3 years and $25 million. However, they seem to think, and I agree, that a 2 year $17 million is more likely which I would be comfortable with giving Feldman for a return trip to the Orioles.
If I were running the Orioles, I would try to sign two of Hudson, Burnett, and Feldman focusing on Feldman and Hudson as my primary targets and try to save money elsewhere *cough Jim Johnson cough*. However, I think the Orioles will sign Feldman (which I am okay with), and stick with Norris and Gonzalez in the rotation. Therefore, I think the Orioles should also sign a couple of very cheap potential high upside (think Jair Jurrjens last year) guys—in case of injury/poor performance—which I will focus on for my next article.