To even a casual observer, the Orioles horrid starting rotation last year was the primary reason why the team finished with their first losing record since 2011. The numbers speak for themselves; O’s starters ranked last in ERA, 28th in fielding independent pitching (FIP) and 27th in wins above replacement (WAR). Baltimore aims to redress their starting rotation via the free agency market this offseason. Orioles owner Peter Angelos usually hesitates to sign starters to long-term deals (missteps like the Ubaldo Jimenez signing come to mind), which probably means that the team won’t bring in a high profile name (so no Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta) top bolster the rotation. However, with Jimenez, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson, and Chris Tillman all departing (some could come back at cheaper rates), here are some potential candidates to fill the void.
1. Alex Cobb
Cobb has been linked to the Orioles over the past few days and he makes sense for the club in a lot of ways. Cobb possesses a wealth of American League East experience (he spent his first six years with the Tampa Bay Rays), doesn’t give up many home runs (0.84 career home runs per nine innings (HR/9)), and throws strikes (career 2.62 walk rate). Although the 30-year-old didn’t perform as well in 2017 as he did in 2013-14, he still pitched to a 3.66 ERA, far better than any O’s starter last year. At best, Cobb is a quality number three starter when he’s healthy. He isn’t a potential Cy Young candidate or anything, but he’s pretty good. That makes him overqualified for a rotation spot in Baltimore. They should try to get him soon, as the always opulent Yankees and Cubs are now in the mix for his services.
2. Lance Lynn
The former St. Louis Cardinals hurler finished with a respectable 3.43 ERA, but that belies his shaky advanced metrics (4.82 FIP, 4.75 xFIP). That notwithstanding, Lynn would still be an upgrade for the Orioles, even if his BABIP (.244) and strand rate (79%) regress to league average levels. Like Cobb, Lynn also keeps the ball on the ground (44%, ranked 36th in MLB) and usually keeps it in the park (career 0.79 HR/9, a necessity at Camden Yards). He struggled with long balls last year, surrendering 1.30 dingers per nine innings with the Cards in 2017. That was a bit flukey though, as he had a 14.2% HR/FB ratio pitching primarily in the seventh-toughest park to launch homers in. Lynn has other red flags; he gives up too many walks (3.77 BB/9 in 2017) and doesn’t miss as many bats as he used to (career-low 7.39 BB/9). That said, Lynn potentially provides the Orioles with another solid option should they choose to pursue him.
3. CC Sabathia
While he’s nowhere close to the caliber of pitcher he was in his prime, the former Cy Young award winner turned back the clock a little bit last year for the surprising Yankees, pitching to a 3.69 ERA. Sabathia also has an abundance of AL East experience and did a decent enough job limiting the long ball despite pitching some games
in a little league park at Yankee Stadium. At age 37, the Orioles obviously shouldn’t sign Sabathia to a long-term deal, but he can aid an Orioles team that wants to contend in 2018-unless the Yankees re-sign him first.
4. Jason Vargas
Another rumored free agency target for Baltimore, Vargas is the picture of
mediocrity consistency. Clubs that bring Vargas know what they are getting: roughly six innings per start, roughly three runs allowed, and good command. His numbers were unspectacular but solid last year for the Kansas City Royals (4.16 ERA, 1.6 WAR), but he stumbled during the second half, pitching to a 6.66 ERA in his final 16 starts. Obviously, the O’s would want the guy who started 2017 hurling like a Cy Young candidate (2.22 ERA, .237/.285/.347 opponent slash line) than the one who finished it looking like a Baltimore Orioles starter replacement level starter. Given his track record, Vargas lies somewhere in between, which would still make him a massive upgrade.
5. Andrew Cashner
Cashner recovered from a dismal 2016 and pitched pretty well in his first season in the AL, posting a 3.40 ERA with the Texas Rangers. Like all the other names on this list, Cashner received a good deal of luck if his peripheral numbers are to be believed (4.61 FIP, 5.30 xFIP). A .266 BABIP and a career-low 6.1% swinging strike rate suggest that Cashner’s hopes of reaching the top of an MLB starting staff are over. However, he does keep the ball on the ground and in the park (career 49% groundball rate and 0.87 HR/9). Plus, the Orioles have a history of getting the most out of overachieving starters (Miguel Gonzalez for instance). Cashner could be the latest case.
Whoever the Orioles sign to fill out their rotation, they can’t do worse than last year’s outfit…can they?