Posted on November 8, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Baltimore Orioles fell short of a playoff spot in 2017, and the biggest reason why is undoubtedly their starting rotation. Baltimore’s rotation had the worst ERA in baseball in 2017. As a result, remaking their starting rotation will be their top priority this winter. According to recent reports, the Orioles have already singled out a few potential targets for their rotation.
The silver lining to Baltimore’s rotation being so bad last season is that only two of its members are likely to return in 2018. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who were Baltimore’s most effective starters last year, remain under team control. Meanwhile, Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Chris Tillman are all free agents after dreadful seasons in 2017.
Of course, the Orioles have several rotation spots to fill and not necessarily a lot of money to spend. With contracts to players like Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, much of Baltimore’s projected payroll is already spoken for. Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Darren O’Day will also make a pretty penny, limiting how much the Orioles will be able to spend on pitching.
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Suffice it to say that high-end options like Yu Darvish and former Baltimore pitcher Jake Arrieta are off the table. The two names that have already been connected to the Orioles are Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas.
Cashner bounced back from a rough 2016 season and pitched quite well with the Texas Rangers this past season. He made 28 starts, going 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA. He’s by no means a strikeout pitcher, which could hurt him with a majority of his starts coming in Baltimore. However, he’s not projected to earn that much in free agency and would likely give the Orioles 25 to 30 starts next season, eating up some valuable innings. If Baltimore can act fast and sign him quickly, he’d be a fine addition to the rotation.
Vargas would be a similar type of signing. After missing most of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, he made 32 starts this season, going 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA. At age 34, those numbers aren’t likely to get much better. But his track record says that Vargas will pitch well enough to keep his team in games most of the time. With the Orioles having a rather potent offense, a pitcher like Vargas could work well in Baltimore.
Of course, the Orioles also have some internal options. Both Alec Asher and Gabriel Ynoa made a handful of starts for Baltimore last year. However, both remain mostly unproven at the big league level. That being said, both are likely to be better options than pitchers like Jimenez or Tillman were for Baltimore last season.
Unfortunately, the Orioles don’t have much depth in their minor league system beyond Asher and Ynoa. It’ll be tough to pencil those two into the rotation and be able to handle any injuries that pop up during the season. That means the Orioles will need to sign at least two or three free agents to add to their rotation. Even if they get Cashner and Vargas, that may not be enough.
Regardless of who the Orioles end up signing, there will be questions about their starting rotation heading into next season. Some new faces in the rotation should give them a lift, at least psychologically. But whether it’ll be enough to get Baltimore to the playoffs in 2018 remains to be seen. Fortunately for the Orioles, their starting rotation has nowhere to go but up.