Another offseason has arrived and it seems to be the same old song and dance as the Baltimore Orioles, as well as several teams around the league, are looking for that key top of the rotation starting pitcher. Despite the need, there are not many options available for such an arm.
Chris Tillman emerged as the Orioles ace this season going 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA and became the first Baltimore pitcher to win more than 15 games in the 21st century, but when you look at those numbers, they are not MLB Ace worthy. Do not get us wrong, Tillman was fantastic for the Orioles this season and he will get the ball on Opening Day in 2014, barring some type of injury and we expect that he will continue to improve and perhaps become a legitimate MLB ace, but he is not there yet.
Orioles fans immediately look to free agency as a way to get that top of the rotation arm, but this season's free agent market is quite weak in that regard.
According to Bleacher Report the top free agent starting pitcher on the market is Kansas City Royals pitcher Ervin Santana. He is a decent starting pitcher and had a good 2013 posting a 9-10 record with a 3.24 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, and perhaps most importantly, he threw 211 innings in 2013, which is very valuable now days when bullpens tend to get overlooked due to starting pitchers not getting deep into games (sound familiar Orioles fans?).
If there is one thing that Santana has proven over his nine year MLB career, he is an innings eater as he has thrown over 200 innings five times. Santana, who will be 31 when the season begins, has a career 105-90 career record, but his ERA of 4.19 and 1.281 WHIP should be concerning for teams who believe he can be the ace of a staff. Being one of, if not the best pitcher on the market, he is going to demand way too much for the Orioles to be serious contenders to sign him.
The other interesting arm out there is Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez, who has a resurgence this year after posting a 5.03 ERA over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but bounced back with a nice 13-9 record and a 3.30 ERA in 2013. It is tough to say that Jimenez figured something out, or if he was motivated to be better since the Indians were in playoff contention most of the season and it was his free agent year. Jimenez has posted a 82-75 career record with a 3.92 ERA over his eight year MLB career, but his 1.345 WHIP is concerning as he has averaged four walks per nine innings in his career. What makes him very attractive for Baltimore is the fact that he does not allow a lot of home runs as he has a career 0.7 career mark for home runs allowed per nine innings, which is extremely impressive considering he pitched his first 5 1/2 years of his career in Colorado.
Other notable starting pitchers on the market are Matt Garza, who proved he cannot pitch in a hitters ball park as he posted a 4.38 ERA in 13 starts with Texas this season after being traded. The next two notable names are Tim Lincecum and Hiroki Kuroda, both of whom are expected to resign with their current teams.
So what does all of this analysis lead to? Scott Feldman will likely be the top target for the Orioles as they would be able to afford him, they are familiar with him, and he has hinted that he would like to return to Baltimore. He is not the top of the rotation pitcher the Orioles need, but he is a quality pitcher who can eat some innings for you and could help solidify the rotation to a point.
Now, it should be stated that the free agent market for starting pitchers could grow as teams may not submit qualifying offers to guys who are arbitration eligible or not pick up team options. One guy to keep an eye on would be James Shields who has a $12 million team option that the Kansas City Royals will have to make a decision on.
If Baltimore wants to get the ace they have so long yearned for, it will need to come via trade and without the willingness to part ways with guys like Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop and Eduardo Rodriguez, that becomes highly unlikely.
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