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With Vargas fetching a four-year deal, what's next for the Orioles' free-agent pitching pursuit?

The Orioles’ hope of adding a free-agent pitcher took a bit of a hit Thursday when left-hander Jason Vargas signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Kansas City Royals.

Vargas, 30, has been someone the Orioles have coveted for years — former pitching coach Rick Adair had Vargas in Seattle and loved the lefty. And so the Orioles made trade overtures in three different seasons to try and get Vargas, but never found a deal to their liking.

That the Orioles didn’t land Vargas in free agency shouldn’t be disappointing for the club, however. What should give the Orioles pause is that Vargas, who is 51-58 with a 4.30 ERA for his career, received a four-year deal.

If that’s the going rate for a solid yet unspectacular starter, the Orioles won’t be getting their dance card punched at the free-agent pitching party.

The Orioles traditionally don’t give starting pitchers deals beyond three years. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette doesn’t like to do it, and club owner Peter Angelos doesn’t like to do it.

And, frankly, it’s hard to argue with that reasoning, because there are very few examples over the past decade or so of a free-agent starter making good on a four-year deal or beyond. For every CC Sabathia, there’s five Carlos Silvas. And, remember, Sabathia had a 4.78 ERA last year and still has at least three more seasons left on his titanic eight-year, $182 million deal.

Of course, expensive or not, the problem is that the Orioles need starting pitching. They need a guy in the upper echelon of a rotation:a No. 2 or higher. And those available this year — Matt Garza, Masahiro Tanaka (if available), Ervin Santana — will get four years or more. That’s guaranteed, now that Vargas landed four years.

So what do the Orioles do?

Well, a trade is a potential route. But they don’t have the prospects to get a top starter, they aren’t trading J.J. Hardy and they’d have to be blown away to deal Matt Wieters.

The best guess is that they’ll get another starter in the mid-to-low tier and hope Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez can take the next step.

I still think Bronson Arroyo would be a great fit for the Orioles, but you have to think the 36-year-old absolutely will get a three-year deal now, given his durability and consistency.

** The club still has interest in retaining Scott Feldman, who was 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA in a combined 30 starts for the Orioles and Chicago Cubs last year. But Vargas’ contract virtually assures that Feldman will get three years. And he’s the same age and has similar stats as Vargas, although Feldman is right-handed and has a higher career ERA while having pitched in mainly hitters’ home parks. That means a four-year deal isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

So far, the developing outfield market is showing that Nate McLouth will get two years, and the developing pitching market is shaping up to give Feldman at least three years. Not what the Orioles were hoping would happen.

** It was announced Thursday night that Major League Baseball Players Association chief Michael Weiner had succumbed to brain cancer at age 51. It wasn’t surprising considering how the disease had ravaged his body. When he spoke to the Baseball Writers' Association of America in July, he couldn’t move his right arm and was confined to a wheelchair.

But Weiner’s indefatigable spirit was intact. And I’m sure it remained that way until the end. I can’t boast of a friendship with Weiner, but we had a professional relationship — off and on the diamond — for about a decade. And the man’s intelligence and integrity really stood out.

When Weiner replaced Donald Fehr in the union’s top spot in 2009, it was a sea change for those of us who cover the sport. Fehr could be dismissive and antagonistic in dealing with the media. Weiner was always respectful, and he appreciated reporters who wanted to be accurate. On several occasions, Weiner made a point to go over contractual nuances thoroughly with me — and I’m not a quick study — so that my story would be correct.

He was a busy man, but that was his way. And you could tell by all of the tweets and statements after his death Thursday that he touched a wide variety of people throughout the sport: players, staff, media, ownership, fans. I’m sure that number grew as he waged his courageous and fairly public fight against cancer for 15 months.

I would suspect that former All-Star first baseman Tony Clark, who was chosen this year as the union’s deputy executive director, will be voted in as chief. And I’m sure the well-respected Clark will do a fine job. But it’s hard to imagine anyone will ever fill the position with as much class as Weiner did.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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