Since the season ended, I’ve been asked several times whether the Orioles are going to get an ace this offseason.
My answer is no. I don’t even hesitate. The reasoning is simple. There are no true aces on the market (Matt Garza? Japan’s Masahiro Tanaka? Hiroki Kuroda?), the Orioles likely wouldn’t offer a five-year-plus deal even if there were an ace available, and they don’t have the farm system to deal for a No. 1.
It’s part philosophy and part supply and demand.
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The Orioles have never given a free-agent pitcher a contract longer than three years. And I don’t see them doing it now. Not with the current ownership and not with the current front office. And not with so many examples of big-money pitchers being worth the money for about half of their contracts and being a financial albatross for the rest of it.
The reality is that most teams, including the Orioles, can’t pay for five years to get two or three good years and two or three lost ones from a starting pitcher. Teams like the New York Yankees can bury those mistakes, but most can’t. The majority of teams need to grow their own aces or trade for someone with potential and hope to get lucky.
Think I’m talking the party line?
Consider the list of the 27 pitchers who have started a division series playoff game this October (Clayton Kershaw started two):
Detroit (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez); Oakland (Bartolo Colon, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker); Boston (Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz); Tampa Bay (Matt Moore, David Price, Alex Cobb); Pittsburgh (A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton); St. Louis (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha); Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu); and Atlanta (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Freddy Garcia).
Of that group, 15 of the 27 are homegrown and have not been with any other organization. Nine of those 15 were drafted in the first round or supplemental first round by their current clubs. Only one of the 15 was an international amateur (Teheran).
It would be 16 of 27 if we threw Ryu into that group, but he was an international professional purchased from Korea (for six years and $36 million), so he’s in a category by himself. Also in a category of his own is Garcia, whom the Orioles sold to the Braves in August because he was in the minor leagues and wasn’t going to pitch in the major leagues for the Orioles again.
Six others who started games in the division series originally were obtained by their current clubs via trades, including Burnett, who signed one of those disastrous free-agent contracts with the Yankees before they dumped him, and Sanchez, who has since signed a big deal with the Tigers but first went to Detroit in a trade from Miami.
That leaves four of the 27 who were obtained via free agency: Colon, Lackey, Liriano and Greinke. Lackey’s free-agent deal was considered a bust before this season; Colon and Liriano were under-the-radar free agents; Greinke’s six-year, $147 million deal was a headline-grabber.
My point: It’s rare when those huge free-agent pitching contracts pan out. The teams that get to the postseason consistently are the ones that know how to draft and develop pitching.
That, of course, is the subject for another day when it comes to the Orioles.