A potential reunion between the Orioles and right-hander Chris Tillman is very much still alive as the team looks to continue to upgrade its rotation after the signing of former Texas Rangers starter Andrew Cashner.
Mutual interest remains between the sides and Tillman is expected to make his decision on where he will pitch this season within the next 48 to 72 hours, an industry source said Friday. Tillman has had significant recent discussions with the Orioles, Minnesota Twins and two other clubs.
The Orioles arrived at spring training this week with just two rotation spots filled, by right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, and even with the addition of Cashner, the club remains focused on adding one more veteran starter.
Tillman averaged 14 wins and 32 starts with a 3.91 ERA from 2013 to 2016 before struggling to an unsightly 7.84 ERA over 20 games (19 starts) last season. Tillman, who turns 30 on April 15, is still seeking a one-year deal with the opportunity to rebound from his off year and test the free-agent market again after this season.
He remains open to a deal with a lower base salary that would include high performance incentives that would reward him for up to 30 starts and 200 innings. The Orioles are also seeking a low base salary that would offer incentives to give the club protection to cut ties in the case that Tillman doesn’t show signs of a resurgence.
While the Orioles have discussed the structure of a deal with Tillman, it’s not clear that they have actually made him an offer.
“It’s not really appropriate for me to talk about other players that are on the market,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said when asked about Tillman on Friday. “I know Chris has been on our team for a long time, but it’s just not appropriate to talk about free-agent pitchers that are on the market. There are a number that are still available and there are some pitchers who are available via trade that we’re also exploring.”
Even though he is a free agent, Tillman spent some of his offseason working out at the Orioles’ spring training facility in Sarasota, and was there as recently as the eve of report day for pitchers and catchers. Because the Orioles know Tillman well, and he’s had success with the organization, a reunion always seemed possible.
After a slow-moving free-agent market, several similar pitchers to Tillman have found homes over the past 24 hours. Cashner inked a two-year, $16 million deal with the Orioles and left-hander Jaime García signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, and left-hander Jason Vargas finalized a two-year, $16 million deal with the New York Mets on Friday.
With pitchers and catchers now already into spring workouts, Tillman would hope to be with a new team by the time teams hold their first full-squad workouts early next week. The Orioles’ first full-squad workout is Monday.