The Orioles have now supplemented their starting rotation with two veteran pitchers — more progress in less than a week of spring training than in the entire offseason — but the team is far from done in attempting to continue to upgrade its camp roster.
Right-hander Andrew Cashner threw his first spring training bullpen session with the Orioles on Tuesday while right-hander Chris Tillman was also at the Ed Smith Stadium complex awaiting the finalization of a one-year major league deal that would mark his long-anticipated return to the team.
Despite the addition of left-handed-hitting outfielder Alex Presley on Monday on a minor league deal, the Orioles are still seeking additional lefty-hitting outfield candidates, according to a source. And while their starting rotation is more solidified than it was when pitchers and catchers reported a week ago — when Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only two pitchers with a secure rotation spot — the club is continuing to look for rotation depth.
The Orioles anticipated that value deals would be there for him this offseason, and they’ve reaped the benefit of waiting out the market in previous spring trainings, but after this year’s uniquely unhurried offseason, there was uncertainty about how quickly the market would move once camps opened with players still needing to find teams.
“It’s kind of baseball in 2018,” manager Buck Showalter said. “This is the way it works. I think the players and the front offices get that while everybody else is basing it on what’s been done in years past. I don’t think this is some passing [fad]. I think this is the way it’s going to be. People, their way of evaluating players, it doesn’t always coincide with what somebody’s track record of what they think is going to happen.”
The Orioles’ deal with Tillman was still being finalized going into Tuesday night, but there was no indication of snag in the deal, only that the paperwork needed to complete it had yet to be filed by both sides.
The Orioles had been connected to Tillman throughout the offseason, and it is important to note that while the Orioles have to pay Tillman only a base salary of $3 million to return, if he meets all his performance incentives based on innings, he would make $10 million. That’s just $50,000 less than he made last season in the final year of his arbitration eligibility.
Despite the plodding market, the Orioles were proactive early and late. They made multiyear offers to right-handers Mike Fiers and Miles Mikolas early in the offseason before watching both players go elsewhere, Fiers to the Detroit Tigers and Mikolas to the St. Louis Cardinals.
They were close to a one-year pact with veteran left-hander Jason Vargas, according to a source, but he signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the New York Mets.
Both Cashner and Tillman were looking to get into camps. They didn’t want to get too far away from the beginning of spring training, and as rotation opportunities began dwindling, the Orioles were opportunistic.
They will join a list of eight other pitchers in camp who will be stretched out as starters with consideration for a rotation spot, but the club is still very much open to other pitching possibilities on minor league deals to supplement the starting rotation depth. Nineteen free-agent starting pitchers remain unsigned, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
“Like I said at FanFest with the fans, just because it doesn’t happen it, [it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen],” Showalter said. “I think if things work out and we stay healthy here, we have a chance to have some depth we haven’t had before.”
One possibility the Orioles continue to show interest in is right-hander Scott Feldman, who was 7-7 with a 4.77 ERA in 21 starts with the Cincinnati Reds last year. The former Oriole had a 3.78 ERA over his first 17 starts, including nine quality starts over that span, before he was slowed by knee problems that ultimately sidelined him and led to offseason surgery.
Even if Feldman, 35, doesn’t crack the team’s Opening Day starting rotation, he could be a valuable long-relief arm, a need the club now has with Miguel Castro projected to become a starter. Before Castro excelled last season in middle relief, the Orioles desperately needed a pitcher who could provide a bridge between short starts and the late-inning relievers. Castro did a remarkable job of that in the second half of last season, but early in the season, many games fell apart because middle relievers couldn’t keep them close.
In pursuit of left-handed bat, the Orioles showed interest in outfielder Jarrod Dyson, but he signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal instead with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Orioles were wary of giving a multiyear deal to a speed-oriented player entering his mid-30s and coming off offseason hip surgery.