Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner talks about his first spring training start. (Eduardo Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
FORT MYERS, FLA. — Every time another late-acting free agent signs with some other club at a bargain price, it makes you wonder whether the Orioles still have something up their sleeve or just aren’t paying attention.
Right-handed starting pitcher Lance Lynn has reportedly agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, which is almost like getting him off ebay. That kind of deal used to be right up Dan Duquette’s alley, so it’s OK to keep dreaming that he or Brady Anderson is in the ear of Alex Cobb and his agent.
Cobb, a right-handed starter, is still out there and we’re closing in on the final two weeks of spring training. The free-agent freeze that turned the hot stove period into such a snoozefest has created opportunities for several teams to get some high-quality talent on low-term, low-base deals.
Why not the Orioles?
Well, they have gone out and signed some players. They got starter Andrew Cashner at a reasonable price and re-signed starter Chris Tillman at a low base — succeeding in adding the two starting pitchers Duquette promised to bring home before the start of the season. They also added right fielder Colby Rasmus on a minor league deal and picked up the likes of Danny Valencia and Pedro Ålvarez as “injury insurance.”
That’s all good, but it’s not good enough. If Cobb hasn’t ruled out staying in the American League East or pitching in hitter-friendly Oriole Park, he would fill out the Orioles rotation and give them the ultimate in injury insurance. They’ve got four major league starters right now and a handful of candidates for the fifth slot. One rotation setback — and just about every team has one or two in a normal season — and they’d be very happy to have another dependable veteran.
These kinds of things usually come down to the numbers and terms, but it’s not always what you think. Lynn was reportedly offered a two-year deal but chose to sign a one-year contract so he can have another bite at the free-agent apple. He’s probably gambling that the stunted free-agent market will loosen up next winter, when a bunch of big-name players are expected to command record-breaking deals.
There’s no guarantee that will happen. Baseball owners apparently have decided — either individually or collectively — that the salary structure is out of control and they have been absorbing too many big, long, ill-advised contracts.
It’ll certainly be fascinating to see how things play out when shortstop Manny Machado and right fielder Bryce Harper hit the market, but if there was ever a time to pursue an opportunity to fit a very good starting pitcher into the presumed organizational time restraints, this might be it.
Who knows? Maybe the Orioles have tried and failed. They don’t say much about this kind of thing until they get to the “pending physical” point, but if there’s any chance of getting Cobb under circumstances similar to Lynn, the O’s need to make that play. He probably will command more money, but it still looks like somebody is going to get a real bargain.
This could be that moment when owner Peter Angelos and his sons give a late-spring gift to their fans and give the team a chance to have a very presentable starting rotation. And they might be able to do it without seriously altering the long-term strategic flexibility of the franchise.
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If Machado and the Orioles’ other pending big-money free agents aren’t coming back, having a solid rotation would help the team stay reasonably competitive during a partial rebuild.
Cobb’s name comes up a lot around the Orioles spring training facility. They want to win, and he would help them bridge a section of the yawning divisional talent gap that widened while the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were making huge offseason deals.
Signing him also would allow them to keep Miguel Castro in the middle-relief role that he handled so well last year and use him in a swing role if that becomes necessary.
The Orioles are heading into a season that represents the end of an era and, since they balked at trading closer Zach Britton and didn’t like the offers for Machado during the winter meetings, it looks as if they’re going to try to make one last run.