Orioles must choose to buy top remaining starter or fill spot from within
By By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun|
Feb 10, 2014 | 7:15 AM
The Orioles didn't land veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo this week; he signed a two-year deal with a third-year option with the Arizona Diamondbacks worth a guaranteed $23.5 million.
A.J. Burnett is still on the open market, but there is a growing sense that the Monkton resident is not going to end up in Baltimore -- I've heard various theories as to why, but since they aren't coming directly out of Burnett's mouth, it doesn't make much sense to speculate.
Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are still looking for jobs, and the Orioles are interested and talking to both, but their asking prices and attachment to a draft pick make me wonder how serious the Orioles are about signing either right-hander.
The Orioles also have had continual talks about Suk-min Yoon, but they haven't met the 27-year-old Korean's asking price yet. And I think part of that is because they aren't sure whether he could handle a season's workload as a starter.
They've talked to all four, yet none of the above options seems particularly close to joining the Orioles. And if none do, then the Orioles should pull the plug on buying a veteran starter and resist the urge to make a run at remaining free agents such as Erik Bedard, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Clayton Richard, Johan Santana and Joe Saunders, to name a few.
If that's what's left standing, if the Orioles can't get Burnett and aren't serious on Ervin Santana, Jimenez and, to a lesser extent, Yoon, then it's time to pack up the tents and head to Sarasota, Fla., this week with the current projected rotation.
That's not to say you should be content with this current group of starters, which badly needed to be upgraded, and instead, with the losses of Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, may have gone backward from a unit that was one of the worst, ERA-wise, in the American League in 2013.
But at this point, I'd rather take my chances in the fifth starter's role with 26-year-old left-hander Zach Britton, who is out of options and is pitching with his career on the line, then waste a couple million dollars on a 30-something who pitched well in 2008 or 2010.
I wouldn't just give that fifth spot to Britton, though. I'd open it up to him, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland and Kevin Gausman and let the best man win it in the spring, with the runner-up going to the bullpen as the long reliever.
I'd take a chunk of the money that is still remaining and sign Kendrys Morales as the Orioles' designated hitter. That may not be the biggest need, but at least it fills a hole with a quality big leaguer.
Then I'd stash the leftover money in the budget -- Dan Duquette said he expected the 2014 payroll to be $100 million, and it is closer to $83 million right now -- for late March, when teams are juggling their rosters and are more apt to deal a solid player with a sizable salary for a warm body and payroll relief.
But to spend some of that supposedly available cash on a journeyman starter just to say that the rotation was addressed is foolishness. Let's hope Duquette doesn't go there.
A recent Fox Sports report said the Orioles were "talking" to Capuano and Saunders. And, frankly, my sense is that Duquette is talking to other, lower-tier starting pitchers as well. We'll probably hear more names in upcoming days.
It seems like wasted breath.
Capuano, 35, had a solid year for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 (12-12, 3.72 ERA in 198 1/3 innings over 33 starts), but was limited to just 24 games (20 starts) last year due to multiple injuries. He's a Massachusetts native -- and Duquette loves giving chances to New Englanders -- but Capuano hasn't pitched 200 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA since 2005 (he was close in 2006 and 2012).
Saunders, 32, was a revelation for the Orioles down the stretch in 2012. He posted a 3.63 ERA in seven starts and then was excellent in two postseason games (two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings in two starts). The Virginia native won the Orioles' first playoff game in 15 years and should never have to buy a beer again in the Mid-Atlantic region.
But that doesn't mean they should bring him back for 2014. Full disclosure: I thought the Orioles should have re-signed him for 2013. I was wrong.
The Orioles never made a push last offseason for Saunders. When, at the time, I asked one club official why, I was told the Orioles felt that Saunders had given them his best in 2012 -- that for a brief, high-intensity period, the gutsy Saunders was fantastic. But the Orioles weren't convinced he could deliver similar performances for a full season -- or two -- at Camden Yards.
Sure enough, Saunders went to pitcher-friendly Seattle on a one-year deal and was 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts. It would seem odd to bring him back now and hand him a rotation spot when the Orioles need to see what younger guys can do.
And that's not picking on Saunders, who was a pleasure to cover and fit in great with the 2012 Orioles. But the 2014 rotation needs a major upgrade, and he -- or Capuano or Richard, etc. -- isn't it.