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Orioles open dialogue with Chris Tillman's representatives regarding possible extension

NATIONAL HARBOR — Among the discussions the Orioles had on the second day of baseball's winter meetings were preliminary talks with right-hander Chris Tillman's representatives regarding a possible extension, according to an industry source.

Discussions held Tuesday at the Gaylord National Resort were merely introductory, but it marked the first time the Orioles have discussed retaining the 28-year-old Tillman long-term since the offseason following the 2014 season.

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Tillman, who is scheduled to become a free agent following this upcoming season, is one of three Orioles set to make more than $10 million through the arbitration process. He is projected to make $10.6 million next season, according to MLBTradeRumors.com after netting $6.225 million in base salary in this year.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he met with agents for players currently under team control, but didn't share specific details.

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"We do touch base with player agents for the players who are on our roster, so we've talked to a couple agents today who represent a couple players on our roster," Duquette said.

With their payroll rising annually through guaranteed salaries and increasing arbitration raises, the Orioles are reaching a pivotal time in the franchise's history. And Tillman represents the first of several players key to the Orioles' recent success who can become free agents in upcoming years.

Since he becomes a free agent following this season, pursuing an extension with Tillman before the upcoming season begins would give the Orioles their best chance of keeping him.

Once players begin their final year before free agency, many decide to play out that season and test the free-agent market. And the Orioles aren't known to engage in extension talks during the season of players' walk year, with J.J. Hardy's three-year extension during the 2014 postseason the exception.

Not only is Tillman slated to become a free agent following this season, but Hardy could also. He has a $14-million vesting option for 2018. And third baseman Manny Machado, outfielder Adam Jones and closer Zach Britton all become free agents after the 2018 season, marking a two-year window in which the Orioles face the possibility of a massive roster turnover.

Tillman has been the anchor of the club's starting rotation since 2013, going 56-30 over that four-year span while recording at least 30 starts each season. This past season, Tillman was 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA. He opened the year winning 14 of his first 16 decisions.

Though this year's free-agent starting pitching market is as thin as it has been in years, the crop entering free agency after the 2017 season should draw considerable interest.

In addition to Tillman, starting pitchers headed for free agency after next season include former Oriole and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, Kansas City Royals left-hander Danny Duffy and New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda.

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