Let's face it. Take away a couple of signings and a few trades and not much has happened this offseason. Knowing the Orioles want to upgrade their rotation, we've been waiting for a deep starting pitching market to develop. And we knew it would likely take a few of the big-ticket free-agent arms coming off the board to kick the hot stove season into gear.
That first domino probably fell Sunday, when right-hander Jordan Zimmermann reportedly agreed to terms on a five-year, $110 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.
Big-fish free agents David Price and Zack Greinke remain available, but Zimmermann is near the top of that next tier of starting pitchers, so his signing will begin to set the market. He was one of the top 10 free agents – regardless of position -- out there this offseason.
Zimmermann declined a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals, so he is tied to draft pick compensation. But the Tigers' first-round pick – the ninth overall – is protected, so they will instead forfeit their second-round selection.
The Orioles did have interest in Zimmermann, especially given his impressive track record of success and durability, but they were never in play for his services. Keep in mind the Orioles have never given a free-agent pitcher a contract worth more than four years and $50 million, the deal that Ubaldo Jimenez received before the 2014 season.
Zimmermann, who averaged more than 14 wins, a 3.13 ERA and 202 innings over the past four seasons with the Nationals, would have been a nice fit in front of the O's rotation, but the club is instead focusing on the next tier of available starters below Zimmermann.
But now that Zimmermann is off the board, the starting pitcher market could develop quickly. Once one domino falls, others are soon to follow. This was the move clubs and agents were waiting for.
Non-tender deadline is Wednesday
We will find out a little more about the shape of next year's club when the non-tender deadline approaches Wednesday at midnight. The Orioles have until then to make contract offers to their 11 arbitration-eligible players.
Last season, the Orioles tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players. That might not be the case this season.
Among the 11, third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton, right-handed starter Chris Tillman and right-handed reliever Brad Brach will undoubtedly be tendered contracts. Utility man Ryan Flaherty, outfielder Nolan Reimold, outfielder David Lough and shortstop Paul Janish aren't bankbreakers, but the Orioles have to decide how each fits within the framework of the team. Right-handed starter Vance Worley, acquired off waivers from the Pirates, isn't necessarily guaranteed to be tendered a deal.
Left-handed reliever Brian Matusz made $3.2 million last season, so they have to decide whether to give their situational lefty a raise that would likely put him in the range of $3.5 to $4 million. Even though he has a limited role with the Orioles, I think Matusz has value. He could play a bigger role in a revamped bullpen but also could become a valuable trade chip come midseason if the O's need to move veterans for prospects.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who struggled physically last season, also figures to get a significant raise after making $3.275 million last season in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Gonzalez projects to make $4-$5 million following a season in which he was 9-12 with a 4.91 ERA. The Orioles' primary focus will be upgrading the club's starting pitching, but right now, they don't have a replacement for Gonzalez in the rotation, so it would be difficult to non-tender an existing rotation commodity like Gonzalez.
Parra seems to have slipped on O's wish list
The Orioles have reached out to free-agent outfielder Gerardo Parra to express their interest in his return, according to a source, but it definitely seems like he's slipped on their wish list of free-agent outfielders.
Parra by no means is out of play for the Orioles, but the club will likely revisit their interest in him once some of the other top free-agent outfielders find their landing spots. The Orioles could be in play for veterans like Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon, whom they might be able to ink to shorter deals. If they don't land them, Parra would be among those they come back around to considering.
Parra didn't wow anybody in Baltimore after the Orioles acquired him in a trade-deadline deal with the Brewers, posting a pedestrian .237/.268/.357 slash line in 55 games with the O's. He also made some uncharacteristic miscues in the field, but he's still a two-time Gold Glove winner and seemed to find his footing at the end of the season at the plate. He was also a quick fit in the clubhouse, displaying uncommon fire in the dugout and a veteran presence in the clubhouse.
While Parra didn't put up the numbers the Orioles might have liked, they know what they're getting in terms of the total package. They also need an additional left-handed bat to help balance out a lineup that projects to be very right-handed heavy.
That should be enough to keep them engaged with Parra. So while he's not getting much traction now, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Orioles talking with Parra again next month or in the new year if he remains unsigned.