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Orioles left-handed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen.
Orioles left-handed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen. (Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

I received some negative feedback in November during my series on Orioles pending free agents – particularly my prediction of the likelihood that Wei-Yin Chen returns to the club.

I gave it a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 – with a 10 being the highest probability of his return. A lot of fans weren't happy with my assessment.

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Considering the Orioles' biggest problem last year was the rotation, and that Chen was their best starter in 2015, it would stand to reason they wouldn't let Chen go without a fight.

So why the 1 out of 10?

Because the Orioles have never given more than four years or $50 million to a free agent pitcher in their history, and the last time they did that was to Ubaldo Jimenez, whose first two years in Baltimore have been a rollercoaster.

My prediction at the beginning of free agency was that Chen had earned a paycheck well beyond the Orioles' financial comfort zone for a starting pitcher.

In retrospect, given the early returns on this free-agent market, I probably should have made it a zero out of 10.

On Monday, the Detroit Tigers officially signed right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million deal. A Washington Nationals pitcher for his first seven big league seasons, Zimmermann was arguably the third-best starter on the free-agent market, behind lefty David Price and right-hander Zack Greinke and at least in the same conversation with Johnny Cueto.

Chen's not in that class, but he's certainly in that next tier, along with starters such as Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir.

And, frankly, Chen's 2015 season was a bit better than Zimmermann's. Chen, 30, was 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA in 191 1/3 innings spanning 31 starts. Zimmermann, 29, was 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 201 2/3 innings spanning 33 starts.

In their major league careers, Chen is 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA in four seasons while Zimmermann is 70-50 with a 3.32 ERA in parts of seven seasons.

Zimmermann has had the better overall numbers, but Chen has that one distinct advantage: He throws with the left hand. Also, Chen has spent his career in the highly-competitive American League East and its small parks, while Zimmermann has pitched almost exclusively in the National League.

I'm not making a case that Chen is better than Zimmermann. If I had to choose between the two, I'd go Zimmermann unless I already had an all right-handed rotation. Then I'd think twice. But the point is the two aren't that far apart statistically.

And so the initial projection that Chen could land a five-year deal worth roughly $85 million seems to be within reason. Heck, it might end up a little low – especially given that Chen's agent is Scott Boras, who is known for reeling in the big deals.

The bottom line: That's way too much for the Orioles' tastes. His price tag seemed too high for the Orioles a month ago and the Zimmermann contract cements that notion.

One other Orioles note: On Monday, former Orioles closer Jim Johnson signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, who traded him this past July to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Johnson is perpetually on the Orioles' "maybe" list each offseason because he lives in Sarasota, Fla., and has a strong relationship with manager Buck Showalter, among others.

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But he has returned to Atlanta, where he had success in 2015, posting nine saves and a 2.25 ERA in 49 games before struggling with the Dodgers (10.13 ERA in 23 games).

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