With the official start of free agency on the horizon, the Orioles have reached out to a pair of starting pitchers who are likely to become free agents regarding the possibilities of returning to the team on one-year, low-base salary, high-incentive deals.
The club has reached out to left-hander Wade Miley and right-hander Chris Tillman – both of whom struggled mightily last season – about a possible return in 2018, which would allow them the opportunity to raise their stocks and test the free-agent market again a year from now.
That sort of preliminary discussion is typical — and sometimes procedural — in the days before players officially become free agents, which will occur for both later this week. Tillman will officially become a free agent the day after the final game of the World Series, which will be either Wednesday or Thursday depending on whether the Houston Astros can wrap up the series in Game 6 Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers or they go to a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.
The Orioles own a $12 million option on Miley for 2018, and they have until five days after the World Series ends to decide whether to exercise that option or give Miley his $500,000 buyout and send him to free agency. The Orioles are expected to buy out Miley’s option.
It would appear that Tillman’s return is more likely than that of Miley. Tillman’s rocky 2017 season can be seen as an outlier – he averaged 14 wins from 2013 to ’16 and was the team’s best starter over that stretch -- and he’s been a key piece of the Orioles’ success, so the idea of him staying for the team’s all-in 2018 campaign while having the opportunity to rebound from a season in which he posted a 7.84 ERA could be attractive.
Miley, however, saw his best years pitching in the National League in Arizona – he posted a 5.10 ERA in the AL compared to a 3.79 mark in the NL – so a switch in leagues (and getting out of the American League East) could benefit Miley as he attempts to rebound from a season that saw him post a 5.61 ERA and average 5.3 walks per nine innings.
Also, there’s also a premium placed on left-handed starting pitching -- look at the five-year, $80 million guaranteed deal former Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen received from the Miami Marlins two offseasons ago going into his age-31 season – and despite Miley’s struggles, there is some belief he could still receive a multiyear deal from an NL club.
The Orioles also have five days after the end of the series to decide on shortstop J.J. Hardy’s $14 million club option, which is expected to be declined. Hardy would receive a $2 million buyout check if that happens.
That’s also the deadline for catcher Welington Castillo to decide whether he wants to return to the club in 2018. Castillo owns a $7 million player option for next season, but given the season he had -- hitting 20 homers and posting an .813 OPS – and the lack of offense in the free-agent catching crop, he is likely to opt out and test the free agent market. The Orioles wouldn’t be torn by that decision, because it would pave the way for top prospect Chance Sisco to take the reins in 2018.
The other key early offseason date comes 10 days after the end of the World Series: The deadline for teams to make qualifying offers – this year’s one-year offer is for $18.1 million – to eligible free agents. The process has been an important part of Orioles’ offseasons in recent years both in getting draft-pick compensation and signing qualifying-offer free agents who have gone unsigned late in the offseason. But changes to the process enacted this offseason as part of the new collective bargaining agreement will dilute the process. There are no Orioles free agents this year who will warrant qualifying-offer consideration.
Also looming on the hot stove calendar, the Orioles next month must add eligible players to the 40-man roster to protect them in December’s Rule 5 draft. The organization would likely add right-hander Hunter Harvey and infielder Steve Wilkerson.
Shortly after that is the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Orioles should offer contracts to all seven of their arbitration-eligible players.