Just ahead of the midnight expiration of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement Thursday, a deadline that prompted the owners to lock out the players and shut the game down, the Orioles snuck in their most expensive free agent in four seasons.
The team struck a one-year deal with an option for a second with veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles, according to The Athletic, a contract that will guarantee Lyles $7 million and could be worth $17 million if his 2023 option is picked up. An industry source confirmed those contract details.
According to the report, the deal is pending a physical, which can’t be executed until after baseball’s lockout ends.
Lyles, 31, spent 2021 with the Texas Rangers and made 30 starts with a 5.15 ERA in a career-high 180 innings, though he led baseball with 38 home runs allowed. Lyles did, however, show signs of reinvention in September as he threw fewer four-seam fastballs while playing up his sinker and curveball. He had a 2.87 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP after Sept. 1.
The veteran right-hander, who debuted at age 20 with the Houston Astros in 2011 after being the 38th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, has pitched for seven teams with a career 5.21 ERA and 1.435 WHIP. His best spell came in 2019, when he was traded at the midseason deadline from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Milwaukee Brewers and had a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch.
He was durable, if not always effective, in the two seasons since for the Rangers. The Orioles could use a reliable starter after a difficult season on the mound in 2021 that featured a cadre of rookies — including Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells — battling injuries and ineffectiveness.
John Means pitched like a top starter when he was healthy, but otherwise the Orioles relied on minor league free agent Matt Harvey to be a rotation mainstay the entire season. With Harvey a free agent this offseason and Jorge López possibly shifted to the bullpen full time, Lyles adds a veteran arm with a track record of durability.
The Orioles have handed out only a handful of major league deals since executive vice president Mike Elias took over in November 2018. On the mound, Nate Karns in 2019 and Kohl Stewart in 2020 each got big league deals but had little impact. Stewart opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns over COVID-19 and never appeared in a game.
They’ve had more success with free-agent hitters, with shortstops José Iglesias and Freddy Galvis each filling crucial roles, though Maikel Franco struggled at third base after signing in spring training in 2020.
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Lyles, when his deal is executed, would be the Orioles’ second major league free-agent addition this offseason after they signed infielder Rougned Odor on Tuesday evening.