The Orioles knew they could have reunited with right-hander Miguel González on a one-year deal in the range of the $5.9 million he made last season. Whether they knew they could have had González on the club-friendly $4.75 million contract he signed Thursday to return to the Chicago White Sox is unclear, but it is befuddling -- considering the current state of the Orioles starting rotation as pitchers and catchers report in a month and a day – that the club never made him an offer.
González, 34, wasn’t going to save the Orioles rotation, but for an existing pitching corps that has just two pitchers – Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman – who have made more than 21 career major-league starts, he would have provided valuable battle-tested experience and a nice piece to plug into the back end of a rotation that still has three spots to fill.
Maybe the Orioles didn’t like something they saw in González’s medicals. We’ve heard that before. And they thought González had begun to break down following a sub-par spring training in 2016 and unceremoniously released him, but he’s started 50 games since then over the past two seasons.
Perhaps it’s possible that the lingering cloud of a potential Manny Machado trade – even though executive vice president Dan Duquette has said he’d shifted his priorities to other offseason focuses – has hamstrung the Orioles from conducting other offseason business. Though they still haven’t found a deal suitable to all levels of the organization — including ownership -- the Orioles continue to field calls on Machado, according to sources, and haven’t completely – nor should they, by popular belief – closed the door on dealing Machado.
But what the González deal does indicate is the continued cold of the free-agent starting pitching market, which could be good and bad for an Orioles team that has more rotation needs than any other club in the game.
The market’s shown little movement throughout the offseason. But the gems of the free-agent class like right-handers Yu Darvish and former Oriole Jake Arrieta will likely get their money in due time, as will the top of the second tier of starting pitching free agents like right-handers Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, though their markets are less clear at this point.
But it’s that next tier of pitchers, ones who can be acquired on shorter-term deals, that the market seems to have completely frozen out.
Take González, for example: He was caught between veterans like Doug Fister, who agreed to a guaranteed $4 million deal with the Texas Rangers for one year including an option that could grow to $7 million with incentives, and Mike Fiers, who received a one-year, $6 million deal with the Tigers. Both of those deals were made early in the offseason.
González had multiple one-year offers, including a late-arriving one from another AL East team, but it appeared his comfort with the White Sox and a clearer rotation role played a part in his return. But to think a pitcher who had a 1.4-WAR had to take a nearly 20-percent pay cut to get a deal one month before spring training indicates a lot. It says that teams are waiting out the market – we’ve known this – but it also says there are bargains to be had for a team willing to be aggressive and creative.
The Orioles made Fiers a two-year offer that he declined (he can have more say in his 2019 salary with a strong season this year because he has one more season of arbitration eligibility) and made right-hander Miles Mikolas a multi-year offer before he signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Cardinals. So the Orioles were proactive earlier in the offseason and left out in the cold.
But according to industry sources, there are several free-agent starting pitchers still waiting to receive their first offer, which is somewhat astonishing considering how late in the offseason we are.
But it offers the Orioles some opportunity to be proactive again. If they are serious about a reunion with Chris Tillman – hoping he can return to some form of the pitcher who averaged 14 wins between 2013 and ’16 -- or want an established veteran lefty like Jaime Garcia -- a groundball pitcher who had a 2.1-WAR last season – some bargains could be had.