Sarasota, Fla. — No matter who is in charge of the Orioles, the February addition of a veteran pitcher has been a staple of springs in Sarasota.
When it was the likes of Ubaldo Jiménez and Yovani Gallardo and later Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, those signings were meant to round out rotations for playoff aspirants. More recently, they’ve been just to round out depth and provide some experience for a purposely young rotation.
In his camp-opening remarks Tuesday, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles were liable to reprise one of those additions as workouts start Wednesday.
“We’re working on it,” Elias said. “I can’t really handicap it right now. There are players out there, free agents out there, who are good pitchers and would be either upgrades for us or guys that can come in and compete for depth purposes. We’re working on it, and we’ll just see.”
While Elias has said there was going to be just one major league contract left to give after signing José Iglesias and Kohl Stewart on major league contracts and Wade LeBlanc as one of many minor league deals, he said he wouldn’t rule out multiple additions.
“We’ve got a large camp right now, but if there are two guys we think who can help us, we won’t draw the line right now,” Elias said.
This winter was different from past ones in that there aren’t nearly as many unsigned free agents on the market as there were in years past, but there’s still some familiar names looking for landing spots as camp starts. One of them, Taijuan Walker, who had a promising start to his career before being derailed by injuries, reportedly signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.
Here are some options on the market if the Orioles want a veteran starter to join the growing cast of competitors to start for the 2020 squad.
After a renaissance in 2018 with the Diamondbacks in which the veteran Buchholz had a 2.01 ERA with a 1.037 WHIP in 98⅓ innings, he failed to replicate that success with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. Buchholz had a 6.56 ERA and a 1.492 WHIP in 12 starts there last year, but was credited with being a great influence on the rest of the pitching staff.
If he could bring that to a very young Orioles pitching staff, it could be worth a chance for him to see if he can muster up one last run.
This popular reunion idea will only stop being possible when Cashner signs elsewhere or the Orioles make another signing and declare themselves closed for business. Until then, it’s at least an option.
Cashner was doing his best work in an Orioles uniform when he was traded last year to the Boston Red Sox for a pair of Venezuelan teenagers in mid-July, and spent most of his time in Boston pitching out of the bullpen.
He’ll want to start again, and the Orioles know what they’ll be getting. If it’s a reunion both sides are interested in and the money works, there’s always a chance.
A lot has changed since Harvey was throwing bullets in the World Series for the New York Mets and competing for a Cy Young Award. He got a one-year, $11 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2019 but had a 7.09 ERA and a 1.542 WHIP in 12 starts before he was cut.
He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball anymore, and was hit hard in 2019 when he was pitching in the majors, but if he’s willing to take a big pay cut could pitch his way back into a major league rotation. There’s certainly going to be a long leash with this staff.
At 36 and without ever really possessing blow-away stuff, Estrada is well versed in getting by with spin and guile. The Orioles of the past decade saw him at his best plenty when he was with Toronto. His five-start spell with the Oakland Athletics in 2019 didn’t reinforce that he can still do that, though, with a 6.85 ERA in five starts with a high home run rate.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
A one-time All-Star on an impressive Cleveland Indians rotation, Salazar had an impressive five-year run before shoulder surgery derailed his career in 2018. When he returned for 2019, he made just one start and didn’t show his stuff had returned.
If it has, he’s certainly got the track record to interest the Orioles and compete for a spot.
If the Orioles are in the market for a left-hander — one they’ve long been connected to, albeit with a different front office — then Vargas might be the best option with the most recent success out of any of these.
He had a 4.51 ERA in 2019 between the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, and has been largely healthy and consistent for the past decade of his major league career. Vargas wouldn’t be a long-term value play at age 37, but he had some trade value last July and could again for the Orioles.