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Will he stay or will he go? Evaluating Orioles pending free agent Wei-Yin Chen

Starter Wei-Yin Chen seems unlikely to return to the Orioles next season.
Starter Wei-Yin Chen seems unlikely to return to the Orioles next season.(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

As soon as the last out of World Series is made, six Orioles become free agents. The club then has five days to work out contract extensions before players can begin negotiating with other teams.

Rarely do players sign during that exclusive period, and Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said recently that he expected all six to test the market.

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Here's a six-part look, in alphabetical order, at each Orioles free agent's prospects and a prediction of the likelihood that they return. On this scale, a 1 signifies the lowest chances and a 10 the highest.

Name: Wei-Yin Chen

Position: Left-handed starting pitcher

Age: 30

2015 stats: 11-8, 3.34 ERA in 191 1/3 innings and 31 starts

2015 salary: $4.75 million

Qualifying-offer possibility: Definite

Prospects heading into free agency: Tremendous. In his fourth year in the majors — he spent the previous four seasons in the Japan Central League — Chen posted his lowest big league ERA and the seventh-best mark in the American League among qualifying pitchers. Because he signed a major league deal coming out of Japan, the Taiwan native isn't required to wait six seasons for free agency. He'll hit the market at 30, younger than most of the other free-agent left-handed starters. Chen signed a three-year deal in January 2012 with a team option for 2015, an incredibly club-friendly pact that cost the Orioles roughly $15.7 million. Over his four years in Baltimore, Chen was 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA, and in three of his four seasons, he won at least 11 games, made at least 31 starts and pitched 185-plus innings. The deal is arguably the best move of Duquette's tenure.

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Why he'll stay an Oriole: Because the club's biggest need is rotation help, particularly left-handed starters, and because the free-agent market is exceptionally thin there behind big fish David Price. The Orioles won't spend the loot to win the Price sweepstakes, so attempting to bring back Chen makes the most sense, especially with no left-handers guaranteed a spot in next year's rotation. As for Chen, he fit in really well with the Orioles and has said it would be difficult to leave his friends and the only Major League Baseball team he has known. He'll also be saddled with a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Orioles, which he'll reject, but it could limit his suitors. Teams that sign him must forfeit a compensatory first- or second-round draft pick to the Orioles.

Why he'll leave the Orioles: Contract length, more than anything. It pushed out Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis last offseason and likely will send Chen packing this year. With his relatively young age, vast experience, recent performance and the dearth of left-handers on the market, Chen will hit the jackpot. Scott Boras is his agent, so it would be surprising if Chen didn't get a five-year deal, something the Orioles never have given to a free-agent pitcher. Last year, right-hander Ervin Santana landed a four-year deal with the Minnesota Twins worth $13.5 million annually, and he's older than Chen and was coming off a season not as impressive as Chen's 2015. Also, it shouldn't be discounted that Chen was miffed by the Orioles' decision to send him to the minors in June as part of a roster crunch after he had thrown eight scoreless innings in his previous outing. Chen had a minor league option remaining, and the Orioles were giving him some extra rest and keeping him away from the Toronto Blue Jays' tough lineup, but the interruption in his routine was unwelcome. Orioles decision-makers have played it off as no big deal, but several club sources say Chen hasn't forgotten that episode.

Best landing spot: Somewhere on the West Coast. He and his family live in Southern California in the offseason, and he would be a good fit just about anywhere in the pitcher-friendly, deep-pocketed National League West. The Los Angeles Dodgers could be a fit, but so could the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels, to name a few.

Dan Connolly's scale of return: 1

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