SARASOTA, FLA. — Finally, after an eventful offseason in which the Orioles spent more money than ever before, they can now say with some certainty that they are a better team than they were in 2015.
That was always the caveat. When they traded for Mark Trumbo, it didn't make them better. When they re-signed Darren O'Day, it didn't make them better. When they ponied up a record $161 million to re-sign slugging first baseman Chris Davis, it didn't make them better. When they gambled on South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, there was no way to know if it made them better.
Not until sources confirmed Saturday night that the Orioles had come to terms with veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo did all of those moves come together to make them a decidedly better team — on paper — than the one that needed a season-ending winning streak to salvage a .500 record last year.
It's not that Gallardo is some kind of savior. He's a solid starting pitcher who won 17 games in his best season for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 and won 13 games last year for the Texas Rangers. He's a guy who has pitched at least 180 innings in each of the past seven seasons. He's a guy with a 3.66 career ERA.
In other words, he's a pretty good pitcher who will complete an Orioles rotation that has four starters returning from last year.
He didn't come cheap, though the Orioles got him cheaper than they would have under normal free-agent circumstances. He rejected a qualifying offer from the Rangers, which means that the Orioles lose their first-round pick (14th overall) in the June draft, which is a considerable addition to the three-year, $35 million deal that also includes a $13 million club option for 2019.
The big question now is whether the Orioles, who keep breaking their payroll record with every move, will go ahead and forfeit their next pick in the draft (No. 28 overall) to sign free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.
You'd have to assume so, because it's pretty obvious that ownership has decided to go all-in on this season.
Of course, the only thing surprising about the deal was the timing of it. Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette told reporters just hours before the deal was confirmed that nothing was "imminent." He probably has a different definition of that word than most people, since the major aspects of the deal apparently were agreed upon Friday.
No matter. The important thing is that the Orioles shored up the most important part of the team. There certainly is no guarantee that the rotation will perform better than the one that ranked 25th in the major leagues with a 4.53 ERA last year and 22nd in innings pitched, but Gallardo checks off the last box.
Now it's up to Chris Tillman to bounce back from a disappointing performance (11-11, 4.99 ERA), Ubaldo Jimenez to take another step in the right direction after winning 12 games last year and Miguel Gonzalez to show that he can stay healthy all season. Throw in a developmental leap from Kevin Gausman and the Orioles just might be positioned to surge back toward the top of the American League East standings.
The pitching staff figures to get plenty of offensive support from one of the most power-packed lineups in the game, especially if Duquette works some more of his late-winter magic and puts Fowler in right field.
The front office now has addressed every issue it set out to address, though Fowler would add a proven on-base guy who can hit at the top of the order and allow manager Buck Showalter to take better advantage of Manny Machado's increasing power and run-production numbers. Duquette has been touting the OBP potential of Kim, but only time will tell if his strong performance in Korea translates to the same kind of numbers at the major league level.
That's not quite so crucial with the rotation upgraded. The arrival of Gallardo means that the nature of the competition for the top minor league prospects will shift. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson will join Vance Worley and Odrisamer Despaigne in a competition for one or two long-relief roles and the chance to be the first guy on the Triple-A Norfolk shuttle in a pinch.
Once again, Duquette kept everyone guessing until the 11th hour, but the Orioles are better for it.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.