Schmuck: Tillman's return should never have been in doubt

Orioles reporters Eduardo Encina and Peter Schmuck talk about the Orioles adding free-agent pitcher Chris Tillman and outfielder Alex Presley. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)

Let's be honest. This is where Chris Tillman needed to be all along.

For all the speculation about the Twins and Tigers and whoever, there was never a good reason for him to go anywhere else.


Major league or minor league deal? Who cares. Base salary of $2 million or $4 million. So what?

Tillman reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the reported base salary of $3 million and a raft of incentives, which is right in the middle of the range of the projections that have been floating around for weeks. The deal will be officially announced soon.


The 30-year-old right-hander has agreed to terms on a contract that would give him the opportunity to re-establish his worth as a rotation stalwart.

The bottom line, however, is this. He needed to be here because the Orioles know him and the Orioles owe him. He's been their best pitcher during the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette era and that only means something if he attempts to made his comeback from last year's dismal performance right here.

Everything has pointed in this direction. He has been working out at the Ed Smith Stadium spring training complex for a big chunk of the offseason. He was here right up until he wasn't allowed to be, dropping out of sight as soon as pitchers and catchers had to officially report to camp.

He worked out for the Tigers the other day and reportedly was offered a minor league deal. He ultimately got a major league deal from the Orioles, but it shouldn't have mattered if it were the other way around.

Orioles pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman react to the signing of veteran pitcher Chris Tillman. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)

This is where he has the best chance to get the best look. This is where he will start the season projected in the starting rotation. This is where he doesn't have to explain himself every day to the media, since he did all that last year.

The money never should have been an issue because it's chicken feed in comparison to what he'll realize if he bounces back and has a season like he did in 2016.

It's unfortunate for him that everything unraveled during his free agent walk year. He was going to be one of those guys holding out for huge contracts. Instead, he came up with a balky shoulder in December of 2016, fell out of his routine and was totally out of sync when he returned to the rotation.

Now he has a chance to get off to a fresh start, though it would have been better if he and the O's had figured this out in time for him to open spring training with the rest of the pitching staff last week.

That should not be a big deal, since he only missed a couple of bullpen sessions and he obviously was throwing elsewhere, but major league pitchers are all about routine.

A lot has changed over the past few days. The Orioles now have four experienced major league starters instead of two, which significantly improves their chances of being competitive during a 2018 season that obviously wasn't looking very good.

There is no guarantee that Tillman engineers a dramatic turnaround, but he passed his physical and he has the potential to gravitate back to the top of the rotation.

The O's also are hoping that newly signed Andrew Cashner will pick up where he left off after his solid first season pitching in the American League.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette still needs to stay engaged in the free agent market, which is finally shaking out. There may still be an opportunity to get another decent starter at a reasonable price, which would further allay concerns about the depth of the rotation.


Duquette confirmed soon after the Tillman deal broke that he's still in the market for one more veteran starter.

The O's also signed reserve outfielder Alex Presley on Monday, but that didn't move the needle much. Tillman's return, however, has a chance to make a huge difference if he can find his old self this spring.

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