The Orioles never were in the running to sign free agent right-hander Yu Darvish, and the six-year, $126 million contract he landed yesterday from the Cubs justified their distance. They weren’t going to spend so lavishly on a starting pitcher. The sides had no reason to be linked in any reports.
The Cubs are using Darvish to replace Jake Arrieta, who also is expected to move beyond the Orioles’ financial reach. It’s already been speculated that teams like the Dodgers, Twins and Brewers could pivot to Arrieta after failed pursuits of Darvish.
Is the free agent pitching dam about to burst?
With Darvish setting the market, there could be a flurry of activity as spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona. The Orioles are monitoring Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, the second-tier types originally thought to be out of their price range, in case three-year contracts become realistic possibilities.
An aggressive play would be wise for a team that has three openings in its rotation and could be buried beneath a stampede of clubs that lowered their sites from the upper tier. But the Orioles don’t normally operate in that manner and this winter has been no exception. They did make a two-year offer to Mike Fiers before he accepted a one-year, $6 million contract with the Tigers in early December, but their additions to the 40-man roster have been confined to three Rule 5 picks, pitcher Michael Kelly, infielder Éngelb Vielma and backup catcher Andrew Susac. They traded for outfielder Jaycob Brugman back in November.
The Cubs no longer are an option for Cobb. An anticipated reunion with manager Joe Maddon didn’t materialize. And the Orioles don’t need to worry about Darvish pitching in the Bronx, so they’ve got that going for them.
While the Orioles’ only two confirmed starters are Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the Cubs are trotting out a rotation of Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. They’ve used prospects and cash to get it done. How the other half lives.
Lynn and anyone from the pile of Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Drew Hutchison and Jaime García probably would appease most fans, or at least the ones with realistic expectations. Don’t quote me later if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that Cashner is more of a possibility than Vargas if he’s not holding out for three years. They seem to be paired together this winter because they were two names immediately attached to the Orioles.
The Orioles have contacted the Astros about right-hander Collin McHugh, according to sources, and The Athletic also reported discussions with the Rays regarding Jake Odorizzi. Trade talks don’t seem to garner as much media attention as free agent negotiations, but executive vice president Dan Duquette also is working that angle.
McHugh, 30, has been squeezed out of the Astros rotation. He made 12 starts last summer, an elbow injury delaying his debut until July 22 at Camden Yards, and went 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA and 1.295 WHIP in 63 1/3 innings. He finished eighth in American League Cy Young voting in 2015 after going 19-7 with a 3.89 ERA, 1.277 WHIP and 3.1 WAR in 32 starts.
It’s just a matter, and not a small one, of coming up with a match. What are the Astros seeking in return? What are the Orioles willing to surrender from their farm system?
McHugh isn’t eligible for free agency until 2020.
Meanwhile, pitchers already are reporting early to the Ed Smith Stadium complex for spring training. They aren’t due until Tuesday.
“I’ve been here for a couple days already, so it’s already here for me,” reliever Richard Bleier said Thursday night on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “I’m in south Florida anyway and I feel like it’s better to get there early and get acclimated to being back on a morning schedule and everything like that and be ready once spring training starts, to be 100 percent ready.”
I tried unsuccessfully to get a head count from Bleier.
“There’s a few people here early,” he said. “Some of minor league guys and a few guys are starting to stroll in. Guys like to get in at least a few days early, if anything to kind of get set up in their living arrangements or whatever they have going on.”
It wasn’t that way in Fort Lauderdale. Players weren’t in a rush to work out at a crappy facility. They’d head straight to the hotel, call the manager to announce their arrivals and wait until the report date to show their faces.
“The facilities are great here, the staff is great,” Bleier said. “No matter what you’re doing at home, it’s hard to beat the facilities and the staff here. It’s just nice to start working with the people I’m hopefully going to be working with all year, so it’s nice to just get here and start getting on the routine as quickly as possible.
“I like to be game ready. I’ve already thrown to hitters a couple of times back at home, so I’m ready to start the games now. I like to be game ready and then just get set up in spring training here, so when the first game starts I have no excuses. I’m ready to go.”
Bleier still won’t concede that he has a spot waiting for him in the bullpen after posting ERAs of 1.96 in 23 games with the Yankees in 2016 and 1.99 in 57 games with the Orioles last year.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said. “I have options and there’s competition there. Everyone says it because it’s true. I think as long as there’s options on the table there for a player, I think that you have to go in with the mindset to make the team. And I think even when you’re established it’s good to go with the mindset to make the team and not ever get too comfortable.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get to that level, to be honest with you.”