Orioles remain in the hunt for another starting pitcher

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles aren’t done with the construction of their rotation. There’s scaffolding in place with two openings behind Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner - in no particular order.

Hard hats are recommended again with names dropping off the board.

The preference remains to add a left-hander, though Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. could break camp with the team as the fifth starter. Otherwise, he’s got a good shot at occupying a spot in the bullpen.

One member of the organization has made a favorable comparison between Cortes and veteran Jason Vargas. The former Yankees farmhand has impressed from video and scouting reports to minicamp to spring training. He breaking stuff yesterday was nasty and the changes in arm slots intrigue.

Vargas interested the Orioles - they checked his medicals at one point - but he’s headed to the Mets on a two-year, $16 million deal. Left-hander Jaime García agreed to terms with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $10 million. Drew Hutchison and Hector Santiago signed minor league deals with the Phillies and White Sox, respectively.

Wade Miley signed a minor league contract with the Brewers. The Orioles checked whether he’d want to return on a one-year deal, but they were given the impression that he’d prefer to pitch in the National League and they moved on from him early in the offseason. Their hunch proved correct.

Yu Darvish wasn’t on the Orioles’ cost-conscious radar and Jake Arrieta isn’t walking through that door. Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb would have to fall in their laps, requiring different protective equipment instead of a hard hat.

Still nothing regarding Ubaldo Jiménez and Jeremy Hellickson.

Vargas was viewed as the best left-hander on the board for the Orioles. While he’s no longer in play, they continue to monitor Francisco Liriano as a possible fallback option.

Right-handed pitchers on the free agent market are more plentiful and include Scott Feldman, who made 15 starts with the Orioles in 2013 and went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.224 WHIP in 90 2/3 innings. Not an acceptable return for Arrieta. Feldman made 21 starts with the Reds last summer and posted a 4.77 ERA and 1.356 WHIP in 111 1/3 innings, the National League Central failing to provide a soft landing. But don’t dismiss him.

There’s a perception in the industry that 43-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is leaning toward retirement, but he’s also a favorite of manager Buck Showalter so ... don’t dismiss him.

The Orioles had some interest in Trevor Cahill, but they seemed to have cooled on him. They attended Tim Lincecum’s showcase earlier this week and he reportedly was throwing 90-93 mph.

He’s clearly been in the weight room, unless he’s renting those arms.

chris-tillman-white-follow-through-Sidebar.jpgRepeating what I wrote earlier this week, the Orioles reached out again to Chris Tillman’s agent after pitchers and catchers reported and the club believes that it remains his first choice. The Orioles are looking to sign him to a contract with a lower base salary, but heavy in incentives. They want him on a pillow contract and he desires the same type of deal. But they made it clear in discussions that they can’t wait around for him.

The situation should resolve itself soon and I doubt that Tillman will have to settle for a minor league deal. And it’s apparent that the Orioles aren’t concerned about his health if they’ve watched him work out at the complex and are pushing to sign him.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette has stated his preference to mine the free agent market over the trade market in order to hold onto his prospects. However, both avenues remain in play.

“The good news is that we’ve got a little bit more depth to our farm system,” he said. “I notice Baseball America, the top 236, we had 11 of them. That’s encouraging that national publications are seeing the depth in our farm system. That puts us in the top three or four teams in terms of number of players that we have in the pipeline. And I’ve always said the key to having a good team year in and year out is having a good farm system and bringing a player or two up from your farm system every year.

“Last year, we were fortunate. We had (Trey) Mancini come and emerge. This year, we’ll see who can emerge from the group. We’ll get a chance to look at some of them in the spring. (Ryan) Mountcastle, DJ Stewart, a couple of position players we’ll take a look at. (Austin) Hays, who’s already on the roster. And we’re going to get our first look really on the major league side at Hunter Harvey, and there are some other arms we have in the organization. But the good news is we have some prospect depth throughout the organization that should be able to help us during the season and also help us with some trades.

“This time of year, obviously, I’d rather be adding players without taking away from them, our prospect depth. That would be the first choice, that would be the best choice for the club.”

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