Tillman got a $3 million guarantee and can reportedly earn another $7 million with innings incentives. If this was his only major league contract offer, he did well with a shot to make $10 million a year after he went 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA. The Orioles, on the other hand, would probably happily pay the incentives to get the pre-2017 Tillman. Being on the hook for just $3 million puts the club at minimal risk.
This deal has the chance to look great or terrible and probably less so something in the middle. From 2012 through 2016, Tillman went went 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA. He pitched 170 innings or more four times with an ERA of 3.77 or less four times. If he pitches anything like that this season, the Orioles made a great deal.
If he is still the struggling Tillman of 2017, he won’t help much and, in fact, could hurt any longshot contending chances this team may have. Tillman made 19 starts last year and just three were quality starts. He allowed 12.1 hits per nine innings with a 4.9 walk rate and home run rate of 2.3 for every nine innings. He had a 9.47 ERA in the first inning and went 0-3 with an 8.69 ERA versus American League East clubs. Yep, not close to good.
But how long will the Orioles stay with Tillman if he struggles again this year? The leash almost certainly must be shorter than last year, when Tillman and manager Buck Showalter insisted he was not hurt and several times expressed the opinion that he was close to turning it around. He never did. With that memory fresh in their minds, they can’t give him 19 starts this season pitching as he did in 2017.
This is just my speculation, but one guess as to why this agreement took so long to reach could have been the pursuit of a team option for 2019 by the Orioles. If the club was going to take a chance on Tillman after his poor season, perhaps they sought the opportunity to bring him back if he returns to form. Tillman, per various reports, was happy to sign for just one year and hopes he can re-enter the market in a much stronger bargaining position next winter. So in effect, the Orioles now have five players set to hit free agency to include Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Tillman.
I can’t imagine Tillman is being handed a rotation job no matter what, but he’s probably got a big jump on being at least the No. 4 starter as it stands right now.
Projected AL East rotations
O’s: Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman, in-house candidate.
Boston: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright.
New York: Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery.
Tampa Bay: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria, Nate Eovaldi, Matt Andriese.
Toronto: Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, Jaime García.
More prospects talk: In late January, when MLBPipeline.com released its latest top 100 prospects list, two Orioles were represented. Outfielder Austin Hays was rated No. 23 and infielder Ryan Mountcastle No. 98.
Yesterday, MLBPipeline released its new top 30 O’s list and you can click here to read through the entire list. It features just four pitchers among the top eight, but 13 among its top 19 O’s prospects.