Is this free agent pitcher a good fit for the Orioles?

Now that the World Series is over, the hot stove season has just about arrived. Soon we’ll be hearing and reading rumors of potential trades and free agent acquisitions. The hot stove season can garner about as much interest as the regular season.

If the Orioles look to dip into the free agent pool and don’t want to dive into the deep end but yet get a difference-maker, I can see one out there. And this is based off salary projections from an article this week in the New York Post.

Pitchers that could be out of the Orioles' reach and/or comfort level and be in line for at least $100 million or close, per that article, are Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez.

But the outlet listed free agent right-hander Sonny Gray at a price tag that could be in the wheelhouse for the Orioles and a lot of other teams. The paper quoted expert No. 1 and expert No. 2, who I assume are front office execs in the sport. One projected that Gray would get a three-year deal worth $65 million and another put it at three years and $66 million.

Gray is coming off a fantastic year with the Minnesota Twins during which he went 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA and 1.147 WHIP in 184 innings over 32 starts. He ranked second in the American League and third in the majors in ERA, and was fourth in the AL in average against (.226), third in OPS (.607 behind Kyle Bradish at .605) and fifth in groundball rate.

In the Statcast metric of Pitching Run Value, his pitches ranked in the top one percent of the major leagues. His Wins Above Replacement of 5.3 topped the pitchers on this list projected to get bigger contracts.

Would the Orioles be open to a contract such as the one Gray seems likely to get?

To hear Mike Elias, O’s executive vice president and general manager, tell it, in the last year the team has indeed pursued players in this price range. At his season-ending press conference I asked Elias specifically about such a pitcher when I wondered if the Orioles could pursue a pitcher in the salary range of Nathan Eovaldi, the right-hander who pitched so well for Texas this postseason.

The free agent contract Eovaldi signed with Texas last December will pay him $34 million over two years, and if it vests per innings pitched over the 2023-24 seasons, he could get a three-year deal worth as much as $63 million.

Could the O's play in that free agent ballpark? Would they sign a player to that level of deal?

“I look at everything on a case-by-case basis," said Elias. "There are players and trade targets that we have pursued in the last 12 months that we didn’t get that were in the (salary) ranges that you are alluding to. Those pursuits will be on the menu again. We are trying to win.

“Obviously, a part of that doesn’t mean you have to do them any given year. But we will be talking about them and doing what we have to do to have another great season and an even better season. And then also seasons and seasons after that.”

Elias was asked about Baltimore now as a free agent destination. Free agents can now see a young and talented team that won 101 games and a division championship. Is Baltimore more attractive now?

“I sure hope so. I think that’s been increasingly the case here the last couple years," he replied. "And you know, I think we’ve now had Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson come here on one-year contracts and have really great years and great experiences. It’s something that is really important for me to have a good environment for players. We talk constantly about how best to do that. I think it showed this year. I think our clubhouse is wonderful. Lot of people to credit for that. But we want this to be a great place to play."

I see that projection for Gray and almost see it as too low. And yes, I know he will be 34 in a few days. But his ERA is 2.90 the last two years and 3.22 the last five. He is good and he is consistent. If any pitcher is worth $60 million, he seems to be.

He could be a postseason version of Eovaldi for a team that signs him. Gray has a 3.26 ERA over six postseason starts. Last year versus AL East teams he went 1-2 with a 2.84 ERA and .656 OPS against.

Gray can look at the Orioles and see a winning team with top young talent and a now-pitcher-friendly ballpark. His strong groundball rates could play well with the O’s infield defense behind him. The O’s would not need much of a sales pitch: "Come join us and be with a team on the rise that over the next few years could play deep into October with a guy like you joining Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez atop the rotation."

Is this a great match? Am I missing something?

Reviewing three more Orioles surprises in 2023
More Orioles mailbag leftovers

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