Looking at a few more available free agent pitchers

If the Orioles are going to add a pitcher they can slot at or near the top of their rotation, they are probably going to have to go the trade route at this point and potentially part with one or more of their top 30 prospects. But if they want to add a pitcher that can slot in the middle or back end of their rotation, they could still look to sign a remaining free agent.

Here are a few possibles.

Righty Zach Davies: In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Orioles selected a kid pitcher out of a high school in Arizona named Zach Davies. They picked him in round 26 and yet he signed for a big overslot bonus of $575,000.

Then-scouting director Joe Jordan knew the kid didn’t throw very hard but was wiser than his years in knowing how to attack hitters, and he had a strong changeup.

Davies has turned those traits into a decent big league career, and if the Orioles seek a reunion years later, they could have one. On July 31, 2015, the O’s traded Davies, then pitching to a 2.84 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk, to Milwaukee for outfielder Gerardo Parra. That one did not work out. At the time of the deal Parra had an .886 OPS for the Brewers, but that number dropped all the way to .625 with the Orioles. At the end of the year he signed with Colorado.

In 2022, Davies went 2-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 27 starts for Arizona. Over 134 1/3 innings he allowed 122 hits with a 1.295 WHIP. He gave up 1.4 homers and 3.5 walks per nine innings while collecting 6.8 strikeouts per nine. That was an ERA plus of 98, just below league average.

His career ERA plus of 103 sits just over the major league average. He has gone 58-53 with a 4.14 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, 3.0 walk rate and 6.6 strikeout rate. During the shortened 2020 season, Davies went 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts for San Diego. That ERA rated fifth-best in the National League.

Never a hard thrower and mostly just a two-pitch pitcher, Davies recorded an average fastball velocity of just 89.6 mph and poor spin-rate stats in 2022. Yet his changeup produced a 32.2 percent whiff rate and opponents batted only .187 off that pitch. Davies threw his two-seam sinker 54 percent of the time and his changeup 33 percent.

Davies, even without big strikeout numbers, produced some good contact-rate numbers last year. Per Statcast, he ranked in the top 24 percent in hard-hit rate and top 25 percent in average exit velocity against at 87.4 mph.

Right-hander Johnny Cueto: He might be the best of the remaining available free agent starters. While Cueto will turn 37 next month, he is coming off a year when he went 8-10 with a 3.35 ERA. Among American League pitchers with 150 innings or more last year – and he threw 158 1/3 – that ranked tied for 13th with Kevin Gausman. His 2022 ERA exceeded that of Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, Jameson Taillon and Jose Urquidy, to name a few.

In a lengthy career spanning nearly 2,200 innings, Cueto has 143 career victories. He has finished in the top six candidates for the Cy Young Award three times. But the last time he did that was 2016, when he finished sixth with the San Francisco Giants.

No one would be expecting him to get Cy Young votes for any club that adds him for next year, but he certainly brings experience and is coming off a pretty solid season. Again, his ERA matched Kevin Gausman's. Can he do that again? Probably not likely, but maybe he could pitch to an ERA around the league average and consistently keep his team in games.

Over his four most recent seasons, he is 18-22 with a 4.04 ERA that is one percent above league average for that span, during which he recorded 1.300 WHIP, 1.1 homers per every nine innings, a 2.5 walk rate and a 6.9 strikeout rate.

Right-hander Michael Wacha: Just 31, Wacha is an interesting case. He is coming off a pretty good year for Boston, but the three previous years were not good at all, and he has a history of shoulder problems, one that even impacted him last season as well.

Despite that, MLBTradeRumors.com ranked him as the No. 41 free agent in this class and projected he would get a two-year deal for $16 million. The previous three seasons he had signed a series of one-year deals for $3 million, $3 million and $7 million.

In 2022 with Boston he went 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA. Over 127 1/3 innings he gave up 111 hits. He posted 1.115 WHIP, allowing 7.8 hits and 1.3 home runs per nine with a 2.2 walk rate and 7.4 strikeout rate. But the MLBTradeRumors.com write-up on his season pointed out he had a lot of help from a fortuitous .260 BABIP.

The Wacha doubters could point out that from 2019 through 2021 he pitched just 285 innings, allowing 1.8 homers per nine and 1.451 WHIP, and that his 5.11 ERA was 19 percent below league average.

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