Looking at a few O's potential free agent pitching targets

The baseball free agent market is underway. And the Orioles' Mike Elias told my colleague Roch Kubatko that the market could move swiftly this winter. Maybe some things will even heat up before the Winter Meetings early next month.

The Orioles are targeting pitching and hitting via both free agency and possibly trade routes also.

"I think this is going to be a very competitive market for players,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of teams out there that are looking to get better. People feel good about the health of the industry and I expect this will be a pretty active and maybe fast free agent market,” said Elias.

So, without any knowledge of how much money or far the Orioles are willing to go after free agent pitchers, we’ll take a look at a few of them over the next few weeks in this space. Today we start with three right-handers, who all pitched in New York in 2022.

* RHP Taijuan Walker: He is ranked as the No. 11 free agent via ESPN and projected to get four years at $60 million. MLBTradeRumors.com lists him at No. 16 and predicts a four-year deal for $52 million.

Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA for the Mets in 2022. Now 30, he pitched 157 1/3 innings allowing 143 hits and 15 homers with 45 walks and 132 strikeouts. He recorded a solid 1.195 WHIP, allowing 8.2 hits per nine and 0.9 home runs with a 2.6 walk rate and 7.6 strikeout rate. His ERA plus was 111.

And while Walker doesn’t miss a lot of bats, he has also posted three straight years allowing a sub .700 OPS and that number was .663 last year while MLB average was .705. For his career he is 54-50 with a 3.89 ERA and 1.226 WHIP. His career ERA plus is 105.

Walker threw his fastball 41 percent last year at an average velocity of 93.7 mph and also used a splitter, slider, curve and cutter.

He is not going to be a big innings eater and perhaps part of the reason for that the last two years with the Mets was an injury history that includes Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery. He does not score great in metrics tracking hard-hit rates and spin rates. Will any of this be concerning to the Orioles?

* RHP Chris Bassitt: If a team signing Bassitt could ensure his next three or four years will be as good as his last four, he might get a real nice contract. As it is, even though he will be 34 next opening day, a couple of outlets project that he will do pretty well.

ESPN ranks him No. 12 free agent, projecting a three-year deal for $53 million and MLBTradeRumors.com rates him No. 13 predicting a three-year, $60 million dollar deal.

For the 2022 Mets, Bassitt went 15-9 with a 3.42 ERA over 30 starts and 181 2/3 innings, which ranks as the 22nd most in MLB. He allowed 159 hits with 49 walks and 167 strikeouts, producing a 1.145 WHIP and allowing 7.9 hits and 0.9 homers per nine with a 2.4 walk rate and 8.3 K rate. He had a strong 49.1 groundball rate.

But over the past four seasons – between the Athletics and Mets – he has gone 42-20 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.0 homer rate. That is an ERA plus of 123 since the 2019 season.

Bassitt, who had Tommy John surgery in May of 2016, used his fastball 47 percent at an average 92.9 mph and also added a cutter, slider, curve and changeup.

Bassitt received a qualifying offer and is the only pitcher of the three being mentioned here today that did. If he turns it down as expected, he continues as a free agent. If the Orioles sign any player that turned down a QO, it appears they will have to forfeit their third-highest 2023 MLB Draft pick. 

* RHP Jameson Taillon: In the lead up to the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon was a pitcher the O’s scouting staff was very high on. They had the third pick in that draft and they knew Bryce Harper would go No. 1 to the Nationals. They also knew Pittsburgh, picking No. 2 would have its choice of Taillon or a high school infielder from Miami named Manny Machado. At that time the O’s loved both players. Then scouting director Joe Jordan said they will take whichever player remains and be delighted to get him. Pittsburgh took Taillon and Machado went to Baltimore.

Now, many years later, there is a chance Taillon could find his way to Camden Yards yet.

While Harper has accumulated 42.5 Wins Above Replacement from that draft and Machado is at 52.0, Taillon, mostly due to injuries, is at 11.5. But with a career ERA plus of 107 he is solid, but just not a player on the level of Harper or Machado. Still a lot of pitching staffs would be happy to add him.

He went 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts for the Yankees. Over 177 1/3 innings he posted a 1.128 WHIP while allowing 8.5 hits per nine and 1.3 homers with a 1.6 walk rate and 7.7 strikeout rate. He has a career 2.2 walk rate and scores high among evaluators for that command, in addition to showing good spin rates and extension.

Taillon has had two Tommy John surgeries, in addition to dealing with testicular cancer and he missed all of the shortened 2020 year. But his career mark is 51-35 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.212 WHIP. He is above league average with that ERA plus of 107 in 143 MLB starts. Every career appearance in the majors he has made has been as a starter.

He used his fastball 47 percent at an average velocity of 94.2 mph while also throwing a slider, curve, cutter and changeup.

Taillon, who will be 31 on opening day, is MLBTradeRumors’ No. 14 free agent and predicted to get a four-year deal worth $56 million. ESPN ranks him lower, at No. 22, projecting two years and $30 million.  



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