The Orioles were determined to sign a starting pitcher last winter and ended up with three after reporting to spring training, reaching agreements with Suk-min Yoon, Ubaldo Jimenez and Johan Santana. They also kept checking on Ervin Santana before the Braves struck a deal.
They previously made offers to A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo and Gavin Floyd, rotation depth being a priority in the warehouse.
Yoon and Johan Santana never made it to Baltimore. Yoon went 4-8 with a 5.74 ERA in 23 games at Triple-A Norfolk and came off the 40-man roster. Santana ruptured his Achilles tendon in June shortly before the Orioles were going to recall him.
Jimenez signed the largest contract given by the Orioles to a free agent pitcher from outside the organization, a four-year deal worth $50 million, and went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 25 games (22 starts). He walked 77 batters in 125 1/3 innings, lost his spot in the rotation and wasn’t included on the American League Championship Series roster.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette always is in the market for pitching. Can’t have too much of it. But how would the Orioles make room in 2015?
As it currently stands, they have six projected starters for five spots in Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman. Jimenez moved to the bullpen in September, but the Orioles need to get him right and get him back in the rotation with three years remaining on his contract. Gausman could begin the year at Norfolk, but why? It’s time to run him out there every five days, keeping him on a normal schedule and off the Triple-A shuttle, unless he gives them a reason to send him down.
Let’s not suggest that Gonzalez could be the odd man out, not after he posted a 2.19 ERA in 11 starts in the second half and allowed three earned runs or fewer in 23 of his 26 starts.
Gonzalez’s name came up in trade talks during the non-waiver deadline and it could happen again over the winter. Norris’ salary could exceed $8 million in his final year before free agency, also making him a trade possibility. But Duquette is going to continue his search for pitching. That’s just how he operates.
The Orioles used only seven starters this year, and that included T.J. McFarland, who made one start. They were able to avoid serious injuries - Norris had a strained groin, Gonzalez had a strained oblique and Jimenez rolled his ankle - but they can’t assume that they’ll carry the same luck next season.
I can envision Duquette trying to sign at least one starter to a minor league deal, the familiar depth move. He won’t bother with top-tier starters Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, who will command huge contracts. Ervin Santana is back on the market, but again, how would there be room for him or anyone else without a trade?
Burnett must decide today whether to exercise his $12.5 million option with the Phillies. He led the majors with 96 walks, which would make him a frightening bookend with Jimenez, and he didn’t seem to have any interest in the Orioles last winter. Why bother now?
Floyd also is back on the market. He suffered a fractured elbow in June and made only nine starts, but he posted a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings.
I’ll be highly disappointed if he’s not linked to the Orioles again this winter, because I’m big on tradition.
Note: The Orioles will have a scout present to watch switch-hitting Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada work out Nov. 12 in Guatemala. It’s called a showcase.
Moncada, 19, can’t sign with a major league team until he’s unblocked by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Some scouts reportedly view Moncada as “the next Jorge Soler.”