I put him there. Others in the media have put him there. At least a few members of the organization have put him there.
The reasons range from the price tag agent Scott Boras will attach to him, to the perception that the Orioles’ decision to option Chen to Single-A Frederick for one start caused irreparable damage to their relationship.
I’m not ready to improve the odds on Chen staying in Baltimore to the point where he overtakes another pending free agent. It’s still more likely that first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce and outfielder Gerardo Parra run down the orange carpet on opening day. It’s still more likely that the Orioles find a way to keep set-up man Darren O’Day despite their refusal to offer Andrew Miller a four-year deal last winter.
First baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters still rank ahead of Chen, who should command at least a four-year deal. The Orioles shocked the industry by giving Ubaldo Jimenez $50 million over four years in February 2014. Chen is lined up to exceed that deal, perhaps netting a fifth year.
Despite the gloomy forecast on Chen, it’s important to note that the Orioles’ primary concern involves their rotation, and the left-hander led the club in innings pitched at 191 1/3 and had its lowest ERA among starters at 3.34. His 153 strikeouts were second to Jimenez’s 168. He also registered 20 quality starts and held opponents to a .170 average with runners in scoring position, ranking first in the majors among all qualifying starters.
Chen’s exit will punch a pretty big hole in a rotation that already has its issues. It also would leave the Orioles without a left-handed starter.
And finally, managing partner Peter G. Angelos wants to re-sign Chen while also showing a willingness to add another starter from the free agent market, according to a source. If Angelos isn’t shooting down the idea, it’s probably not a smart idea for anyone to completely dismiss it.
If hard feelings still exist in Chen’s camp, the Orioles can counter with how they continued to put him in favorable situations whenever possible. Extra rest, avoiding the Blue Jays, etc. They believe that they used Chen in ways that brought out the best in him, and not just in 2015.
Chen has proven to be a bargain at $15.47 over four years while going 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA in 117 starts. He earned $4.75 million this season. That’s chump change by today’s standards.
The Orioles held an organizational meeting on Friday that included Angelos, and one person later termed it as being “productive.”
Obviously, the Orioles want to retain all of their free agents. Obviously, it comes down to how high they’re willing to bid. Davis and Chen, in particular, are going to attract deep-pocketed suitors.
Wieters remains a mystery due to the Orioles’ uncertainty over making a qualifying offer and whether the catcher would accept it. It also hasn’t been determined whether his value on the market is significantly impacted by his elbow surgery and how he started only 55 games behind the plate.
Notes: The Orioles signed right-hander Michael Zouzalik from the independent St. Paul Saints, according to Baseball America’s transactions page. Zouzalik, 25, was named the American Association’s Rookie of the Year after going 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 39 relief appearances this year.
Zouzalik went a combined 4-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 23 games in 2013 between Single-A Spokane and Myrtle Beach in the Rangers’ organization. Last year, he was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 39 games with independent St. Paul, following a 2014 season in which he went 4-0 4-0 with a .306 ERA in 47 games with independent Wichita.
(Upon further review, I wrote about Zouzalik back on Sept. 28. But here it is again.)
Wishing the best of luck to Orioles bullpen catcher/batting practice pitcher Rudy Arias, who won’t return to the club in 2016.
Arias is one of the really good guys in baseball. He also did a nice job serving as interpreter for Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez when I put in an interview request in spring training.