Tillman still a possible target for Orioles (plus Rule 5 note)

With the GM meetings concluded and the Winter Meetings less than a month away, the industry buzz on pitcher Chris Tillman remains that he’s seeking a one-year deal and the chance to re-enter the free agent market following the 2018 season.

The Orioles are in play as long as Tillman keeps his expectations at a modest level. They like him as a bounceback candidate on a pillow contract. The rotation certainly has room for him.

One of the lingering questions is whether Tillman would have to settle for a lower base salary from the Orioles than other clubs might be willing to offer him. They’d load it with incentives.

chris-tillman-white-follow-through-Sidebar.jpgThere’s a lot to be said for comfort zones and it exists on both sides. The Orioles believe that Tillman, with a normal offseason and spring training, can get back to his previous form. Tillman has succeeded in the American League East and while pitching at Camden Yards, where he’s 36-28 with a 4.32 ERA in 105 starts.

Tillman owns a career 2.39 ERA in nine starts at Fenway Park and a 3.11 ERA in 13 games at Tropicana Field. He also has a 7.01 ERA in 13 starts at Rogers Centre and a 7.63 ERA in 11 games at Yankee Stadium.

The harshest critics of bringing back Tillman choose to ignore how he was 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts in 2013, 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts in 2014 and 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts in 2016. How the Orioles wouldn’t be making a significant financial investment or limiting their rotation overhaul to one move.

We’re not talking about re-signing Ubaldo JimĂ©nez for four more years. It’s a one-year deal for a guy deemed worthy of three consecutive opening day starts and who’s highly motivated to stamp out all the doubts about him, put up impressive numbers and hit the jackpot next winter.

The Orioles are going to consider plenty of other starters, a list that includes Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas and Tyler Chatwood. Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are affordable if you believe some of the projections. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron places Cobb at four years and $60 million and Lynn at three years and $48 million. MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes puts Lynn at four years and $56 million and Cobb at four years and $48 million.

If the Twins can go after the top-tier free agent pitchers, as reported by FanRag’s Jon Heyman, the Orioles certainly can make a run at Cobb or Lynn.

Meanwhile, the deadline for teams to protect players from the Rule 5 draft is Monday at 8 p.m. They must be added to the 40-man roster or made available to any team.

The Orioles have 30 players on their 40-man roster. Space isn’t an issue.

Pitcher Hunter Harvey is the easiest call. MLBPipeline.com’s top 30 Orioles prospect list includes three other players who are eligible for the Rule 5: outfielder Randolph Gassaway and pitchers David Hess and John Means.

Catcher Austin Wynns, infielder Steve Wilkerson and left-hander Luis Gonzalez also are considerations. It’s a positive sign that the decisions are becoming harder.

Lucas Long gained notice this summer while going 9-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 31 games (14 starts) at Double-A Bowie. He also belongs in the discussion.

The Orioles won’t protect outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, but he’s a more recognizable name and I decided to drop it here. He batted .240/.322/.417 with 15 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 41 RBIs in 81 games at Triple-A Norfolk and owns a .230/.316/.390 slash line in 175 games in the International League.

Yastrzemski underwent core and hip labrum surgery following the 2016 season that set him back this year.

Remember how the Orioles were in the market for left-handed relievers? Well, they’ve signed one to a minor league deal.

They reached agreement with former Twins pitcher Ryan O’Rourke, as first reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney. He didn’t make an appearance this year after undergoing ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow in May. The Orioles will be patient with him.

O’Rourke, 29, has posted a 4.98 ERA and 1.255 WHIP in 54 games over parts of two seasons with the Twins and is averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The former 13th-round pick out of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., has held left-handed hitters to a .134 average and .482 OPS.

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