Vowing back in December to proceed slowly through the free agent market while seeking to upgrade the roster, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has acquired his first player on a major league deal.
Veteran right-hander Nate Karns has agreed to a one-year contract guaranteeing $800,000 with a possible $200,000 in incentives based on innings pitched, according to an industry source. Karns, 31, can max out at 100 innings, a total he’s reached once in parts of five major league seasons.
Karns hasn’t pitched since May 19, 2017 with the Royals, when he made the last of his eight starts. He underwent thoracic outlet surgery two months later, was shut down the following March with inflammation in his right elbow and didn’t return to the mound.
The Royals outrighted Karns on Oct. 31 and he became a free agent. The Orioles will try to resurrect a career that’s been marred by numerous injuries since the Nationals drafted him in the 12th round in 2009 out of Texas Tech University.
Karns underwent shoulder surgery in 2010, but was named the Nationals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012 and debuted with them the following season. He was traded to the Rays in February 2014, to the Mariners in November 2015 and to the Royals in January 2017 for outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
Fifty-four of Karns’ 63 major league appearances have come as a starter and the Orioles will decide his role in spring training. They have two openings in the rotation behind Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner, and Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier are the only locks in the bullpen - though Tanner Scott, Paul Fry and Miguel Castro are pretty safe bets.
Pedro Araujo must remain on the active roster for 17 days before shedding his Rule 5 status.
Karns, who can become a free agent after the 2020 season, is 16-11 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.339 WHIP in 310 2/3 major league innings and has averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He was 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA and 1.191 WHIP in nine games with the Royals in 2017 spanning 45 1/3 innings.
Making 26 starts among 27 appearances with the Rays in 2015, Karns registered a 3.67 ERA and 1.279 WHIP in 147 innings.
Karns has faced the Orioles seven times, six as a starter, and posted a 3.71 ERA and 1.029 WHIP in 34 innings. He’s struck out 37 batters. Karns has allowed only one run with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings at Camden Yards.
The 40-man roster is full and will require a corresponding move. I’ll update this entry if it’s announced today.
Pitcher Austin Brice was designated for assignment on Jan. 28 to make room for infielder Jack Reinheimer, and the Marlins claimed him on Monday.
USA Today first reported the Karns signing.
Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projects that the Orioles will lose 105 games this season, the highest total in the majors. It would mark a 10-game improvement over 2018.
Update: Reinheimer was designated for assignment.