Which free agent pitchers could wind up on Orioles’ radar? (Schoop note)

After a season where the Orioles finished 10th in the American League in team ERA and 12th in starting pitcher ERA, it’s pretty clear they’ll need to pitch better to get back in the playoffs in 2014.

But how to upgrade the rotation, in particular, after O’s starters posted a 4.57 ERA in 2013?

Everyone wants an ace, but we know that there are not any available in this free agent class and getting one via a deal is very unlikely.

That said, here is a look at five free agent pitchers that will be available. As usual, the price for pitching will be high and some clubs may overpay this winter for a crop of free agent arms that’s not great.

Could one of these five make it onto the O’s radar?

* Matt Garza went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA this year for the Cubs and Texas. But he did pitch to an ERA of 4.89 over his last 11 starts for the Rangers.

On the plus side, he will be just 30 on opening day, he has pitched well in the postseason and he has pitched well in the American League East. His career ERAs are 2.14 against Toronto, 3.83 versus Boston and 4.03 against New York. If you like velocity, Garza, at an average of 93 mph, has some of the best velocity available in this free agent class.

Because he was traded in July he cannot be given a qualifying offer and thus a team that signs him will not forfeit a draft pick.

* Would you like a pitcher with four straight years with an ERA under 3.40, four consecutive seasons pitching 190-plus innings and with a career 2.1 walks per nine inning rate?

Who wouldn’t like that? Those stats belong to Yankee right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who this season went 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA.

He will turn 39 in February, but doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. Will the Yankees let him go, and if they do will he return to pitch in Japan, as some have rumored, or stay in Major League Baseball?

* Right-hander Ervin Santana bounced back with a strong 2013 season and that will no doubt earn him some dollars this winter. After pitching to an ERA of 5.16 with the Angels in 2012, he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for Kansas City this year.

If you like innings eaters, Santana has five career 200-inning seasons and has the highest average innings pitched per start of this year’s free agent class.

Santana, who averages 2.8 walks per nine innings over his career, will be 31 next season and MLBTradeRumors.com projects he could get a five-year deal worth $75 million.

* Dan Haren had a solid second half for the Nationals and went 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA over 30 starts and 169 2/3 innings for the year. He pitched to an ERA of 5.61 before the All-Star break and 3.52 after.

Haren will be 33 next season and has pitched 200 innings or more seven times in his career with a career 1.186 WHIP, and that is pretty strong stuff. He has allowed 28 homers for two straight seasons. This past season, he kept the ball in the park better and pitched better in the second half when he was commanding the ball well pitching down in the strike zone.

* Ricky Nolasco has been linked to the Orioles before and is coming off the second-best season of his career. He went 13-11 with an ERA of 3.70 between Miami and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had pitched to an ERA of 4.56 from 2010-2012.

Nolasco, who turns 31 in December, is a durable innings eater with five career seasons of 185-plus innings. He’s never pitched in the AL and could remain a Dodger after pitching to an ERA of 3.52 for L.A. Could he get the three-year, $36 million deal that MLBTradeRumors.com projects he will?

A big factor for any team looking at any pitcher will be the qualifying offers. If the player’s current team makes a qualifying offer to a free agent, whether the player accepts or not, a team signing the player will forfeit its 2014 first-round pick unless it is a top 10 pick. Those are protected.

Right now, the Orioles hold the 17th pick in round one next June. Garza and Nolasco can’t get such offers since they were traded during last year, but Kuroda, Haren and Santana could. The Nationals will probably not make a qualifying offer to Haren.

So which free agent pitcher or pitchers should the O’s pursue and at what price?

Schoop leaves AFL: Orioles infield prospect Jonathan Schoop has left the Arizona Fall League for a few days to return to Curacao due to a death in his family. Schoop will return to Arizona early next week.

Schoop is batting .149 with two homers, five RBIs and a .522 OPS for Surprise. Orioles officials don’t seem too concerned about his stats and this is over just 47 at-bats. Schoop needed more at-bats and game action after missing time this year due to a back injury.

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