A look at a few pitchers that could make it onto the O’s free agent radar

So the Orioles have said improving their pitching staff is their top priority for the 2016 season. But how will they be able to do that?

Can the Orioles really afford to get in a bidding war for a David Price or Jordan Zimmermann level of talent in free agency?

Maybe yes, maybe no. But I do think we will reach a point where, whether the Orioles get a frontline starter or not, they may pursue second- or third-level starters. They will need to add depth to the starting rotation.

Here are three free agents that could make it onto their hit list:

* Right-hander Doug Fister, Washington - Fister finished eighth in the National League Cy Young voting for the Nationals in 2014, but his game took a big step back in 2015 and he lost his rotation spot late in the year. Some team may pursue Fister with a bounceback deal and get a bargain if he does, in fact, bounce back to previous form.

duquette-showalter-talking-sidebar.jpgFister, who spent time on the disabled list from mid-May to mid-June with a forearm flexor tendon strain, went 5-7 with a 4.19 ERA. He had an ERA of 4.60 as a starter.

Fister went 32-20 with an ERA of 3.29 for Detroit from 2011-13. In 2014, he went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA for Washington. Some feel that his groundball tendencies and low walk rate would play well with the O’s infield defense. He made $11.4 million this year.

* Right-hander Marco Estrada, Toronto - He went 13-8 with an ERA of 3.13 for the Blue Jays and is scheduled to pitch Game 3 against Texas in the American League Division Series. Estrada, who turns 33 next July, has a career record of 36-34 with an ERA of 3.95. He allowed an AL-best 6.7 hits per nine innings this year with a WHIP of 1.044.

Despite those very solid numbers, MLBTradeRumors.com projected he could be signed to a reasonable two-year, $20 million deal or possibly to a two-year deal with an option for a third season.

* Right-hander Ian Kennedy, San Diego - The 30-year-old Kennedy went 9-15 with a 4.28 ERA over 30 starts and 168 1/3 innings. He does possess the ability to strike out hitters, something most O’s starters lack. He averaged 9.3 strikeouts per every nine innings with 2.8 walks. Kennedy went 13-13 with a 3.63 ERA in 2014 for the Padres. He made $9.85 million this year.

Some speculate that San Diego may make Kennedy a qualifying offer. Any player that gets such an offer and then turns it down would mean a team signing him via free agency would lose a draft pick.

Not only would that hurt each of these pitchers with their bargaining power in free agency, it might keep several teams away from them to avoid losing a draft pick. The Orioles very well could be in that group. These pitchers have something to offer, but if you have to lose a pick to get them, that might not be worth it.

O’s pitching in 2014: Team ERA of 3.43, starting rotation ERA of 3.61, bullpen ERA of 3.10
O’s pitching in 2015: Team ERA of 4.05, starting rotation ERA of 4.53, bullpen ERA of 3.21

So there is indeed room for improvement for the Orioles pitching staff. Some of that is going to need to come from pitchers whose performance fell off this season like Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. But some will likely come from outside the organization as well.

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