A look at a trio of free agent starting pitchers

Before long, free agency will be underway in Major League Baseball. As the Orioles look to improve their rotation, that is one area they will be looking at.

The club has long been reluctant to chase free agents at the top of the pitching food chain. But maybe there are a few hurlers that could be costly, but also affordable, to help the team moving forward.

We’ll take a look at several such possibilities over the next few weeks, starting with these three pending free agents today.

Alex Cobb: The right-hander, who will be 30 on opening day, was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays. His ERA was 4.52 after his first 12 starts. But in his last 17, Cobb went 8-5 with an ERA of 3.07, allowing three earned runs or less 14 times. He set career highs in wins, innings (179 1/3) and starts (29).

Cobb made an impressive comeback from Tommy John surgery, which was performed by Dr. James Andrews on May 14, 2015. It limited him to five starts in 2016 and all five came in September. But he sure threw well this past season, when he relied heavily on his two-seam sinker, threw his curveball a career-high 34 percent and his split-finger changeup a career-low 14 percent.

A real plus for the Orioles would be Cobb’s effectiveness in nine starts against Boston, New York and Toronto. In those nine, he was 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA.

A concern or two may be that Cobb has never made 30 or more starts or thrown 180 or more innings. While his ERA was 2.46 at home in 2017, it was 4.72 on the road. For some reason, Cobb struggled versus the bottom of batting orders, allowing a combined .299 batting average to the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters. The major league average was .246.

camden-yards-night-sidebar.jpgLance Lynn: The right-hander, who will be 30 on opening day, went 11-8 with an ERA of 3.43 in 33 starts for St. Louis. It was a very solid season. He had missed all of the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2015.

Lynn pitched 186 1/3 innings, finished seventh in the National League in ERA and sixth in opponents’ batting average (.223). Lynn recorded 18 quality starts and tied for the major league lead in allowing two earned runs or less in 23 starts. He induced a career-high 20 double plays. Yep, he was solid.

But there are a few concerns here. Lynn allowed a career-high 27 homers, although just 0.7 per every nine innings. He ranked second in the NL in walks, but again, his rate per nine innings of 3.5 doesn’t look quite as bad. Lynn had a first-inning ERA of 5.79 and allowed eight of his homers then. But his ERA from the second inning on was 2.92. Lynn relies heavily on a 92 mph fastball, throwing his four-seamer 40 percent and his sinker 41 percent of the time.

Jason Vargas: The lefty, who will be 35 opening day, went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA for Kansas City over 32 starts and 179 2/3 innings. He recorded 16 quality starts and the Royals were an impressive 20-12 in his games. Vargas gave up a .311 average to lefty batters, but just .253 against right-handed hitters.

Vargas has a few concerns, being 35 to start. He was much worse after the All-Star break. Before the All-Star Game, he went 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA and .244 average against. But after the break, Vargas was 6-8 with an ERA of 6.38 and .292 average against. He had an ERA of 7.23 in July, 7.18 in August and 4.44 in September.

If you like velocity, this is not your guy. He averaged 86.8 mph on his four-seamer and 86 mph on his sinker. He fanned 6.7 per nine innings, which is not great, but it topped Cobb at 6.4.

Cobb and Lynn certainly should come at a higher cost than Vargas, in both years and total dollars. But if you really want to dream, adding one of Cobb or Lynn and also Vargas would go a long way to making the 2017 Orioles rotation formidable. Easy to say, harder to do. Many teams, probably almost all that need pitching, will be looking hard at these three, especially Cobb and Lynn.

From MLBTradeRumors.com, the list of pending free agent starting pitchers (age in parentheses):

Brett Anderson (30)
Jake Arrieta (32)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Clay Buchholz (33)
Madison Bumgarner (28) - $12 million club option with a $1.5 million buyout
Trevor Cahill (30)
Andrew Cashner (31)
Jhoulys Chacin (30)
Tyler Chatwood (28)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Wei-Yin Chen (32) - Can opt out of the remaining three years, $52 million on his contract
Alex Cobb (30)
Josh Collmenter (32)
Bartolo Colón (45)
Johnny Cueto (32) - Can opt out of the remaining four years, $84 million on his contract
Yu Darvish (31)
R.A. Dickey (43)
Nathan Eovaldi (28) - $2 million club option
Scott Feldman (35)
Doug Fister (34)
Yovani Gallardo (32) - $13 million club option with a $2 million buyout
Jaime Garcia (31)
Matt Garza (34)
Dillon Gee (32)
Miguel González (34)
Jeremy Hellickson (31)
Derek Holland (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Drew Hutchison (27)
Ubaldo Jiménez (34)
John Lackey (39)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Jeff Locke (30)
Jordan Lyles (27)
Lance Lynn (31)
Miles Mikolas (29)
Wade Miley (31) - $12 million club option with a $500,000 buyout
Mike Minor (30) - $10 million mutual option with a $1.25 million buyout
Ricky Nolasco (35) - $13 million club option with a $1 million buyout
Wily Peralta (29)
Martin Perez (27) - $6 million club option with a $2.45 million buyout
Michael Pineda (29)
Tyson Ross (31)
CC Sabathia (37)
Anibal Sanchez (34)
Hector Santiago (30)
Chris Sale (29) - $12.5 million club option with a $1 million buyout
Masahiro Tanaka (29) - Can opt out of the remaining three years, $67 million on his contract
Chris Tillman (30)
Josh Tomlin (33) - $3 million club option with a $750,000 buyout
Jason Vargas (35)
Hideaki Wakui (32)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)

What is your take on the trio of Cobb, Lynn and Vargas, and other free agent pitchers?

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