A look at a couple of free agent starting pitchers

So the Orioles’ rotation depth chart right now is lacking a bit, you may have noticed. Surely they will add some pitchers before spring training, even if it’s only minor league free agents and/or pitchers looking to make good after a poor or injury-marred season or seasons.

They could look to add a major league free agent or two, but any such signing would likely be a lower-dollar, one-year deal.

In its ranking of the top 50 current free agents, MLBTradeRumors.com’s two lowest-ranked starting pitchers were right-hander Ivan Nova and lefty Drew Smyly. Nova is projected to get a one-year deal for $6 million and Smyly a one-year deal for $3 million. Both have previously pitched in the American League East.

Nova, who turns 33 this winter, went 11-12 with a 4.72 ERA for the Chicago White Sox. He led the club with 34 starts and pitched 187 innings with a 1.455 WHIP and allowed 10.8 hits per nine with 1.4 homers, 2.3 walks and 5.5 strikeouts.

Nova has been durable, and his 120 starts the last four years rank 13th in the majors. In that span his ERA is 4.31, just below league average. He posted an ERA Plus of 99 and he’s thrown 697 innings.

He led the majors with 30 double plays induced last year, and his 1.89 walks per nine innings over the last three years ranks fifth in the big leagues.

On the downside, his OPS against was .831 versus lefty batters and .835 against right-handers. And he allowed 225 hits, second most in baseball.

But being an innings-eater with some level of a track record and a low walks total probably means that some contender signs him for the back end of their rotation and that he won’t look to join the Orioles unless they outbid others or his offers don’t materialize.

Smyly may be more possible for the Orioles to get, but that is because injuries limited him to 51 starts the last four years and his ERA was high in 2019.

The 30-year-old lefty went 4-7 with a 6.24 ERA over 114 innings for the Rangers and Phillies. Texas released him in June, Milwaukee signed him July 1 and released him July 18, and he finished the year with Philadelphia.

Smyly had a minor labrum tear in May 2015 and underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2017.

Many of his numbers last year would scare off most teams - a WHIP of 1.588, 9.9 hits/nine with 2.5 homers, 4.3 walks and 9.5 strikeouts. But if you really want something to provide at least mild encouragement, he finished strong. In five September starts he went 3-2 with a 3.65 ERA and .237 batting average against. Over 24 2/3 innings he walked nine and fanned 30.

Hess-Winds-Gray-sidebar.jpgThe Orioles are looking at a current top four in some order of John Means, Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski. Where to go after that is a big question, and that assumes Cobb can make it back. Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmermann and Dean Kremer at least had a few starts at Triple-A in 2019. The strong group from Double-A Bowie is behind them. David Hess remains on the 40-man roster. Also still in the organization are Tom Eshelman, Ty Blach and Chandler Shepherd. All four made starts for the Orioles last season.

The list of free agent starters includes several that have pitched for the Orioles before in Andrew Cashner, Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, Edwin Jackson, Wade Miley, Dan Straily and Gabriel Ynoa.

Some fans have expressed interest in a reunion with Cashner, who pitched to an ERA of 3.83 with the Orioles but 6.20 with Boston.

The young pitchers on the farm are on the move and it will be exciting when they get their shots to see who can get the job done in the big leagues. Meanwhile, the Orioles are going to need five pitchers to start games when 2020 begins.

Shorebirds honored: The honors are still rolling in for the Orioles’ Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds affiliate. On Tuesday they were named the Minor League Team of the Year by MiLB.com for the first time in club history.

In their 24th season, the Shorebirds went 90-48, posting the most wins across all of Minor League Baseball. They smashed Delmarva’s previous wins record (83, 1996) and became the first South Atlantic League team to win 90 or more since the 2006 Augusta GreenJackets. I’ll have more on this in a few days.

The Shorebirds also recently announced that Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias will serve as the featured guest speaker at their 19th annual Hot Stove Banquet. It will be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury on Jan. 23, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Attendees will have the chance to bid in a silent auction and raffle of sports memorabilia, featuring numerous items from major league and minor league franchises, including the Orioles. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Shorebirds Fly Together Fund, with a portion going to support the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore.

For more information and to purchase Hot Stove Banquet tickets, call 410-219-3112 or visit theshorebirds.com.

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