There are nearly 50 starting pitchers available as baseball free agency is now underway. We know the Orioles need starting pitchers and we also know they won’t be diving into the deep end of that pool or issuing any big-dollar contracts.
In the early stages of the rebuild, they may not even sign anyone to anything longer than a one-year deal and no doubt some minor league free agents will be added for depth as well.
While lefty Keegan Akin, added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster this week, pitched a full season at Triple-A in 2019, other pitching prospects on their way toward Baltimore have much less - or no - Triple-A experience.
This time next year, many more young pitchers from their farm should be on the cusp of making it to Baltimore if they have not already.
In this article, we discussed two free agent pitchers in Drew Smyly and Ivan Nova. Today we take a look at two more hurlers. While they combined to make just 16 starts last season, both have a track record of some success and could at least make it onto the O’s radar over the next few weeks and months.
Marco Estrada: He is a veteran right-hander that quite possibly will be available on a minor league deal or a low-dollar big league deal for one year with incentives.
The reasons he probably won’t do better include his age, which is 36, the fact he got hurt early last season and made only five starts, and also that he didn’t pitch well when healthy the season before that.
But O’s fans have seen Estrada be good over the years. From 2015-2017, he threw a plus changeup for the Toronto Blue Jays and went 32-26 with an ERA of 3.88. He pitched 543 innings with a 1.184 WHIP and a solid homer rate of 1.3 per nine innings, along with 3.2 walks and 7.8 strikeouts.
However, in 2018, he went 7-14 with a 5.64 ERA in 28 starts. The guy proved to be pretty durable from 2015-2018, but that didn’t continue last season. In January, he was signed to a one-year deal worth $4 million by the Oakland Athletics. A lumbar strain limited him to five starts, none after April 16. He went 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA and allowed seven homers in 23 2/3 innings. Estrada made five rehab starts in the minors, but his ERA was 8.44. On Aug. 20, Oakland released him.
He certainly comes with a big risk - if he can even pass a physical. But that just means a smaller team investment and maybe on a minor league or very low-dollar contract he is worth a look by the Orioles.
He is 9-4 with a 3.81 career ERA in 20 games against Baltimore. That includes a 3-4 record and 4.50 ERA at Oriole Park.
Trevor Cahill: The right-hander could be another one-year option for the Orioles. He was signed in December to a one-year deal worth $9 million by the Los Angeles Angels. But he didn’t provide the starting pitching they were hoping for.
In 37 games (just 11 as a starter), he went 4-9 with an ERA of 5.98 for the Angels. Over 102 1/3 innings, he allowed 111 hits, including 25 home runs. He posted a WHIP of 1.466, but his homer rate was an alarming 2.2 per nine innings. That was way above his solid career rate of 1.0 per nine.
Cahill, who be 32 on opening day 2020, went 2-5 with an ERA of 6.92 in his 11 starts. In his 26 games out of the bullpen, he was 2-4 with a 4.96 ERA.
Like Estrada, he had a good run over the last few seasons. From 2016-2018, he went 15-11 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.1 homers/nine with a WHIP of 1.352. In those three seasons, he made 92 appearances, 35 as a starter.
At one time, he was a pitcher with a formidable sinker and strong groundball rates, but they have slipped. His sinker usage dropped from 54 percent in 2015 to 40 percent two years later and to 28 percent last season. In 2018, he featured a solid 53.4 percent groundball rate, but that dipped to 45.9 percent last season. That is still a much better grounder rate than Dylan Bundy and John Means produced last season.
Cahill has pitched for Oakland, Arizona, Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs, San Diego, Kansas City and the Angels. He figures to add to that list this winter.
How much will his ERA and homer rate from 2019 bring down his price? Would it be enough to interest the Orioles on a one-year deal?