The Orioles are known to be on the hunt for multiple starting pitchers this offseason — possibly as many as three — and MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko writes that the team has “definite” interest in righty Andrew Cashner and southpaw Jason Vargas. GM Dan Duquette has suggested in recent weeks that he’d prefer to add at least one lefty to his rotation, and Vargas would accomplish that goal.
Neither Cashner nor Vargas are among the top tier of free-agent starters, though it’s long seemed unlikely that the O’s would play at the top of the market. Given the team’s sizable needs in the rotation behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, the Orioles will most likely have to add multiple arms from the second and third tiers of free-agent starters to fill out the starting five. Starting pitching, of course, is hardly Baltimore’s only need. The O’s could also very well take a look at some depth options in both the infield and the outfield, as they currently project to rely heavily upon a host of young and/or unproven assets (e.g. Tim Beckham at shortstop, Trey Mancini and Austin Hays in the outfield corners).
Baltimore currently has nearly $62MM committed to just four players in 2018: first baseman Chris Davis, center fielder Adam Jones, DH Mark Trumbo and setup man Darren O’Day. The payroll is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to balloon by another $55.1MM following a sizable slate of arbitration raises to another seven players, highlighted by Manny Machado and Zach Britton. In all, the O’s look to be on the hook for just under $127MM in 2018 before so much as spending a single penny this winter.
Assuming the payroll won’t expand too far beyond the $164MM mark at which the Orioles entered the 2017 season, that’d leave Baltimore with roughly $35-40MM to spend on new salary for the 2018 campaign. That’s not an insignificant amount of funds, to be sure, but that money will go quickly if the O’s truly intend to add three new starters and deepen their pool of position players.
Neither Cashner nor Vargas figures to break the bank, so to speak. We pegged Cashner for a two-year, $20MM contract on last week’s top 50 free-agent list and projected a one-year, $10MM pact for Vargas on the heels of a poor finish to the 2017 season. Generally speaking, it’d be a surprise to see either command more than a $12MM annual commitment in free agency, and the O’s could certainly backload any multi-year deals issued to free agents in an effort to defer some of the dollars to 2019, when some combination of Machado, Britton and Jones will all likely be off the books.
Of course, the fact that so many key Orioles contributors are just one year from the open market will play into the offseason calculus as well. The Orioles have to be cognizant of the fact that if the season goes south early on in the 2018 campaign, they’ll be faced with the unpleasant notion of having to listen to offers on longtime stars like Machado, Britton and Jones.
With that possibility looming, the team may not wish to commit to lengthy multi-year deals in free agency this winter. Speaking from a purely speculative standpoint, shorter-term deals that would allow the club to pivot in the event of a poor start to the year could be more desirable than locking in a mid-rotation arm like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb on a three- or four-year pact that could prove more difficult to move.
Cashner, 31, gave the Rangers 166 2/3 innings of 3.40 ERA ball but did so with one of baseball’s worst strikeout rates (4.6 K/9) and a lackluster walk rate (3.5 BB/9). Fielding-independent ERA alternatives like FIP (4.61), xFIP (5.30) and SIERA (5.52) were all considerably more bearish on his 2017 output.
The 35-year-old Vargas turned in an All-Star first half in 2017, though the 2.22 ERA he carried through the end of June was buoyed by an unsustainable 86 percent strand rate. Vargas’ control slipped in the season’s final three months (3.9 BB/9), and his BABIP and strand rate regressed (substantially so in the case of the latter), leading to a bloated 6.66 ERA in the final three months of the 2017 campaign.