12:55pm: The Orioles confirmed that Lyles’ option has indeed been declined.
Despite coming off a pair of rough seasons in Texas, Lyles landed a surprisingly strong $7MM guarantee with Baltimore just prior to the league’s implementation of last winter’s 99-day lockout. The veteran righty, who just turned 32 a couple weeks ago, gave the O’s everything they could’ve reasonably hoped for and generally succeeded in turning that modest investment into a bargain.
Through a team-high 179 innings, Lyles posted a 4.42 ERA with an 18.6% strikeout rate, a strong 6.7% walk rate and a 40.2% ground-ball rate. The innings were particularly vital for a Baltimore club that was generally relying on young, unproven arms who cycled through the other four rotation spots behind Lyles. The stability he provided the team every fifth day both helped to spare the bullpen and to more effectively manage some of the workloads of an otherwise largely untested group of rotation candidates.
As MLBTR’s Anthony Franco explored recently, that steadying performance gave the team genuine cause to contemplate picking up Lyles’ option. While a net $10MM commitment (when accounting for the buyout) in the first week of the offseason would be aggressive for a pitcher who’s typically been more of a back-of-the-rotation arm, the O’s are still lacking in rotation certainty and have already pledged to increase payroll in 2023. Doling out a one-year pact to a veteran righty who drew heaps from a young staff that considered him a mentor and clubhouse leader might’ve been a defensible decision — particularly if Lyles were able to replicate his 2022 performance.
Instead, Lyles will return to the open market, likely in search of a multi-year commitment this time around. It stands to reason that, after landing a $7MM guarantee on the heels of a pair of dismal seasons with the Rangers, he might indeed be able to land a two-year deal with a vastly better performance now under his belt. It’s also possible that Lyles could yet return to the O’s — perhaps at a lower annual rate. Nathan Ruiz of the Baltimore Sun tweets that the Orioles issued a statement that while they preferred to let the pitching market develop rather than exercise Lyles’ option at this time, they’ll remain in touch with him and will not rule out a return at a later date.
Though he’s just 32 years old, Lyles already has more than 11 years of Major League service time under his belt. Selected by the Astros with the No. 38 overall pick back in 2008, he ranked among the sport’s top pitching prospects during his minor league days and ascended to the Majors before he’d even turned 21. It’s arguable that the ’Stros rushed him to the Majors, as he never really found his footing early on and still has a career track record featuring more valleys than peaks.
Still, Lyles had success with the Padres in 2018, with the Brewers in 2018-19, and now with the Orioles in 2022. He’s been a durable source of solid innings for the bulk of the past five seasons, which should make him an appealing option for teams that, as the 2022 Orioles were, are on the lookout for a veteran rotation stabilizer with a good chance to make 30-plus starts and generally keep the team in the game. That may not sound like a glamorous role, but average innings have value — and teams pay for them every offseason.