Yesterday I asked Birdland what Santa should be leaving for the Baltimore Orioles under the tree. My personal opinion was – and still is – that starting pitching should be their main priority. I would submit that the O’s already have the bats necessary to compete. Does that mean that there isn’t a hole here or there in the order? No, but that’s true of most teams. I’m just saying that their #1 priority should be starting pitching. Interestingly however, a reader tweeted me yesterday and said that their priority should be (in his opinion) a #1 AND #2 starter. Where does that in theory leave Chris Tillman?
Tillman showed flashes of promise in his first few starts in the majors, however he also struggled as he got settled. The fact that the franchise seemed to flail in the wind a bit at that time didn’t help either. However that aside, the Orioles to their credit stuck with him. He really seemed to find himself after spending the first half of 2012 in the minors working with Rick Peterson in Norfolk. He was called up to the Orioles on the 4th of July that year to pitch at Seattle, and has never looked back (save for being sent back down immediately following the game so as to keep him on his normal five-day schedule during the MLB all-star game). Tillman has become one of the biggest bright spots for the O’s in Buck Showalter‘s tenure, which is a good thing because they’re burned through all of his minor league options at this point!
I would agree that Tillman isn’t a true #1 starter – yet. Having said that, for the time being he’s probably the staff ace through process of elimination. However Tillman is a guy who could definitely morph into a #1 starter if he keeps up his current progression. But I do think he’s a great #2 starter for the Orioles, if they can find someone else to anchor the rotation that is. So who’s out there? The O’s have been talking to A.J. Burnett for a few weeks, and he’s apparently attempting to decide if he wants to play in 2014 – or retire. Ervin Santana is also still a free agent, although signing him would make the Orioles forfeit their 2014 first round draft pick. Matt Garza is also still out there, as is Barry Zito. Then there’s the newest prodigy out of Japan, Masahiro Tanaka, however that would force the Orioles to pay the $20 million posting fee to his Japanese club. Speaking for myself, I think that whole system is ridiculous and I don’t think it’s worth the Orioles taking the risk of wasting $20 million (on top of whatever they end up having to pay Tanaka in salary) for a guy that’s never played an MLB game.
Of course some might question if any of those guys are true #1 starters. If you ask that question, you’re bringing up a good point. However the fact is that they’re veterans that will help to anchor this Orioles’ rotation. The O’s go into 2014 with Tillman, Norris, Gonzalez, and Chen as would-be starters. While Buck Showalter will publically say that all remains to be seen through spring training, I would say that most of those names are givens unless they royally screw the pooch. So could the Orioles not slide the likes of Garza, Burnett, or one of the the rest of them in front of those names?
In closing, some folks will probably question what I said above about Masahiro Tanaka. Why not take a risk? That’s what winners do! Be that as it may, I once again will say that you have to take calculated risks. Signing someone such as Kendrys Morales as a DH is a calculated risk (which incidentally wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Orioles to consider). In fact, signing Vladimir Guerrero in 2011 was a calculated risk (that didn’t work out quite as the Orioles wished). Posting $20 million for the right to negotiate a contract (that will undoubtedly be through the roof) with Tanaka is throwing money away in my view. Furthermore, if there’s one thing MLB teams have learned about pitchers from the Japanese league, it’s that they don’t have as much endurance as MLB pitchers. Due to the fact that they pitch every seven days in Japan (as opposed to every five), many pitchers out of the Japanese league tire after five innings or so. That makes for a tired bullpen, which makes for blown saves and losses. I think the O’s will sign someone, it’s just a matter of who and when.