During the Winter Meetings, it was reported that the Baltimore Orioles opened a dialogue with Chris Tillman’s agents regarding a possible contract extension. Should the Orioles move aggressively to get a deal done?
In 2008, the Baltimore Orioles acquired Chris Tillman in what has become one of the most fruitful trades in Orioles history. The Orioles traded Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for pitching prospects Kam Mickolio, Tony Butler and Tillman. The Orioles also received reliever George Sherrill and outfield prospect Adam Jones. At the time, Tillman was ranked the 67th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. Adam Jones had been ranked as high as the 28th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America as recently as 2006. Little did we know at the time that the Orioles had pulled off a coup.
Tillman immediately showed signs of dominance in the Orioles minor league system. In 2008, he went 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA in Bowie, striking out 10.22 batters per 9 innings. In 2007, he went 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA in Norfolk. He also had a cup of coffee with the big league club in 2009 going 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA. After splitting time between the big league and minor league clubs from from 2010 through 2012, Tillman finally became a rotation fixture in mid-2012. He was absolutely dominant for the playoff-bound Birds, going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA. In 86 innings, he only yielded 66 hits. Only his lack of experience kept him from pitching in the 2012 playoffs.
Since 2012, Chris Tillman has pitched to a record of 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA. In 844 2/3 innings, he has yielded 77 hits with 288 walks and 655 strikeouts. Tillman ranks 13th in Baltimore Orioles all-time win leaders and would climb to 10th place with an 8 win season in 2017. He has the 5th highest win percentage in Orioles history for a pitcher throwing more than 1,000 innings. His strikeout rate per 9 innings is second to only Mike Mussina for pitchers throwing more than 1,000 innings. There is no doubt, Chris Tillman has been a major contributor to the Baltimore Orioles.
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So as Dan Duquette approaches contract extension discussions, how much and how far will theOrioles be willing to go? The Orioles 4-year, $50M contact with Ubaldo Jimenez was the largest deal ever given to a Baltimore Orioles pitcher. To retain Tillman, the Orioles will have to go much higher. Tillman’s agents will certainly cite some of the facts above as they try to push a long-term deal for Tillman.
Some recent pitcher contract comparisons will include the likes of Homer Bailey (6-year, $105M) and Rick Porcello (4-year, $82M). Would the Orioles go this high – maybe 5 years and $90M? We will see. If the Orioles truly believe in growing the pitchers, they should lock him up for 4 or 5 years and pay the $70M – $90M. The Orioles will face some other roster questions after the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Having a stable starting staff would go a long way to maintaining a competitive team.
If Tillman enters free agency, he will do so with starting pitching company as Jake Arrieta, Clay Buchholz, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish, Danny Duffy and Gio Gonzalez will also be free agents at year’s end. Considering this year’s starting pitching market wasn’t laden with talent, next year’s market could be very beneficial to Tillman and the other starting pitchers who are free agents.
Chris Tillman did have some injuries pop up in 2016 which are a little concerning, but he will only be 29 at the end of the 2017 season. I expect Tillman to have a big 2017 season. He started off very strong in 2016 but slowed towards the end of the year. If I’m Dan Duquette, I float a 4-year, $70M offer to Tillman. Duquette should try to get this wrapped up before spring training.
While Chris Tillman may have less raw talent than Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, he is consistent and will slot in nicely as a top of the rotation starter for several years.