Baltimore Orioles Buy Low, Sign Starting Pitcher Nate Karns

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CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Starting pitcher Nathan Karns #55 of the Kansas City Royals delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 26, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 26: Starting pitcher Nathan Karns #55 of the Kansas City Royals delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 26, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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The Baltimore Orioles have inked their first major league free agent signing.

Per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the Baltimore Orioles have signed free agent right-handed pitcher Nate Karns to a one-year deal worth $800,000, including up to $200,000 in incentives. Both MASN.com’s Roch Kubatko and The Athletic’s Dan Connoly have confirmed the report, meaning the Orioles have themselves their first major league free agent signing.

Karns hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since early 2017, however, this is an excellent buy-low free agent signing who could provide good value to the Baltimore Orioles. With the top of the rotation seemingly set and consisting of Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, and Andrew Cashner (no particular order), the final two spots are up for grabs, with a heavy competition expected between a long list of unproven rookie and second-year arms.

We knew the Orioles wouldn’t be involved in any big-name free agents, instead relying on one-year deal candidates who can help fill out the major league roster and provide competition for the younger players currently on the roster.

With a bounce-back season, Karns can be a valuable innings-eater for the Orioles and become attractive to playoff contenders, come the trade deadline.

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Karns’ best season came in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays, in which he started 26 games, recording a 7-5 record and a 3.67 ERA. Since then, multiple injuries have limited his time on the mound, including thoracic outlet surgery which ended his 2017 season with the Kansas City Royals after just eight starts.

Elbow inflammation caused him to miss all of the 2018 season, delaying his return to the mound. Karns refused an assignment to the minors this offseason and instead elected free agency ahead of his age-31 season. The righty should now be healthy and ready to enter the rotation competition down in Sarasota.

Before going under the knife in 2017, Karns was striking out a career-high 27% of hitters, walking a career-low 7% of opponents, and stranding more than 80% of baserunners who reached base. Over his final four starts, Karns surrendered just five earned runs on 17 hits while striking out 32 and walking four. Despite having up-and-down results since becoming a major leaguer, when Karns is on, as seen above, he’s spot on.

One thing to really like about Karns, his curveball. Opponents hit just .169 and slugged a minuscule .268 against the pitch. It also produced a whiff rate of 48%, per Baseball Savant. If his curveball is still on, the groundball rate remains high, and he can continue to produce swings and misses, this Nate Karns signing might just turn out to be a fantastic one for the Baltimore Orioles.

Update: Per Roch Kubatko, the Orioles have designated Jack Reinheimer for assignment to make room on the 40-man for Karns.

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