Baltimore Orioles Winter Meetings Shopping List: Starting Pitching
As the Baltimore Orioles head west for the Winter Meetings, starting pitching should be at the top of their shopping list, especially now that they have to replace Dylan Bundy.
If you thought the 2019 Baltimore Orioles were bad, just wait until you get a look at the 2020 team. We’re starting to see some of those “unpopular” decisions Orioles general manager Mike Elias mentioned numerous times since the start of the offseason, but they are all part of the bigger picture and long-term success of the franchise so we don’t have to go through this again for a long while.
For now, it means a 2020 season that will be difficult to watch. Orioles hitters combined for 6.4 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs, in 2019. Only the Miami Marlins (2.6) and Detroit Tigers (-2.6) were worse than the Orioles. The trading of Jonathan Villar for a minor league pitcher after the Thanksgiving holiday subtracts 4.0 fWAR from their 2019 total and leaves a major void on the roster.
As for the pitching staff, it’s not getting any prettier. Orioles pitchers combined for a league-worst 5.5 fWAR last season and recently traded Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for four minor league pitchers. Bundy was worth 2.5 fWAR in 2019, good for second on the roster behind John Means (3.0).
So, where does this leave the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation? It was a bit of a disaster before they traded Dylan Bundy. Now, it’s likely to be pieced together by waiver claims, aging veterans looking to rebound from an injury, and fringe major leaguers signed to minor league deals throughout the winter and brought into camp during spring training to fight for a rotation spot.
If you’re thinking this means we see a prospect or two break camp with the team after a good spring training, you may want to think again. Even with a solid spring, I don’t see Keegan Akin making the major leagues until later in the season. Dean Kremer pitched just 19 innings in Triple-A last season and could wind up being the most valuable return in the Manny Machado trade with Los Angeles in 2018. There’s no way he’s being rushed into the major league rotation.
Bruce Zimmermann isn’t a Top 30 prospect and doesn’t figure to be a starter at the major league level, but even then, he seems like a mid-summer call-up to work out of the pen. Anyone who didn’t pitch above Double-A (Zac Lowther, Alex Wells, Michael Baumann, etc) are definitely not breaking camp with the team, meaning Mike Elias has some work to do to finish forming his starting rotation.
Dylan Bundy led the Orioles in innings pitched with 161.2, while Gabriel Ynoa logged the third-most innings (110.2) and is now in Japan. Of the top six Orioles in innings pitched, three are gone (Andrew Cashner being the other) and one of those pitchers is David Hess and his 3.15 HR/9 IP. That’s a lot of innings that need to be replaced.
As we head into the Winter Meetings, 2019 All-Star LHP John Means is the top returning starter for the Baltimore Orioles (12-11, 3.60 ERA) and the way too early favorite to start on Opening Day. It’s also safe to use a pen to write in Asher Wojciechowski‘s (4-8, 4.92 ERA) name in the starting rotation.
Assuming Alex Cobb is healthy, he gets a rotation spot. However, since signing a four-year/$57 million deal with Baltimore before the 2018 season, Cobb has made just 31 starts and is 5-17 with a 5.36 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and the lowest strikeout numbers of his career. The Orioles desperately need Cobb to be healthy in 2020.
Until some of these pitching prospects in the upper-minors begin to make their debut later in the summer, who rounds out the rotation?
David Hess made 14 starts in 2019, but went 1-10 with a 7.09 ERA, a 7.26 FIP, and was on a record-setting pace for home runs allowed. The only other pitcher on the 40-man roster who made a start for the Baltimore Orioles last season was Richard Bleier. Everyone else has either left the organization or was outrighted to Triple-A at the start of the offseason.
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We have discussed plenty of veteran options for the Orioles to consider (links to each of these articles can be found here), including LHP Robbie Erlin, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, and a few recently non-tendered pitchers (former San Diego Padres pitcher Miguel Diaz was on this list, but the Padres re-signed him to a minor league deal).
But are the Orioles interested in lower-tier free agents such as these arms or should we be setting our sights even lower and hoping at least one minor league free agent catches on in 2020?
Either way, the road to a rotation of Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and others is a long and tumultuous journey. Put your seatbelt on and hang on tight.