Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching Help Is Still Available
By Nick Stevens
The Baltimore Orioles could still add helpful veteran starting pitchers to the mix for 2020.
Well, yesterday was quite a day for news around Major League Baseball, to say the least. While the Houston Astros were subject to the league laying down the hammer in response to their investigation into cheating, the Baltimore Orioles signed catcher Bryan Holaday to add veteran depth to the organization.
We also can’t forget that RHP Eric Hanhold cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday afternoon. What a whirlwind of a day.
In all seriousness, no current members of the Baltimore Orioles front office were mentioned in any of the reports released by Major League Baseball, meaning Mike Elias and others who came over from the Astros in the organization are in the clear. With that bullet dodged, we can get back to talking about the rest of the Orioles offseason.
After initial grumblings in response to moving Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy earlier this winter, the Orioles gave fans something they can get excited about in shortstop Jose Iglesias. A high-quality defender to stabilize the infield defense and help out a young pitching staff, all while making a few highlight-reel plays, will provide a few bright spots in an otherwise long season ahead for Baltimore.
As we have mentioned before, the Orioles must replace more than 20% of innings pitched last season with the departure of Bundy (161.2 IP), Gabriel Ynoa (110.2), and Aaron Brooks (59.2 IP). Bundy and Ynoa were two of only three pitchers who logged more than 100 innings last season, with John Means being the other.
The plan isn’t to win in 2020, we all know that, but Brandon Hyde‘s pitching staff will still have to get through 162 games this season. Former first-round pick Kohl Stewart was signed a few weeks ago, but there’s no guarantee he makes the Opening Day roster. He’s made just 17 appearances at the big league level in his career, logging a 4.79 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 62 IP.
There has also been a lot of talk about the rookies, but Mike Elias hasn’t been eager to move prospects up a level until they are fully ready. LHP Keegan Akin is about as ready as he is going to be, but others like Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, and Michael Baumann, to name a few, will need more experience in AAA before getting the call.
Adding one or two more veteran starters wouldn’t be a bad idea. All signs point to Means regressing a bit in 2020, Asher Wojciechowski logged more than 160 innings between AAA and the bigs after throwing more than 100 IP in a season just one other time since 2015. He had his bright moments, but can he go a full season? Alex Cobb is also still around, but how healthy is he?
Quality pitching help is still available out there in free agency to help act as a bridge to these pitching prospects close to cracking the big leagues. I didn’t say high-quality, but veterans who have had success in the majors, don’t come with high price tags, and can log some innings for a year without breaking the bank or blocking anyone.
We have already taken a deeper look at a few of those options. LHP Robbie Erlin is someone who I came to enjoy during the year I covered the San Diego Padres system. His career 0.98 HR/9 IP rate and 4.8% walk rate are both attractive (our deeper dive can be read here).
Andrew Cashner‘s name has been thrown out there by a few different publications, ourselves included. In a poll we ran, 75% of respondents said they wouldn’t mind a reunion with Cashner and I agree with the voters. It’s difficult to imagine that he replicates the success he had in Baltimore in 2019 before being traded to Boston, but we’re not looking for All-Star level pitchers here.
Another option I’m personally fond of is RHP Jhoulys Chacin. As we discussed here a few months ago, Chacin had a tough year with Milwaukee and Boston last season, but from 2016-2018, he was worth 6.5 fWAR, including a career-year in 2018 that saw him go 15-8 with a 3.50 ERA. He’s also been reliable in keeping the ball in the yard, posting a career home run rate of 0.96/9 IP across more than 1,300 major league innings.
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Veterans like Wade LeBlanc, Drew Smyly and Trevor Cahill aren’t the most attractive options, but LeBlanc was worth 1.6 fWAR as recently as 2018, Smyly is a bounce-back candidate who could pile up the strikeouts, and Cahill (who led the Angels rotation with 102 IP), is a groundball pitcher who can eat innings. All three are guys who could help get the Orioles to the trade deadline and be flipped in an Andrew Cashner type deal, followed by bringing up a name like Kremer to take their spot in the rotation.
Collin McHugh brings some injury concerns, but could very well have the highest ceiling among all of the options discussed. His price tag may run upwards of $5+ a year, but if Elias believes in the upside, he could be worth a look. From 2014-2016, McHugh was worth just north of 9.0 Wins Above Replacement.
I want to see the rookies, but I want to see them when they are ready. Adding a veteran or two won’t add much, if anything, to the win total, but it would make me feel a bit more confident in the development of the rest of the staff.