The Baltimore Orioles lack a true ace entering the 2022-2023 offseason. The Orioles have some top pitching prospects who are ready to make an impact, as well as a handful of breakout players who can fill out the rotation. But who should the club target in the offseason to lead the pitching staff in 2023? Which pitchers best fit the blueprint Mike Elias and company have laid out? Here are five targets the Orioles could acquire, either in free agency or via trade:
5. Jacob deGrom, FA
To even suggest Jacob deGrom signing with the Baltimore Orioles feels weird, yet rumors are already heating up that the Orioles could be in on him. Whether deGrom would sign here is a different question, but the Orioles have the available cash to convince him.
Despite pitching just 224.1 innings over the past three seasons, deGrom remains one of the best pitchers in baseball, averaging a 2.05 ERA, 1.80 FIP, and 14.1 K/9 in those seasons. At 34, deGrom is still averaging 98.9 MPH on his fastball, and he’s become one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. He got beat by Home Runs quite a bit in 2022, but his 17.0 HR/FB% is well above league-average and is due for some regression.
Could Jacob deGrom be a realistic starting pitching option for the Baltimore Orioles this offseason?
deGrom is absolutely worth mentioning, because when he’s on the mound, no one pitches better than him. The problem with deGrom is that I have to say “when he’s on the mound.” Sadly, deGrom is becoming less reliable each year as he’s been unable to stay healthy. 12 starts in 2020 was great for the shortened season, but he’s only started 15 and 11 games in the past two seasons. deGrom looked good in his one postseason start this year, though, tossing 6.0 innings and allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8.
Further issues with deGrom include his potential contract. Max Scherzer’s 2yr/$86.7M. set the bar high for deGrom, who could add on an extra year to that contract. I’m thinking something like 3yr/$115M at least for deGrom, and he’ll have plenty of suitors who might be willing to give him that. He’s worth mentioning as he’s the best pitcher on this list, but the Orioles might want to avoid risking the rebuild on a regrettable contract.
4. Chris Bassitt, FA
A much more underwhelming pick, Bassitt makes more sense for the Orioles than deGrom. He’s a year younger and could get an extra year, and he could still sign for less than $50MM of what deGrom signs for.
Bassitt has become a solid, reliable starting pitcher for the Athletics and Mets over the past four seasons. He’s started 93 games, throwing 546.0 IP with a 3.31 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 8.6 K/9 while receiving Cy Young votes in 2020 and 2021. He was a key part of the Mets’ success this year; he was 3rd in the rotation in ERA, but he led the pitching staff in innings pitched.
Some might say consistency is really Bassitt’s strength, and he’s more of an above-average, middle-of-the-rotation arm than an ace. This is probably true. He strikes out fewer than one batter per inning, his ERA has been increasing for the past two seasons, and he doesn’t have much velocity or swing-and-miss stuff. He’s much more than an innings eater, but relying on Chris Bassitt in a win-or-go-home playoff game would not be ideal.
Still, Bassitt would be far cheaper than deGrom, and he doesn’t have the same injury history as deGrom. He only started 30 games in 2022, but he would have led the Orioles in innings pitched. Bassitt could make sense for the Orioles if they choose to invest heavily elsewhere in free agency, or if they believe Grayson Rodriguez could become the ace within the next year.
3. Shane Bieber, CLE
What if the Orioles choose to look at the trade market for their next ace? Enter Shane Bieber. Bieber is two years away from free agency, so it’s time for the Guardians to commit to their ace, or trade him while his price is high.
2022 was a down year for Bieber. His 25.0 K% (8.9 K/9) was his lowest since 2018. It came with a career-low 4.6 BB% (1.6 BB/9), so it wasn’t all bad. His fastball velocity falling from 92.9 MPH to 91.5 MPH is maybe the most concerning part of his season, especially after he peaked with an average velocity of 94.3 MPH in 2020.
Despite the disappointing metrics, the results were there for Bieber. He threw 200.0 innings with a 2.88 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 1.040 WHIP, and a slash line of .230/.266/.347. Bieber is still producing like an ace, and maybe it’s the perfect time to buy during the dip in price in hopes that the 27-year-old can figure himself out.
Bieber would still be pretty expensive, and could require a package centered around both Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg. Would the front office be willing to part with multiple top-80 prospects, rather than looking to free agency? At some point, the Orioles’ depth in prospects will lead to big trades, but now might not be the time.
2. Pablo Lopez, MIA
The number one trade target for the Baltimore Orioles should be Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez. Not even the ace of his own team, the Marlins should be willing to part with Lopez for the right price.
Lopez regressed in 2022 after back-to-back incredible seasons, but that makes this the perfect time to buy. Lopez posted a 3.75 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 2.7 BB/9, and 8.7 K/9 across 180.0 IP. In 31 starts between 2020 and 2021, however, he posted a 3.26 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 9.5 K/9 – much closer to #1 starter stats.
Of potentially available SP options, there is arguably no better fit for the Baltimore Orioles than Pablo Lopez.
In every possible way, Lopez regressed in 2022. Batters hit .234/.296/.404 against him, he walked more hitters, struck out fewer, and got hit harder. His 2022 season is on the level of a #3 or #4 starter, but if 2022 was just a mirage and he can return to 2021 form, the Orioles can acquire an ace below market value.
A possible trade for Lopez could be centered around Austin Hays and an infield prospect, such as Jordan Westburg or Coby Mayo. Hays is becoming an odd man out in the outfield, while the Marlins failed to find any value in their outfield last season. Include a top-10 prospect and a few mid-level prospects, and the Orioles have found their new ace.
1. Carlos Rodon, FA
Rodon would be the most ideal pitcher – he recovered to a near healthy 2022 season after only starting 24 games in 2021, and he might even be a better pitcher than deGrom.
This season, Rodon posted a 2.88 ERA, 2.25 FIP, 2.6 BB/9, and 12.0 K/9 over 31 starts and 178.0 IP. It’s not crazy to consider him a better pitcher than deGrom, especially given that he’s been a healthier pitcher. Consistency was key after breaking out in 2021, and Rodon has shown that he’s more than a one-year wonder.
If there was a complaint to be made for Rodon, it’s that he gets hit a bit hard (30th percentile Hard Hit%). That doesn’t really hurt his HR/9 (0.6) or his xWOBA (92nd percentile). The results are there, and it feels like a nitpick to even point out the hard hit rate.
Rodon will probably be expensive, but he’ll command a lower AAV for more years than deGrom. Kevin Gausman’s 5yr/$110MM is and Robbie Ray’s 5yr$115MM contracts from the 2022 offseason are probably the model for a Rodon contract, maybe something like 5yr$125MM. Rodon is the frontline ace the Baltimore Orioles need. The only issue, however, is whether ownership is ready to invest a large amount of money into just one guy.