Should the Orioles work to bring in this free agent starting pitcher?

Is this starting pitcher enough of an upgrade to the Orioles rotation?
Sep 23, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) pitches during a game at Wrigley Field
Sep 23, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) pitches during a game at Wrigley Field / Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
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Coming into this off-season, the Orioles stated goal was to improve their starting rotation. We have entered January, and the Orioles' rotation has not yet improved. Sound familiar?

The 2023-24 offseason is playing out very similarly to the 2022-23 offseason. Statements about improving the rotation have rung hollow thus far, just as they did last offseason. While the Orioles did add Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, neither addition made a significant difference, while Gibson essentially replaced the departing Jordan Lyles. The Orioles' lone acquisition thus far is the signing of closer Craig Kimbrel, which, while nice in a vacuum, is simply a one-year replacement for the superior Felix Bautista.

But the lack of moves has not stopped the Orioles from being mentioned as suitors for available starting pitchers such as Jesus Luzardo, Dylan Cease and Framber Valdez. Now, the Orioles are being mentioned with another starter: veteran right-hander Marcus Stroman.

Marcus Stroman
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

MLB.com recently ran an article identifying the top remaining free agents and choosing a team who is the best fit for each player. When it came to Marcus Stroman, the article stated:

"The Orioles seem well-positioned to use some of their extensive prospect depth to trade for White Sox ace Dylan Cease, but if a deal doesn’t come to fruition soon, pivoting to a high-floor option such as Stroman in free agency would be a wise move. Stroman could slot into the O’s rotation behind Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, effectively replacing the departed Kyle Gibson and allowing the club to retain its young talent to potentially acquire an ace down the road."

Thomas Harrigan, MLB.com

Bleacher Report ran a similar article, predicting that the Orioles sign Stroman to a three year, $70 million contract.

The fit makes sense. Save for a poor 2018 season, the 32 year-old Medford, New York native has been a solid Major League starter since entering the league in 2014. His best season came in 2017 when he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and was worth 5.8 WAR.

In 2021 while with the Mets, Stroman pitched to a 3.02 ERA in a career-high-tying 33 starts and was worth 3.3 WAR. Following the 2021 season, Stroman signed a three-year, $71 million contract with the Cubs, a deal that included an opt out after year two.

Stroman's 2023 season was a bit of a mixed bag. The right-hander started hot, making the National League All-Star Team while boasting a 9-6 record and 2.96 ERA at the break. Stroman struggled with injuries following the break, missing all of August with a rib cage fracture and pitching out of the bullpen for Chicago in September. Overall, it was a solid 2023 season in which Stroman went 10-9 with a 3.95 ERA over 27 games (25 starts), Stroman predictably opted out of his contract with the hope of securing a multi-year deal.

So would Stroman at 3 years, $70M be a shrewd move for the Orioles? Yes and no.

Yes, because the Orioles clearly need to upgrade their rotation, and signing a free agent would allow the Orioles to keep their young prospects for a future deal. Yes, because the Orioles clearly need another rotation arm, with questions surrounding potential incumbents John Means (return from Tommy John), Tyler Wells (better suited in the bullpen), and Cole Irvin (ineffectiveness).

No, because it is fair to wonder how big of an upgrade Stroman is to who the Orioles currently have in-house. MLB.com predicted Stroman would slot in behind Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez. But the Orioles number three starter, Dean Kremer, went 13-5 with a 4.12 ERA and would cost a tiny fraction of what Stroman will demand in free agency.

If the decision is to sign Stroman for 3 years $70 million or fail to add anyone to the rotation, then the Orioles should sign Stroman. He would be an upgrade over the options to replace Gibson in the starting rotation. Moreover, the Orioles' team payroll is currently projected at $43,651,668, good for second to last in MLB, behind only the Oakland Athletics.

They can certainly afford to sign someone like Stroman and, presumably, be able to acquire another player or two if needed at the trade deadline. He is also better than several other starters on the market that might tempt the penny-pinching Orioles such as Michael Lorenzen, Corey Kluber (who imploded in Boston last year), or Mike Clevinger.

But, the Orioles should be looking to add a real difference maker (such as Valdez or Cease), as opposed to replacing Gibson with a slightly better pitcher. In what has been a quiet offseason, tying the Orioles to Stroman is exciting because it's better than the Orioles doing nothing. But if the Orioles want to not only return to the postseason but also make it out of the first round, their starting rotation needs an upgrade that is higher than Stroman.

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