Free agency previews: This month, Paul Mancano will profile free agents who might be of interest to the Orioles at each position group.

On Jan. 26, general manager Mike Elias, in need of a left-hander to fill out the Orioles’ rotation, traded infield prospect Darell Hernaiz to Oakland for veteran starter Cole Irvin.

Three starts into his 2023 season, Irvin was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Less than 10 months later, the Orioles are again in need of a lefty. Irvin eventually settled in and pitched well out of the bullpen, but he failed to make the Orioles’ playoff roster.

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After recovering from Tommy John surgery, former All-Star John Means made his season debut in September but missed the postseason with elbow soreness.

DL Hall and prospect Cade Povich could be given opportunities to crack the rotation out of spring training, but Hall has proven to be an effective reliever and Povich struggled after being promoted to Norfolk in July.

Fortunately for Elias, there are several quality left-handers scheduled to hit free agency. Here are six who would make sense for the Orioles.

Jordan Montgomery, 30, has a career ERA of 3.68 and WHIP of 1.21 in 755 innings. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Jordan Montgomery

The Yankees blundered by dealing Montgomery to the Cardinals for outfielder Harrison Bader in 2022, as the veteran has produced a 3.17 ERA in 43 regular-season starts since the trade. Now he’s starring for the Rangers in the postseason, with his only real hiccup of October coming in a Game 2 start at Camden Yards in the American League Division Series.

With a devastating sinker and excellent command of the strike zone, Montgomery will be at the top of several teams’ wish lists. The 30-year-old is ineligible to receive the $20.5 million qualifying offer from Texas, meaning there will be no draft pick penalty for the team that signs him. If the O’s intend to be players at the top of the market, Montgomery would be a perfect fit at or near the front of the rotation.

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James Paxton, 34, has not pitched 100 innings in a season since 2019. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

James Paxton

For the first seven years of his career, Paxton performed like one of the better lefties in the game, pitching to a 3.50 ERA with the Mariners and Yankees. But injuries eventually caught up with him, limiting the lefty to just six starts from 2020 to 2022.

Paxton finally looked like a serviceable starter again in 2023, putting up a 4.50 ERA in 19 appearances with the Red Sox. Many of his advanced statistics were above average — Statcast placed him in the 64th percentile in expected ERA — and his fastball hovered around 95 mph. Paxton represents a high-risk, high-reward option.

Eduardo Rodriguez, 30, has 1,107 strikeouts in 1,100 1/3 career innings. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Eduardo Rodriguez

In the middle of his terrific 2023 season with the Tigers, Rodriguez appeared headed for the National League West-leading Dodgers. Instead, the 30-year-old exercised his no-trade clause, choosing to finish the season in Detroit. Now, Rodriguez has another decision to make: whether to opt out of the three years and $49 million left on his contract.

Rodriguez’s 3.30 ERA this season was his lowest since 2019, when he earned Cy Young votes with the Red Sox. The Venezuela native and former Orioles farmhand keeps the ball in the ballpark, allowing just 1.1 home runs per nine innings over his eight-year career. That kind of profile would play well in front of the massive left field wall at Camden Yards.

Martín Pérez, 32, was an All-Star in 2022, but his production fell off this season. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Martín Pérez

Pérez was a durable but unspectacular starter with the Rangers, Twins and Red Sox for the first 10 years of his career. Then, after signing a $4 million deal to return to Texas in 2022, the veteran broke out for a 2.89 ERA in almost 200 innings. But Pérez came back to earth this season, falling out of the Rangers’ rotation after the trade deadline.

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What changed? The 32-year-old’s cutter, which flummoxed batters in 2022, reverted to a hittable offering in 2023, producing a .342 batting average against. Perhaps director of pitching Chris Holt could help Pérez rediscover the pitch. In addition, Pérez’s tendency to produce ground balls could work well with Baltimore’s stellar defense.

Hyun Jin Ryu led the American League with a 2.32 ERA in 2019, when he was second in Cy Young Award voting. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Hyun Jin Ryu

After finishing third in the American League Cy Young race in the abbreviated 2020 season, Ryu struggled over the final three years of his $80 million contract with the Blue Jays, pitching to a 4.31 ERA. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022, then was left off Toronto’s playoff roster this year.

Ryu has never boasted a blistering fastball, rarely topping 91 mph. The South Korea native has promised to finish his career with the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO League, where he played his first seven years as a professional. At 36, Ryu may be deciding between a big league contract and returning home this winter.

Blake Snell, 31, was 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA for the Rays in 2018. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Blake Snell

Excluding Shohei Ohtani, who likely won’t pitch in 2024, Snell is the crown jewel of this free agent starting pitcher class. Leading all qualified pitchers in ERA (2.25) and batting average against (.181), he’s the favorite to win his second Cy Young Award.

Snell, who will turn 31 in December, compares favorably to Carlos Rodón, another lefty who netted a six-year, $162 million contract from the Yankees last offseason. Snell is a lock to receive the qualifying offer, and the Orioles, who are revenue-sharing recipients, would be docked their third-highest pick in the 2024 draft by signing him. That might make Elias, who has built a contender from high draft picks, uneasy about signing him.

paul.mancano@thebaltimorebanner.com

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