Free agency previews: This month, Paul Mancano will profile free agents that might be of interest to the Orioles at each position group.
Poking holes in a roster fresh off a 101-win season feels persnickety, especially when all but a handful of players are slated to return. But if there’s one gaping cavity in the Orioles’ current group, it’s an ace starting pitcher.
Second-year right-hander Kyle Bradish became the most reliable member of the O’s rotation in 2023, getting the ball for Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and John Means are locked into starting roles for 2024. Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, Cole Irvin and DL Hall are also candidates for the rotation, but each comes with his own set of question marks.
General manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias pushed to have the left field wall moved back in 2022 in the hopes of attracting more free agent starting pitchers. Elias might prefer a lefty, given the wall’s unkindness towards right-handed hitters, but he may have more luck swimming in a deeper pool of righties.
Here are six right-handed starters with whom the Orioles could flirt this offseason.
How many quality starting pitchers find themselves suiting up for three different teams over the course of a season? Giolito began 2023 on the downtrodden White Sox before being dealt to the ephemerally contending Angels, then was designated for assignment and claimed by the Guardians. And he still didn’t end up on a playoff squad.
Pitching to a 4.88 ERA, the former first-round pick performed worse in each new location and hasn’t thrown like an ace since 2021. Still, Giolito won’t turn 30 until July and has tossed at least 160 innings each season since 2018, excluding the abbreviated 2020 campaign.
Elias values innings eaters — Jordan Lyles, Kyle Gibson — but he may be unwilling to give Giolito the kind of long-term deal a pitcher of his age and caliber can command.
Ten years after making his big league debut with the Athletics, Gray turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2023, posting a 2.79 ERA for the AL Central champion Twins. The 33-year-old allowed a miniscule 0.4 home runs per nine innings, the lowest rate in the sport.
With three All-Star nods and over 30 postseason innings in his career, Gray could bring the kind of veteran leadership Elias is looking for to anchor a young Orioles pitching staff. But if Gray receives the qualifying offer from the Twins — set at $20.5 million this year — the O’s likely be reticent to surrender the draft pick compensation attached to him.
If Lorenzen is the Orioles’ biggest free agent signing of the offseason, fans will be nonplussed. The former two-way player appeared in his first All-Star Game and tossed a no-hitter in 2023, but his 4.11 career ERA is just slightly better than mediocre.
The O’s were reported to be interested in Lorenzen at the trade deadline, but the 31-year-old ended up in Philadelphia, where he registered a 5.51 ERA and was used out of the bullpen in the postseason. If Elias believes Bradish and Rodriguez will be top-tier starters in 2024, Lorenzen makes sense as a fourth or fifth starter.
After serving as a reliable reliever for several years with the Mets, Lugo was given a chance to start with the Padres in 2023, and the 33-year-old took full advantage. Lugo reached a career-high for innings pitched and put up a 3.57 ERA over 26 starts on a San Diego team that fell short of the playoffs.
There is the question of whether Lugo will pick up his $7.5 million player option for the upcoming season. Given the dearth of cromulent starting pitchers on the market, this could be his opportunity to cash in.
Montas is perhaps the most fascinating free agency test case this winter. The Yankees thought they were getting a cheap, reliable starter when they dealt for him at the 2022 trade deadline. Instead, Montas struggled down the stretch, then missed almost all of the following season, mercifully making his 2023 debut in New York’s penultimate game.
Montas had his best season with the A’s in 2018, when his 3.37 ERA earned him Cy Young votes. History tells us players in Montas’ position tend to sign one-year “prove it” deals. Would Elias be willing to shell out $10 million or more, betting on the 30-year-old’s upside?
Depending on the year, Nola can look like a bona fide star or a middle-of-the-pack pitcher. The former No. 7 overall pick has received Cy Young votes in three different seasons, but his 2023 season — accompanied by a 4.46 ERA — left a lot to be desired.
Some team out there is likely to hand Nola a massive, long-term deal in the hopes of coaxing another few dominant seasons out of him. But Elias has yet to hand a free agent a guaranteed multiyear deal. Throw in the fact that Nola will almost certainly receive a qualifying offer, and this signing seems doubtful.