It’s a new year, and the Orioles have the same big-ticket item on their wish list as they did when the offseason began.
As Baltimore aims to bolster a roster that secured its first American League East championship in nearly a decade, an addition to the rotation remains unchecked. The Orioles signed right-handed reliever Craig Kimbrel at the winter meetings in Nashville last month to address one of their largest needs, but executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias emphasized that high quality rotation upgrades are “not growing on trees and it’s not easy.”
“I’m hopeful that this pitching staff will look stronger at the end of the offseason than it did a month ago,” Elias said in December, “but the way, shape or form or person that that’s coming in, I just don’t have a crystal ball right now.”
The Orioles could do with another arm to slot in around Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez at the top of the rotation.
That starter would, in theory, need to be an obvious upgrade on the stable of options already available. John Means, Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer, DL Hall and Cole Irvin are all vying for a place in a five-man rotation, too.
Here are four free agents and four potential trade targets still available a month and a half before spring training starts.
Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell
OK, there are more than four free agent options here. Pairing left-hander Jordan Montgomery and left-hander Blake Snell together in one category makes sense, because they are the indisputable top arms remaining on the market.
That also means they will each command a hefty contract — the likes of which Elias has not doled out since he arrived in Baltimore late in 2018. Elias hasn’t signed a player to a deal longer than one guaranteed year, and to nab Montgomery or Snell, it will likely take a long-term contract.
Montgomery again and again proved himself as a big-game pitcher after he was traded to the Texas Rangers, rolling through the postseason (barring the five runs he gave up against the Orioles) on the way to a World Series. He finished the regular season with a 3.20 ERA in 188 2/3 innings and was worth over four wins above replacement.
Snell, meanwhile, earned the National League Cy Young Award for his work with the San Diego Padres last season. He posted a 2.25 ERA in 180 innings, and despite elevated walk numbers, he struck out more batters than ever before in his career.
Either would be the No. 1 starter for Baltimore. What it takes to secure either one, however, might be out of the Orioles’ comfortable price range.
With Bradish and Rodriguez, the Orioles could already have two top-end arms, leaving them to improve the rotation by signing a starter who has a track record as a consistent, mid-level performer.
Marcus Stroman fits that description. He’s arguably the most intriguing name remaining on the free agent market because of his 3.95 ERA last year with the Chicago Cubs and the presumption that the right-hander, entering his age 33 season, would be available on a shorter-term contract.
Stroman is a two-time All-Star, including 2023, and he has held an ERA below 4.00 in seven of his nine seasons as a major leaguer. There’s an element of trust that comes with that consistency.
Right-hander Michael Lorenzen started his stint with the Philadelphia Phillies well — he threw a no-hitter in his second outing — but his performance tapered off after that. He gave up 23 earned runs in his next five starts and was relegated to a bullpen role the rest of the way, including the playoffs.
Any pitcher the Orioles add on a potentially pricey free agent deal needs to be one that can produce in the postseason. Lorenzen, nearing his 32nd birthday, doesn’t have a track record of postseason starts.
Right-hander Mike Clevinger has had his share of injuries, including a Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery that cost him the 2021 season. Still, as a lower-end starter, Clevinger’s 2023 season breeds some confidence. For the Chicago White Sox, he pitched to a 3.77 ERA in 131 1/3 innings — his most innings pitched since he reached 200 in 2018.
Perhaps that’s a sign the 33-year-old is back to his best and ready to provide meaningful innings on a short prove-it deal.
Although he is considered the crown jewel of the starting pitchers available on the trade market, the right-handed Dylan Cease is coming off a disappointing season. He struggled in 2023 for the White Sox with a 4.58 ERA and an ERA+ of 97 (meaning he was below average, with the advanced metric stat considering 100 league average).
But Cease, still under team control for two years, is an enticing option because of what he displayed throughout 2022, when he recorded a 2.20 ERA in 184 innings. He can still induce whiffs, and his fastball velocity pairs well with a devastating slider, making him a potential top-of-the-rotation candidate.
The Seattle Mariners’ pitching depth could make them ideal trade partners with the Orioles. Baltimore has a luxury of position-player prospects who could be used in a deal for a young, formidable starter still under team control until 2028.
Right-hander Logan Gilbert, at 26, has already completed three full major league seasons. His latest, in which he started 32 games, pitched 190 2/3 innings and recorded a 3.73 ERA, showed him build on a great 2022, supplying a consistency that should continue for years to come.
A two-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner, right-hander Shane Bieber could be available in a trade. He had an elbow injury ahead of the 2023 trade deadline, and after two starts in September, finished the year with 128 innings and with a 3.80 ERA. But Bieber reached 200 innings in 2022 with a 2.88 ERA.
His strikeouts-per-nine have fallen from the heights of 14.2 recorded in 2020, but he limits free passes and could require less trade capital than the other names here, considering the 28-year-old is entering his final season of team control ahead of free agency.
It’s unclear how willing the Miami Marlins will be to move one of their young, promising starting pitchers, but Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported Tuesday that the Orioles have reached out to the Marlins and White Sox regarding potential deals.
Right-hander Edward Cabrera isn’t polished yet. He held a 4.24 ERA in 20 starts last season, finishing just shy of 100 innings. But his “stuff,” as baseball minds like to call it, has received rave reviews. With a changeup, curveball, sinker and slider to go with his four-seam fastball, Cabrera finished in the 95th percentile in 2023 for offspeed pitch run value. He also forced ground balls 55.7% of the time, which could play well with Baltimore’s strong defense.