The Baltimore Orioles entered the offseason with a “problem” that most teams wish they could claim: six starting pitchers on the roster. With an extra arm, Dan Duquette was able to deal one (Yovani Gallardo) for the lefty outfielder (Seth Smith) that the lineup needed. It seemed like a win-win situation for all involved.
That gives the O’s a starting rotation of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. Miley is the “new guy” in the mix. Otherwise, this is essentially the rotation that the organization has been hoping to develop. Much of the Orioles future will depend on how Tillman, Gausman and Bundy perform moving forward.
Miley and Jimenez are veterans who are filling out the back end of the rotation. At this stage in their careers, the Orioles know what to expect from start to start. It could be a solid performance one game and a disaster the next outing. Both are entering contract seasons, and the club is hopeful that brings the best out of them.
There is a lot that can change between now and April 3. Injuries could obviously play a deciding factor in how the rotation shapes out. Maybe the front office shocks us all and brings in another arm. But for the sake of this piece, let’s assume everyone stays healthy and no moves are made.
The Orioles will not need a fifth starter (because of scheduled off days) until the latter part of April. That gives Buck Showalter some flexibility early on with his roster based how Spring Training unfolds. He could opt to move a starter to the bullpen and give himself an extra bat. This scenario plays into favor for a fringe player like Trey Mancini to get a long look in Spring Training and into the regular season. One fewer reliever would make the Opening Day roster, but the Orioles have plenty of players with options in the bullpen. Of course, all five assumed starters would be with the Major League roster.
Endless “Ace” discussion aside, Tillman is presumably the Opening Day starter. Of all the starters on this staff, his spot is the most secure. He has earned the right to lead this rotation after notching 11 wins or more in each of the last four seasons. He is also entering a contract year hoping to show the Orioles he is worth an ongoing investment.
While the Orioles have not publicly said it, one would assume Bundy is going to be one some kind of innings limit this season. Ideally, the club would like to send him to the minors to ease his workload, but he is out of player options. He came out of the bullpen the first half of last season and it’s likely he will be the one to start there again this season.
The Orioles have eased Gausman into his role as a starting pitcher (some would say “mishandled”), but expect that this is the year he becomes the top-of-the-line starter that they have been waiting for. Even if he pitches terribly in the exhibition games, he will be on the roster when it starts to count.
The same cannot be said for Jimenez and Miley.
Miguel Gonzalez All Over Again?
Many were stunned when Baltimore released Miguel Gonzalez last spring. While mostly effective in his time with the Orioles, a dreadful second-half of the 2015 season and disastrous Spring Training led to his departure just before the start of last season. Gonzalez was not performing well, and much like this season, the team didn’t need a fifth starter until late into the first month.
What are the chances that either Miley or Jimenez gets the same treatment with a terrible spring?
As previously stated, both players are in the final year of their contracts. Paying $8.75M (Miley) or $13.5M (Jimenez) for a fifth starter is not an ideal situation for any team. The front office could opt to trade or release either player with minimal damage to the current payroll.
Jimenez was strong in the second half of the season, but also gave up the game-winning home run to end it. Miley might seem a little more secure as the only lefty in the rotation, but the Orioles won a lot of games last year without a left-hander. Neither has an advantage entering Spring Training coming off disappointing seasons.
Wilson, Wright, & Verrett
If a move was to be made, the Orioles do have Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright and Logan Verrett as options to be that fifth starter when the time comes. Wilson and Wright combined for 15 starts last year, and while that excites no one, they statistically put up almost identical numbers to Miley and Jimenez. That is another reason why parting ways with one of the veterans could make some sense.
Were the team to part ways with Wade or Ubaldo, it would draw a lot of criticism in Baltimore, as the Orioles’ brass would be placing a lot of pressure on their younger pitchers. Any injury would force Wilson and Wright into a prominent role. It would be a blow to the organization’s depth and it’s not like the O’s are blessed with a plethora of pitching talent.
While it is unlikely, this is one of the several scenarios that could play out during Spring Training. Many fans assume that the Orioles have their starting five for the year. Last season is a perfect reminder that anything could happen in Sarasota.