It’s no secret that the Orioles will be on the hunt for starting pitching this offseason. After all, their starting pitchers in 2017 posted an astonishingly high 5.70 ERA, and the rotation will be losing two-thirds of its six-man unit with Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Chris Tillman and Jeremy Hellickson to free agency. While their two remaining starters, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, were their two best starting pitchers, the team nonetheless faces the tall task of filling out the rest of its rotation behind them.
Enter Jason Vargas and Andrew Cashner, who the team has “definite” interest in, per Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports. Kubatko described the Orioles’ need to “plug holes” in the rotation, insinuating that the team won’t be players for top-level arms like Yu Darvish or former Oriole Jake Arrieta. Instead, the O’s will look to commit relatively small amounts of money to mid-tier starting pitchers such as Vargas and Cashner.
Vargas led the AL with 18 wins as a member of the Royals and posted a sterling first-half ERA of 2.62 en route to his first career All-Star selection, seemingly setting him up for a large payday. However, he stumbled badly in the second half to the tune of a ghastly 6.38 ERA with 16 longballs allowed in just 732⁄3 innings pitched. Additionally, Vargas' 40.3% ground ball rate for the season is below-average, and his home run problems would seemingly be exacerbated in the more hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Vargas will be entering his age-35 season and thus shouldn't command more than a two-year deal in the $24-$26 million range.
Cashner is four years younger than Vargas and is coming off an overall better season, with a 3.40 ERA across 28 starts for the Rangers, while allowing just 15 home runs in 1662⁄3 frames. However, Cashner struck out a measly 4.6 batters per nine innings, while walking 3.5, making for a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. Cashner, unlike Vargas (who is coming off of his first full season after Tommy John surgery) has shed a prior reputation of being injury prone, making 86 starts over the past three seasons. Cashner could command a three-year deal in the $36-$39 million range, but it’s far more likely that he’ll earn a deal similar to my projection for Vargas mentioned above.
Other rotation options for the Orioles in the third tier or so of starting pitchers include John Lackey, Miguel Gonzalez, Jhoulys Chacin, Jaime Garcia and Tyler Chatwood, amongst others. The Birds have about $40 million to spend before reaching their 2017 payroll, per Roster Resource.