Entering his age-87 season, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos has made it abundantly clear that he intends to keep his team’s window of contention open. Having dipped into his Gringotts account for close to $250 million, Angelos has made the Orioles the biggest spenders of the offseason. As spring training opens, the Orioles may have at least one more big move left in them, as talks with Dexter Fowler continue to progress.
News broke last night that the Orioles had finally reached an agreement with free-agent starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. We all knew this was coming. The deal had been in the works for close to two weeks, and no other teams were seriously considering signing the nine-year veteran. The Orioles will pay Gallardo $35 million for his services over the next three years, with an option for a fourth season at $13 million.
In a winter in which Jeff Samardzija got $90 million, Mike Leake $80 million, and Ian Kennedy $70 million, the Orioles have found a way to get a pitcher with a better career win-loss record, ERA, home-run rate, and consistent track record. No, Gallardo did not throw 214.0 innings as Samardzija did a year ago, but he also did not lead the American League in hits allowed, earned runs allowed, and home runs allowed.
There were three tiers of starting pitchers on the free-agent market this winter — the aces, David Price and Zack Greinke, the number-two starters, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann, and the mid-tier arms, Gallardo, Leake, Samardzija, Kennedy, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir, and Doug Fister.
The Orioles had no shot at signing Price or Greinke. That’s a nice pipe dream to have. In the next tier down, Zimmermann may have been a possibility. Cueto would not dream of touching the American League East with a 50-foot pole in light of how his time with the Kansas City Royals went. Zimmermann ultimately signed with the Detroit Tigers almost as soon as he received their offer. In hindsight, seeing how aggressively the Orioles have spent over the course of the winter, signing Zimmermann may have been a possibility. At the time, however, the Orioles were in full-on Chris Davis mode. Returning to the mid-west makes more sense for Zimmermann, the Wisconsin native, and Comerica Park is decidedly pitcher-friendly. Had the Orioles and Tigers both made offers to Zimmermann, it remains highly likely that he ends up in Motown, regardless of the Orioles’ offer.
Digging down into the mid-tier starters, the Orioles were tied to Kazmir before he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for three years and $48 million. Kazmir gets an opt-out clause after just one year in Hollywood. Again, not something the Orioles would ever consider. Kazmir is 32, and has had more health concerns than most of the other free-agent pitchers combined. He pitched horribly after being traded to the Houston Astros at the deadline. The left-hander needed to place himself in the right environment to thrive, with an eye on re-entering the free-agent pool at the end of the year.
After Kazmir, there’s Mike Leake, who chose the St. Louis Cardinals largely for personal reasons. The Orioles have no reason to be the team that bets on Samardzija finally figuring things out, and Ian Kennedy has shown none of the form that made him a 21-game winner in 2011. Since that wonderful year with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kennedy is 44-50 with a 4.19 ERA, having allowed 1.2 HR/9 — not exactly the type of performance that warrants a $70 million commitment.
Beyond the mid-tier arms mentioned, the Orioles could have considered two pitchers coming off injury, Mat Latos and Doug Fister. Fister needs to re-establish his value after an up-and-down 2015 season. Any pitcher wishing to accomplish such a thing would be crazy to attempt it in the AL East. Latos did not pitch as poorly in 2015 as his ERA would indicate, but he has had multiple significant injuries, is losing velocity, and became a bigger turd on the clubhouse carpet in Los Angeles than most would have imagined, given the rich history of clubhouse turdishness in Dodger Stadium over the past five years.
No doubt, when the Orioles make a pact with a free-agent pitcher with declining velocity and strikeout rate, it will be met with skepticism and second guessing. Gallardo becomes another name in the Orioles’ rotation who must outpitch his peripherals to have any shot at pushing the team towards the postseason. Pitching is more complicated than just looking at FIP and SIERA and declaring a hurler due for regression. Gallardo has become more adept at twirling his assortment of pitches around the strike zone and keeping hitters off balance. He pitched six innings of two-hit ball against the Orioles last July, and shut down the Toronto Blue Jays in the postseason. Gallardo is allowing fewer home runs while getting more outs on the ground thanks to an increased reliance on his sinker. For whatever it’s worth, he allowed a career-low 24.9-percent hard-contact rate in 2015.
All of this goes to say, I have no idea what the hell to expect from Yovani Gallardo in 2016 and beyond. He does not throw as hard as he used to or strikeout as many hitters, but somehow managed to turn in the two best years of his career in 2014 and 2015. Talking actual results, rather than statistical predictions and algorithms, Gallardo should have been worth way more than $11.67 million per year for three years.
The chance of Yovani Gallardo logging more than 200 innings in a season while a member of the Orioles is slim-to-none. There will be some starts that leave you scratching your head. Those facts are unavoidable. Will he be better than Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, or Vance Worley? Almost certainly. It’s easy to sit back now and question how the Orioles played out their pursuit of a starting pitcher, but all things considered, Gallardo was likely still the best they could do. Jordan Zimmermann still takes a deal closer to home. Scott Kazmir still takes the player-friendly contract. Cueto and Samardzija still turn down the “opportunity” to pitch in the AL East, and Mike Leake still goes home to be closer to his ailing father. Fister and Latos are still the speculative biotech stocks you buy only when the rest of your portfolio is in good working order.
A team cannot sign every free agent it wants to just because it makes a good offer. That’s a tough reality for most armchair general managers to understand. Needing a starting pitcher, the Orioles evaluated all of their options, engaged in talks, and ended up with Yovani Gallardo. Moving on.