Even after the Orioles’ early December fire sale, I remain on board with general manager Mike Elias’ plan to make the club a consistent contender.
While the trades of infielder Jonathan Villar and right-hander Dylan Bundy may have put a dagger through the heart of some fans’ hopes of any type of 2020 “Why Not?” run for the Orioles, the transactions that set me back didn’t involve Baltimore but still carry a message for the Orioles’ rebuild attempt. I’m talking about the relatively handsome contracts for right-handers Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, both of whom signed with the Texas Rangers.
Gibson, formerly of the Minnesota Twins, landed a three-year deal worth $30 million plus a possible $3 million in incentives. Lyles’ deal was even more stunning. Based on one nice half-season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019, Gibson landed a two-year deal worth $16 million.
The Orioles traded Bundy, one of their better starters, in part because of his price tag. He’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $5.7 million in his second year of arbitration in 2020. Let’s look at what these three starting pitching contracts get you.
Gibson, 32, is clearly thought of as a No. 4 or 5 starter. For an average annual value of $10 million, the Rangers are getting a pitcher who averaged 173 innings per season for the Twins from 2014-2019.
Gibson went 65-64, posting a 4.42 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and allowing 120 home runs. And lest we forget, he did throw two complete games. He is projected to go 10-9 with a 4.53 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 157 innings in 2020, according to Baseball Reference’s Marcel forecasting system.
Lyles, 29, was dealt to Milwaukee by the Pittsburgh Pirates ahead of the 2019 trade deadline. In 11 starts with the Brewers, he posted a 7-1 record with a 2.45 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. But that came after going 5-7 with a 5.36 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in his first 17 starts of the season with the Pirates. Lyles’ 2020 projections have him going 8-7 with a 4.61 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 123 innings.
We all know how Bundy did in Baltimore. He finished the 2019 season with a 7-14 record, 4.79 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 161 innings. The projections for Bundy’s 2020 season have him at 8-12 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 158 innings.
Looking at the cost of the Rangers’ rotation, Mike Minor is scheduled to make $9.5 million; Lance Lynn, $11 million, and No. 3 starter Kolby Allard will make close to the major-league minimum of $563,500. Now add in the $18 million for Gibson and Lyles, and that rotation will cost the Rangers about $39 million.
This rotation — and the rising cost of starting pitchers — has me concerned about just how the Orioles will ever be able to afford a World Series-caliber starting staff. Does anyone see the Rangers as having that type of staff with this group?
Right now, the Orioles have John Means, who will make about the league minimum, and Alex Cobb, due to earn $14 million in 2020 with $4.5 million being deferred. While we don’t know who the third, fourth and fifth starters will be, their combined compensation for 2020 will probably be no more than $5 million.
With Cobb returning from back-to-back lost seasons and guaranteed to make $15 million ($4.5 million deferred) in 2021 on top of his $14 million in 2020, it would be a major stretch to think he is movable in any real fashion. Even if he pitches very well, the Orioles can’t hope to get much for him in a trade aside from just getting out from under his onerous contract.
Assuming Means and Cobb are back in 2021, the third, fourth and fifth starters will most likely feature at least two minor-league graduates at minimum salaries.
So when will the Orioles be ready to contend for a World Series appearance? We all know that in order to contend for or win a World Series, a team has to have all the boxes checked, including on-base percentage, power, clutch hitting, team speed, a dominant bullpen, defense, health and good luck. But what about starting pitching? Double check.
The Orioles’ path back to consistent relevance is in its early stages. They’ll need to develop high-end arms and perhaps add some via trade or free agency, because the Orioles will never be able to put together a top-tier starting staff entirely with their checkbook.
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