04 December 2017

Non-Tendered Candidates for the Orioles to Consider

During our blueprint exercise, a common theme in the comments was that it would be interesting to include players who were non-tendered into our analysis, as it would be an additional way to sign players and improve the team at what would likely be a modest cost, at least in comparison to other free agents. Baltimore recently had success in taking this approach last year, when they signed Welington Castillo to a 1 year contract, with a player option (Castillo declined his player option and signed with the White Sox on Friday). The only problem with including non-tendered players in our blueprint analysis was that at the time we wrote our blueprints, the deadline to tender arbitration eligible players contracts had not yet arrived. However, as of the early hours of Saturday morning, this is no longer the case.

Nothing of note has really happened yet for the Orioles this offseason (or the rest of baseball really), so the Orioles still have the same holes to fill as they did when the 2017 season officially ended. With the infield set, the Orioles would still be focused on starting pitching and the outfield, while also maybe dabbling in the relief pitching or backup catching market to add some depth. Unfortunately, the non-tender list doesn’t really have any potential improvements other than pitching, but some of those pitchers could make sense for Baltimore.

Mike Fiers is the biggest get here, but that’s not necessarily a surprise given that he’s been mentioned as a non-tender candidate prior to the deadline, with several members of the Orioles media and blogosphere discussing him as someone the Orioles should/will target. Fiers had been projected to make $5.7 million in his second year of arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. He wasn’t good last year, but outside of an injury shortened 2013, he has been a quality starting pitcher since 2012.

Standard Pitching
7 Yr7 Yr42474.15141123726.0954.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2017.

What obviously jumps out in 2017 are the increase in walk and HR/FB rates. That’s not a good combination, especially in a park like Camden Yards. However, if you look a little closer, he also struck out more batters (resulting in a K-BB% similar to 2016) and had a lower FB% than his career rate. So he’s not giving up more fly balls, though a higher percentage of those fly balls left the yard in 2017. This could be chalked up to some bad luck. Compared to his career levels, he gave up hard contact 2% less in 2017. That remaining 2% was redistributed to a 1% increase in soft and medium contact each. A look at some of his supporting statistics show that he’s been the same pitcher he’s always been. Even his velocity hasn’t changed.


Still, Fiers is a bigger gamble than he otherwise would be considering this new era of increased home runs. However, he’s the best non-tendered starting pitcher available, and even with the risk that accompanies him, he definitely would make the Baltimore rotation better.

Baltimore could also look at Tom Koehler, whose situation is very similar to that of Fiers, in that he has historically been a dependable starter until he was done in by walks and home runs in 2017. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Koehler was expected to make $6.0 million in 2017. Koehler is just not as good as Fiers, and his 2017 season was pretty much a disaster.

Standard Pitching
6 Yr6 Yr36554.39161133784.1884.491.13.76.9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2017.

He’ll provide fewer strikeouts, more walks, with a similar batted ball profile as Fiers. At the right price (not $6 million), he’d be a decent depth piece for the Baltimore rotation with a small chance at a bounce back, but he shouldn’t be someone they should depend on. At the very least, he proved to be effective in the bullpen if he once again struggles in the rotation.

Pitching Role
as Starter132833251.296.393.525.918.320108
as Reliever1451311.250.294.417.711.30660
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2017.

Another interesting option could be Chi Chi Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a former first round pick from the 2013 draft who has struggled during his major league career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July, so the team could take a 2 year flier on him to see if they can get any value. Combined with his injury, he wasn’t even eligible for arbitration yet, so he should come cheap. The team shouldn’t count on getting anything from him at all, but he’ll only be 26 next season, and is only 4 years removed from being a first round draft pick.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need to sign relievers, but they make up the bulk of the non-tender list this year, so it’s worth taking a quick look at them. The most well-known is former Cubs closer Hector Rondon. Rondon will strike out a lot of batters, but he’s been prone to giving up the home run the last two seasons, with nearly 20% of fly balls given up leaving the park. If the Orioles were to sign a reliever, they’d likely want to target Jared Hughes instead. Hughes was expected to make $2.2 million in his last year of arbitration. Hughes doesn’t exactly have the strikeout and walk rates you typically want to see out of a reliever (career 15.3% and 8.1% respectively), but he keeps the ball on the ground (career 61.2% GB rate) and owns a 2.85 ERA in 369 career innings. His peripherals don’t exactly line up with that ERA, so like everyone else here, he’s not without risk.

Admittedly, it’s tough to get excited about these options. There is definitely some potential in each of these players, and most of them have at least one season on the back of their baseball card that makes one say, “if only they could have another season like that…”. But since they’ve had several other seasons that haven’t been so good, a productive 2018 season is far from a sure thing, which is why they ended up on this list to begin with. These players were not wanted at the salary they were expected to receive. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means there is a higher likelihood of them not being good. Still it wouldn’t hurt the Orioles to take a chance on one (or more) of them.


Anonymous said...

You have to ask yourself, are any of these guys better than Chris Tillman and taking the risk on a resurgence from him? IF not, then you have to target Tillman for the 5th SP slot. Fiers is older than Tillman. Maybe Koehler would be OK if he was going to be another Vance Worley. Middle relief and spot start.

Jon Shepherd said...

Roger - It kind of depends on whether or not Tillman does indeed have a degenerative shoulder like it appears to be the case. In that case, I think the club should cast a wider net. Age also means basically nothing if all we are considering is a short term 5th slot. Age is more about multi-year deals or worries over complete collapses.

Pip said...

Excellent article. I have absolutely no problem taking a flyer on any of these guys, any of whom would be no worse than Ubaldo.
(When Dan wastes money, he wastes BIG.)
What about Drew Smyly? He won't be back til late in the season but he has a lot of potential and could be had for nothing.
And I have followed Nick Martinez a lot. I wonder if there's anything there?