Orioles' Hunt For Free Agent Bargains: Pitchers

Posted on December 05, 2013 by Paul Folkemer

As the Orioles seek to check off a few items from their offseason shopping list, we're taking a look at some potential low-cost, high-reward free-agent options -- specifically, veteran players who are coming off serious injuries, but could provide good value if they're able to bounce back to full health. On Dec. 2, we looked at three position players; this time, we'll examine the pitchers.

STARTING PITCHERS

SCOTT BAKER: After spending the first seven years of his career in Minnesota, Scott Baker's tenure with the Twins ended after he underwent Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2012 season. Baker, 31, didn't return to a major league mound until Sept. 8, 2013, making three late-season starts for the Cubs.

Baker, during his career, has been like a less healthy version of Scott Feldman, which is perhaps not the most glowing assessment of a pitcher. Baker (career 4.14 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings) is a classic back-of-the-rotation hurler who won't dazzle you, but will put up a workmanlike outing more often than not. If the Orioles can't re-sign Feldman -- who is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal -- then Baker could be a cheaper, capable alternative to stash at the back end of the rotation, assuming he has fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. If nothing else, maybe the O's should sign Baker so they don't have to risk facing him. Baker is 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA during eight career starts against the Birds.

MLB: Gavin Floyd (White Sox)

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

GAVIN FLOYD: Whenever Gavin Floyd's name is mentioned, the Orioles seem to be interested, tempted by the opportunity to bring home a Maryland native (Floyd was born in Annapolis, Md., and attended high school at Mount St. Joseph's in Baltimore). Now 30, Floyd has put together a decent, if unremarkable, career as a starting pitcher, making 187 starts with a 4.48 ERA.

But there is one problem -- Floyd might not be able to pitch in 2014. He underwent season-ending elbow surgery in May, a procedure that was expected to have a recovery time of 14-19 months. Best-case scenario, he'll return in time to make a few starts during the second half of the 2014 season; worst case, he'll have to sit out the full year. Depending on how heavily the O's are interested in him, perhaps they'd consider signing him to a low-cost, two-year deal with the understanding that the first season would be primarily used for rehab.

JEFF NIEMANN: The O's are well acquainted with Jeff Niemann, who spent the first five years of his career in the American League East with Tampa Bay. The towering, 6-foot-9 Niemann was one of many promising young pitchers the Rays seem to churn out every year, and he has a 4.08 ERA during 97 games pitched (92 starts). He didn't pitch during the 2013 season, though, undergoing surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff in April.

Shoulder surgeries are often a harbinger of doom for pitchers; they're usually more likely to cause long-term ill effects than elbow surgery does. There's a good chance that Niemann, 30, won't be the same pitcher after the surgery as he was before. But if the O's can sign him at a discount rate, he might be worth a gamble.

ROY HALLADAY AND JOHAN SANTANA: I'm grouping Roy Halladay and Johan Santana together because they have a lot of similarities -- most importantly, both are former superstars who have combined for four Cy Young awards, 12 All-Star appearances, 342 wins and 4,105 strikeouts during their long and illustrious careers. It's probably unnecessary to go over their résumé, at least not until it's time for Hall of Fame consideration.

No, the question with these two is: do they have anything left? Many baseball fans think Halladay has reached the end of the line after he suffered a precipitous drop in velocity the past two seasons, stemming from shoulder problems, which began in 2012. Various stints on and off the disabled list haven't changed the fact that Halladay, by the end of the 2013 season, was unable to hit 90 mph on his fastball. He's now 36 years old, and it's unlikely his velocity will recover, and his effectiveness has plummeted along with it.

Santana, meanwhile, has missed two full seasons out of the last three, suffering a myriad of injuries to his throwing shoulder. He's two years younger than Halladay, so he's the more likely of the two to have something left in the tank, but Santana, too, has suffered a velocity drop. His average fastball velocity dipped to 88 mph in 2012, the last time he appeared on a major league mound. It's a long shot at this point that either Halladay or Santana will provide much value for a major league team anymore, but can you imagine what a coup it would be if the O's signed one of them and he was able to show a semblance of his former self?

RELIEF PITCHERS

JOEL HANRAHAN: The Red Sox acquired Joel Hanrahan to be their closer in 2013 after he racked up 76 saves during the previous two seasons with the Pirates. Hanrahan's brief Boston career was one to forget, as he appeared in nine games and got rocked to a 9.82 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. (Actually, his injury might've been a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox, as it sparked them to move Koji Uehara into the closer's role, in which he dominated.)

Hanrahan, 32, won't be ready for the start of the 2014 season, but the O's could sign him on the cheap with the hopes of getting him back into action by the second half. If Hanrahan is able to return to his former All-Star level, he'd be a potential closer candidate in 2015.

ERIC O'FLAHERTY: The Orioles are currently stocked on left-handed relievers, but Troy Patton and Brian Matusz could both be trade candidates this offseason. Besides, if the O's could reel in a healthy Eric O'Flaherty -- who was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball at his best -- they'd be well served to make room for him. O'Flaherty was a bullpen force for the Braves for five years, including a 2011 season during which he posted a 0.98 ERA in 73.2 innings.

But, of course, there's a catch -- O'Flaherty will miss most or all of the 2014 season; he, like Floyd and Hanrahan, underwent Tommy John surgery in May (that was certainly a popular month for elbow surgeries). So, again, if the O's signed him, they would have to do so with the idea that they likely won't get much production out of him until 2015.

next up:

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