It's obvious the Baltimore Orioles must be aggressive in trying to improve on a starting pitching staff that had a 5.70 ERA in 2017, but how will they go about finding new starters?
Throughout the next several weeks, you'll see all sorts of names linked with the Orioles. Some of the most popular ones will be Texas Rangers right-hander Andrew Cashner, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn, New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, Kansas City Royals right-hander Jason Vargas, as well as former Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.
There will be countless other names associated with the Orioles, but those six would all represent a step up from the 2017 performances of right-handers Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman and left-hander Wade Miley.
It's possible Tillman returns on a one-year deal, but because of the dearth of quality free agents, it's not impossible that Tillman, who has a reputation as a solid clubhouse guy, lands a two-year deal from a team willing to bet on his relative youth (29) and solid track record from 2012-2016.
Presumably, the free agents named above will have several, if not many other teams interested, and Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, in his first six offseasons, has never been one to engage in bidding wars for free agents.
During Duquette's time, the Orioles have only signed two major domestic free-agent pitchers, Jimenez (2014) and right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2016). Both signed during spring training with the pitchers' other options limited or nonexistent.
Duquette's most aggressive moves came during his first offseason when he signed two foreign free-agent pitchers: left-handers Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen. He also signed Gonzalez in an under-the-radar move to a minor league contract in March 2012.
Wada, who was more widely known than Chen, signed a two-year, $8.14 million deal but never pitched for the Orioles after Tommy John surgery in May 2012. Chen signed a three-year, $11.3 million deal with a $4.75 million option for 2015 and was an excellent signing.
Duquette tried the international market again in 2014 when he signed South Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon to a three-year, $5.75 million deal, but he was a bust and headed back to Korea a year later.
Besides developing from within, as the Orioles have done with their top two starters, right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Duquette has been active in the trade market. Hellickson and Miley were both July trade deadline deals.
Right-handers Jason Hammel and Bud Norris -- who both came to the Orioles via trade -- were solid contributors to the Orioles' 2012 and 2014 postseason teams, respectively.
Duquette's midseason deal for right-hander Scott Feldman in 2013 didn't work out well when he sent right-handers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs. However, in that trade, the Orioles also obtained catcher Steve Clevenger, who eventually fetched them slugger Mark Trumbo.
Arrieta, Feldman and Norris are all free agents, and Gallardo will be once the Seattle Mariners decline a $13 million option for 2018.
Both Arrieta and Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish are expected to be the most sought-after free-agent pitchers, but the amount of years and money required to sign them are likely to be far beyond the Orioles' parameters.
Before Jimenez signed, the Orioles had never given a four-year contract to an outside free-agent pitcher, and that may be a stumbling point this year.
It will be interesting to see if Duquette reverses course and actively pursues some of the better free-agent pitchers early in the process. In the past, the Orioles were often mentioned as "being in on" a pitcher in November and December, and only in Gallardo's case did he end up signing with the team.
The Orioles undoubtedly will look at some of their younger in-house alternatives, such as right-handers Miguel Castro and Gabriel Ynoa and possibly Bowie right-hander Lucas Long, but they, along with Tillman if he returns, would be options for the back end of the rotation.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter needs more choices. With Jimenez, Miley, Tillman, shortstop J.J. Hardy, outfielder Seth Smith and catcher Welington Castillo's contracts ending, that's nearly $50 million coming off the payroll.
Raises for Gausman, relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton, third baseman Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, among others, may account for $20 million of the $50 million, but that still leaves substantial money for the Orioles to add a few potential starters.