The Orioles begin 2018 with a threadbare starting rotation and now just six weeks to fill it, and find a market that has only changed in ways that disadvantage them.
Since free agency opened in November, there's been scant movement on the pitching market except for some smart, targeted signings the Orioles themselves could've benefited from.
Instead, other teams outbid them and they're left looking at a market with a big gulf in quality between the top few arms and everyone else.
Here's a breakdown of how the pitching landscape looks for the Orioles, who need at least three starters to complement the returning Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
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Top of the market
Just as was the case a few months ago, the first few names on every free-agent pitching list haven't changed. It begins with right-handers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, and continues with Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, who are expected to get the richest contracts of any arms this offseason.
Why there hasn't been much movement on them is likely twofold. First, there was the wait for Japanese star Shohei Ohtani to sign, which happened in early December and left several big-market teams without the front-line pitcher they craved. However, the second aspect of their continued availability is the fact that most of the aggression early in the market was on targeted mid- and lower-tier pitchers such as Tyler Chatwood, Miles Mikolas and Doug Fister.
So teams that knew what they wanted got them without having to play much of a waiting game, and everyone else is left hoping prices don't go down too much before they finally sign. Darvish and Arrieta will likely get their massive deals, but it would still take some serious price depression to get Cobb and Lynn in the Orioles' stratosphere, especially if the club remains averse to a four- or five-year deal.
The over-30 crowd
With Chatwood and Mikolas signed early, and several other young pitchers dealing with injuries (such as Drew Smyly and Michael Pineda) off the market, there's still a series of pitchers on their second or third contracts who are looking for two- and three-year deals. That's where the Orioles could end up, and the list of candidates is long. Left-hander Jason Vargas, who was an All-Star in 2017 but finished with a 4.16 ERA last season, is constantly linked to the Orioles because of their left-handed pitching need. Jaime Garcia is another left-hander who could fit that mold.
Right-hander Andrew Cashner is also on that list of pitchers constantly connected to the Orioles, and is coming off an age-30 season with the Texas Rangers where he posted a 3.40 ERA.
This was the area where the Orioles were expected to make their biggest mark, but many of the top targets from a price, performance and upside standpoint have already been scooped off the market by aggressive teams.
Many of these fit in the previous category, but deserve their own discussion. If the Orioles are looking for reclamation projects or innings-eaters and want to reduce the risk in adjusting to their program or the division, they don't need to look much further than Chris Tillman or Miguel Gonzalez.
Tillman's 2017, which started slowly with a shoulder injury and never got going, robbed him of a chance at free-agent riches this offseason. But if he returns to form wherever he pitches in 2018, he could test the market a year later. It's unclear if either side is still interested in a reunion, but the longer the Orioles need pitchers and Tillman needs a team, the more enticing that will be come.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, could be an asset if the team follows through on its interest. He struggled down the stretch after a trade to the Rangers, but was mostly his normal self with the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and 2017 after the Orioles released him.
Others that fall under this category would be reunions with Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeremy Hellickson or Scott Feldman. Those would seem less likely.
While teams seem to be hoarding the pitching they have at this point, there's a possibility that someone could fall loose after some of the free-agent pitchers sign. Even if a team has a full rotation, they could find the value too good to pass up and sign a top free agent anyway, thereby making someone expendable for the Orioles. In this scenario, the Orioles will hope the market starts moving soon, as there's exactly six weeks until spring training.