Orioles finalize 1-year deal with Tillman

February 19th, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. -- He's back.
Free-agent right-hander Chris Tillman is returning to the Orioles on a one-year Major League contract that marks the club's second rotation addition in a week.
The contract, which was announced by the club Wednesday, has a base salary of $3 million that offers Tillman the chance to earn up to $10 million in performance bonuses. Tillman, who had been working out in Sarasota of late, took his physical on Monday at Ed Smith Stadium, but he did not throw or participate in camp.
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"I think last year was a struggle for him, obviously to get healthy and then mechanically. But I saw him throw a couple days before camp here and he looked really good," Orioles starter said. "Obviously, they probably saw him, too. Yeah, he looked like the old Tilly that I know and we all know. Really good fastball command and he had that angle back, and that's a big thing for him.
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"Definitely excited to have him back, and more than anything, I think his leadership is going to be big for us."
Tillman's return should help bolster an Orioles rotation that includes recent addition , who signed a two-year deal with an option last Thursday. And the club may not be done, with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette -- who has historically continued to add throughout the spring -- still looking to acquire outside help for the rotation.
"We know what Tillman is capable of. I think it's a great move," reliever said. "Having been through seasons that were compromised by injuries, whether we admit it or not, it takes a while to get back to yourself. If we get a Tillman of previous years, we are going to be a lot stronger than we thought. It's really exciting."
Tillman, a bounce-back candidate, drew interest from several other clubs including the Twins, Jays and Tigers. He threw for the Tigers over the weekend, though the main issue was 40-man roster space for other clubs including Detroit, which was interested in a Minor League deal with a big league camp invite for Tillman.
The Orioles -- who designated outfielder Jaycob Brugman for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster -- are hoping Tillman can rebound from a disappointing 2017 season that will allow him to re-establish his value before re-entering the free-agent market.
"I think he's got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year," said manager Buck Showalter, who spoke in hypotheticals because the deal was not yet official. "A lot of the challenges he had last year -- this time last year -- aren't there. Somebody's going to reap the benefits. I don't know anybody in this camp who's won more than what, 33 games before last year."
With the O's, Tillman will get a chance to return to the organization he's called home since 2008. The 29-year-old was slowed last spring with an injury and never appeared right, going 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 games (19 starts) that included a demotion to the bullpen. He had a solid year in '16 for the O's, going 16-6 and posting a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts. Baltimore believes he can return to form and help the club rebound from a last-place finish in the American League East. In nine career big league seasons, all with the Orioles, Tillman is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in 203 games (198 starts).
Tillman will join a rotation that includes Cashner, Gausman and , with the fifth spot up for grabs this spring.
"Good teams need to be deep there and have some maneuverability with it," Showalter said. "If you think you're going to break camp with five pitchers and have them be able to stay healthy and productive for 162 games, you're kidding yourself. I want to get to the point where we're not taking the last man standing, that we're sending down some people [that] we're going, 'Gosh, I hope we're making the right decision. This is the tough one.' That hasn't always been the case, and I think that's got a chance to happen this year."