The Orioles finished last in the American League East this season, but they're planning to compete -- not rebuild -- in 2018.
How do we know? Rather than entertain trade proposals for three-time All-Star third baseman Manny Machado during the recent General Managers Meetings, sources say executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette used the time to contact agents representing free-agent starting pitchers.
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The Orioles have shown interest in Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, among others, according to sources.
Cobb and Lynn aren't expected to sign the largest contracts among starting pitchers on the open market this offseason. (Jacob Arrieta or Yu Darvish is likely to claim that distinction.) As such, Cobb or Lynn would fit an Orioles payroll structure that must accommodate substantial salary arbitration raises for Machado, All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop and closer Zach Britton, unless he's traded.
The Orioles are believed to prefer Cobb over Lynn, partially because of Cobb's experience in the AL East. He is 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 12 career starts against Baltimore, yielding plenty of favorable in-person scouting reports from O's officials.
But Lynn's dependability has great appeal, too: With the exception of 2016, which he missed due to Tommy John surgery, he's thrown at least 175 innings in every season since 2012. Among all Major League pitchers who've thrown at least 500 innings since 2014, Lynn ranks 10th with a 3.06 ERA -- just ahead of Jonathan Lester, Johnny Cueto, Stephen Strasburg and Dallas Keuchel.
It's difficult to imagine the Orioles having a winning 2018 season -- to say nothing of a postseason berth -- without meaningful rotation upgrades. O's starters combined for a 5.70 ERA in '17, the worst in the Majors. Of the six pitchers to start at least 10 games for the club this year, four -- Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Jeremy Hellickson -- have since become free agents. Only right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy remain.
For management and players, 2018 is an all-in year. Duquette, Machado, manager Buck Showalter and franchise cornerstone center fielder Adam Jones have contracts that will expire after the upcoming season. If the Orioles struggle in the first half, Machado and Jones could be moved at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Jones, 32, has full no-trade protection.
Rangers interested in Cobb
The Rangers also have had preliminary contact with Cobb's representatives, according to sources. In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported the club tried to acquire Cobb from the Rays via trade last offseason. The Rangers are in a similar position to the Orioles: They need to acquire multiple starting pitchers in order to challenge for a postseason spot -- especially in a division led by the defending World Series champion Astros.
Kintzler a closer?
Free agent Brandon Kintzler made the All-Star team after spending the first half of 2017 as the Twins' closer, and team executives around the Majors are curious to see if he'll sign with a team that plans for him to pitch the ninth inning. This much is clear: Teams that need a closer -- including the Cardinals and Rockies -- are showing interest in Kintzler, according to sources.
McGee on Phillies' radar
The Phillies are among the teams interested in free-agent left-handed reliever Jake McGee, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and posted a 1.099 WHIP in 62 appearances for the Rockies this season. One connection of note: McGee and new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler were teammates with the Rays in 2010.