After deeming the starting rotation a priority to address at the start of the offseason, the Orioles have finally made a significant move in agreeing to terms with veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo.
According to MLB Network and multiple reports, the sides agreed to a three-year, $35 million contract that includes a $13 million option for the 2019 season. The agreement came hours after executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette downplayed the notion of a deal being imminent when speaking to reporters in Sarasota on Saturday.
Reports had said the sides were close to a deal more than a week ago, but no agreement had been reached. Gallardo is expected to take his physical on Monday, according to multiple reports.
The Orioles desperately needed an estbalished addition to a rotation that finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA in 2015, especially after the reliable Wei-Yin Chen agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract with the Miami Marlins last month. Gallardo carries a 3.66 career ERA into his 10th major league season and pitched to a 13-11 record with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts spanning 184 1/3 innings with Texas in 2015.
However, the addition doesn’t come without some risk as Baltimore will now forfeit the 14th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft after Gallardo rejected a $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Rangers at the beginning of the offseason. This marks the second time in three years that the Orioles will have sacrificed their first-round pick in order to sign a free agent after inking starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract in 2014.
Gallardo’s ground-ball rate hovering around 50 percent over the last couple seasons would figure to be a good fit for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Orioles’ strong infield defense, but his fastball velocity fell from an average of 92.6 miles per hour in 2011 to 90.5 this past year. His strikeout rate has declined in three straight seasons and fell to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings last season after averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six years in the majors.
Even if Gallardo’s production falls off in 2016, the Orioles would welcome an eighth consecutive season in which he has thrown at least 180 innings. The Mexican pitcher has made at least 30 starts per season since 2009.
Gallardo will turn 30 on Feb. 27.
Even considering the risk with Gallardo, the Orioles needed an upgrade to prevent an underwhelming competition for the fifth starter job that would have included Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson. Now, those individuals can be viewed as organizational depth that could fit into the bullpen or at Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles remain interested in the services of free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler — whose signing would also require the forfeiture of a pick — but the organization is currently set to hold five selections in the first 91 spots of the 2016 draft. Their highest pick would be slotted at 28th overall.